12 min

Why Does My Cat Lick Me?

If you’ve noticed that your cat has a penchant for licking you, you might be wondering why. Discover the interesting reason behind your cat’s behavior.

Bridget Reed

Updated December 01, 2022 • Published August 30, 2021

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Why Does My Cat Lick Me?

You are sitting down on your couch relaxing with your cat when all of a sudden, they begin to lick you. If you’re curious as to why this happens, you’re not alone. After all, this can feel like a decidedly dog-like behavior, so it can be startling if you notice your cat exhibiting this. It can also be a little bit painful because your cat’s tongue is rough. 

Ultimately, there are a variety of reasons why your cat might be licking you. You might want to get to the bottom of it so that it doesn’t happen again, or you might just be wondering why it’s happening. Whatever the case may be, Pawp, the online vet clinic, might have the answer that you’re seeking.

This article is going to discuss why your cat is licking you. It’ll start off by sharing five of the most common reasons why cats choose to lick their owners. Then, it’ll discuss why it could be rather painful when your cat decides to do this. Finally, you’ll learn ways that you can get your cat to quit licking you (if that's what you want!). 

Reasons why your cat might be licking you

First thing’s first: you need to know the five reasons why your cat might be licking you. You probably have an idea of why this is happening. Nevertheless, this list will help you figure out exactly what’s causing it. 

Your cat is marking you as their territory

Did you know that your cat uses their pheromones to effectively mark their territory? While cats may often do this by urinating on something, they can also tackle marking their territory in other ways. Licking is another way for your cat to establish that you are theirs. Another way? Head rubs, interestingly enough.

This affectionately shows that you are their so-called “property.” If your cat rubs against you or licks you, it’s essentially them telling you that you are important to them. Just consider this them telling you so (non-verbally). They want all other cats to know that you are theirs, and that’s how they’re going about doing it. 

You can also notice that sometimes if you meet a friend’s cat, they shy away from you. This could be a result of this pheromone marking. They can already tell that another cat has claimed you as their own, and therefore, they don’t want to get in the way of that.

This can be intense. But also, it’s pretty endearing to think that your cat wants all other cats to know that you are theirs. 

Your cat accepts you as family

Another reason why your cat decides to lick you is that they’re letting you know that they accept you as a member of their family. In other words, your cat feels secure in your presence.

Dr. Laura Robinson, a Pawp veterinarian, says that this can be their way of creating a “social bond” that is natural “to them since from birth. Their mom will lick them to create a bond and show affection.”

Your cat has a memory of their kittenhood when their mother gave them cleanings as a baby. Now, they’re continuing that tradition. Instead, now the roles are reversed, and your cat is taking care of you.

Again, your cat is showing that you are theirs. They aren’t just nurturing you; they’re also helping keep you clean while claiming you as theirs.

Licking is similar to petting

Think about the ways that you show your cat that you care about them. Chances are, petting is a big part of how you demonstrate that you care. For a cat, licking their owner is essentially the same thing as when you pet them. It’s their own take on that.

Licking and petting are forms of affection, and that is why your cat does this. While they can’t pet you, they certainly can lick you as much as they want. 

It is also important to keep in mind that your cat has no clue that their tongue is rough and hurts when they lick. They’re just trying to establish that you’re theirs and that they love you. Think about that next time your cat’s tongue tickles your arm. 

Your cat might miss nursing

Unfortunately, sometimes cats are weaned before their time or are orphaned when they are too young. These animals often develop an oral fixation. This could lead to excessive licking. Therefore, if you’re noticing that your cat won’t quit licking you, this can certainly be the cause. Approach this matter with tact and compassion, too. 

Your cat missed out on a lot of the activities that they shouldn’t have had to as a kitten. They likely didn’t get enough suckling and didn’t have an appropriate outlet for this. Enter licking: the closest thing that a cat has to the comfort that nursing provided them.

There are other signs that your cat was weaned early. If your cat kneads you frequently and purrs happily with a “smile” on their face, they probably experienced this. Just think of it this way: your cat just misses their kittenhood and wants to experience the soothing feeling nursing gave them again. 

Your cat could have high levels of anxiety

The last reason why cats lick sometimes is very different from the others, which are deeply rooted in affection and love. Sometimes, your cat will lick when they are extremely anxious. This can become somewhat compulsive if your kitty is unsure of how to handle their anxiety. 

In this instance, or if you think anxiety is the cause of your cat’s licking, you should help reduce the amount of stress that they are experiencing. There are a variety of ways that you can do this. You can pet your cat or cuddle them to help them relax. Whatever you do, be mindful of the fact that your cat is concerned and give them a lot of love. 

If you give your cat a lot of attention and affection to soothe them, you might notice that they stop licking incessantly. This is good news: it means that the love that you’re showing them is working! 

Why does it hurt when my cat licks me?

While it can be endearing and cute when your cat licks you, it can also be somewhat painful and uncomfortable. Your cat has no way of knowing that their tongue is rough and that it hurts when they lick you, so be mindful of their feelings before you jerk your hand away. 

You might be wondering why your cat’s tongue isn’t soft and instead is rather rough. This can be attributed to the fact that a cat’s tongue has adapted to remove dirt and loose fur. It’s phenomenal at cleaning, but not so much at gentle, soft licking.

If your cat chooses to lick your hair, you might notice that your cat’s powerful tongue is actually able to rip a few strands out. This is due to the fact that your feline friend’s tongue has papillae covering it. These are essential backward-facing hooks that are created from keratin. This is also the material that your cat’s claws are crafted out of.

And did you know that the papillae are actually able to function like a comb? These can separate hairs and your cat’s fur. That’s why cats are so talented at cleaning themselves: their tongues allow them to get good access to any dirt that’s underneath their fur.

Therefore, when you see your cat cleaning themselves, you can always know that it’s a thorough cleaning.

How can I stop my cat from licking me?

It’s adorable, but it’s also painful: if you want your cat to stop licking you, there are definitely ways that you can go about it. It’s understandable that you don’t want to hurt your cat’s feelings, but what if they’re really going at it? What if their tongue sanding down your skin starts to hurt?

There are ways that you can tackle this situation without bruising your cat’s feelings too much. Simply give your pet a kitty massage to get a bit deeper than surface petting. The most important thing to do is to never yell, punish, or reprimand your cat for licking. This is a natural inclination and behavior for them; it’s not your cat’s fault.

You can also distract them away from the situation at hand. This can be done with catnip, or you can toss some balled-up paper to a different part of the room so your cat can venture towards it. 

Remember the cat language barrier

The next time that your cat begins licking you, you have a more robust understanding of why this occurs, why it hurts, and how you can stop it. Just consider this your cat’s language


Reasons Why Your Cat Licks You | The Spruce Pets

Why do animals love petting? | CBS News

Ever wondered why your cat's tongue feels like sandpaper? | PBS

Early weaning increases aggression and stereotypic behaviour in cats | NCBI 

12 Signs Your Cat Has Anxiety & What You Can Do About It | Bustle 

Freaked Out By Your Cat's Scratchy Tongue? Don't Be! It's Keeping Them Cleaner. | NPR 

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