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Why Do Cats Groom Humans? The 8 Possible Reasons!

Misty Layne Profile Picture

By Misty Layne

cat licking its owner's hand

Our feline friends spend a big chunk of their time grooming themselves—between 30% and 50% of the day1. Since grooming is such a large part of the kitty lifestyle, it’s not surprising that our cats sometimes choose to groom us too. But are there actual reasons they do so, or is it just because we happen to be nearby during their grooming session?

There are several reasons your favorite feline will lick your hand, face, or hair in an effort to groom you! Ready to find out what those reasons are? Then keep reading!

Top 8 Reasons Why Cats Groom Humans

There are 10 main reasons a cat will groom a human. Here’s a quick look at each reason and why it occurs.

1. Early Weaning

If you received your cat via breeder, it likely isn’t licking you for this reason because, by the time you got it, your kitty was old enough to have been weaned from mama cat. However, if you adopted your pet through a shelter or friend or found it abandoned, there’s a chance your feline was weaned too early from its mother. And cats that have been weaned before the right time can have a tendency to groom you while kneading and purring; doing this is a way for them to receive the sort of comfort they associate with nursing as a kitten.

cat drinking milk from a saucer
Image Credit: ChervovRV, Shutterstock

2. Wants to Play

Sometimes your kitty licks and grooms you because it’s indicating that it is ready to play (or just wants your attention and love). Felines try to grab your attention in different ways when they want you, like meowing, pawing at you, or grooming you. So, if your cat approaches you and starts grooming, give it the attention it’s craving and go play!

3. Bonding Behavior

Have you ever wondered whether your cat considers you to be a very large feline (although one that’s admittedly awful at catting)? Well, that’s definitely been the subject of debate, but it’s safe to say that cats interact with humans in similar ways as how they interact with other felines. And if you’ve ever seen a cat grooming another cat, then you’ve seen that cat showing the other cat affection and bonding with it. So, sometimes by grooming us, our cats are doing the same and engaging in bonding behavior.

Cat welcomes his owner at home
Image Credit: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock

4. You Taste Yummy

Look, occasionally, you just taste really good to your cat, and it results in lots of licking. That might seem odd, but there are actually several ways your hair or skin could have an appealing taste. You might have used a shampoo or body wash that smells delicious or tastes interesting. Or you might’ve just finished with a hardcore workout that left you sweaty, making you taste salty. You might’ve even been a bit messy while eating and spilled a sauce or food on yourself that your kitty thinks tastes amazing. There are a wealth of reasons why you would taste yummy to your pet!

5. Done Receiving Affection

Cats like attention and affection but want it on their own terms. And that means when your kitty is done with being loved on, it’s done (and it will let you know!). One way your pet might communicate that the petting was nice, but it wants no more at this time is by grooming you. However, some people mistake this sort of grooming as a cat returning affection or even asking for more, which can lead to a swipe of the paw or a nip of your hand. So, check your pet’s body language to see if it has flat ears, a flicking tail, or is trying to pull away from you to avoid miscommunication.

Cat licking a person's fingers
Image Credit: gglim79, Pixabay

6. Showing It’s Comfortable

Your cat may also engage in a grooming session with you to show it feels comfortable. It’s simply a way your kitty is communicating that it is happy and content. So, enjoy!

7. Marking Its Territory

If you have multiple felines in your home, you know how territorial they can be. And cats show their possessiveness of territory by marking it in different ways. They might leave a visual mark on what they consider theirs by scratching it or may scent mark it by rubbing their cheek against it. Well, grooming you is another way to mark a piece of your cat’s property. Cats living in groups will create a group scent by licking each other, so if your cat is grooming you, it’s leaving this scent on you and marking you as theirs.

cat rubbing against the sofa to show territory
Image Credit: bombermoon, Shutterstock

8. Anxiety

If there’s been a recent change in your cat’s life, like having a new pet move into the house, a baby joining the family, or the family moving homes, then the cat may be experiencing some anxiety. And sometimes, an anxious cat will use grooming as a coping mechanism. They may begin excessively grooming not only themselves but people too. The anxiety should lessen on its own, but if you notice your cat licking itself so much that it’s beginning to irritate skin or result in hair loss, step in. There are ways you can help your pet deal with its anxiety.

9. Medical Issue

Anxiety might not be the only issue causing your cat to groom you and itself, though. There may also be an underlying medical issue that’s causing the behavior. If your cat has begun excessively grooming you, itself, and others, or if grooming you is a brand-new behavior, you might want to check in with your vet. Discomfort, pain, and nausea are all medical problems that can lead to grooming, so your pet might not be feeling well if it’s grooming you. Look for other signs that something is wrong, such as loss of appetite and lethargy.

person petting a sick cat
Image Credit: Alexander Andrews, Unsplash

8. Grooming

And the final reason your four-legged friend is grooming you is to groom you. Yep, sometimes your cat is simply trying to get you clean as they would themselves. In particular, this can happen with cats that have taken on the allo-groomer role in the household (aka the single cat in a group of cats that grooms everyone). If your pet is actually trying to groom you, just accept it with grace—the cat clearly recognizes you as one of its group!

How to Stop a Cat From Grooming You

Although most of the reasons a cat will groom a human are nice, it still may make you uncomfortable to be licked (after all, a cat’s tongue is rather rough and sandpaper-like!). There are ways to get your pet to stop grooming you, though.

  • Provide plenty of enrichment in your pet’s environment. Buy plenty of toys in a wide variety and rotate them out so your cat is never bored. Or build a cool kitty jungle gym on the wall, or make sure your pet has a tall cat tree with spaces to lounge and hide. Plus, play with your cat for at least a few minutes every day!
  • Cover up. If the feel of your cat’s tongue makes you uncomfortable, you can wear long sleeves when around them (or just cover up with a blanket).
  • Redirect your cat’s attention. When your cat starts grooming you, toss a toy or treat for them to go get instead.
  • Walk away. If the cat is grooming you for attention or comfort, then standing up and walking away when your pet licks you will indicate to it that the grooming is unwanted. However, if your cat is still trying to lick you after a week or so, there could be a more serious reason for the grooming behavior.

Final Thoughts

There are so many reasons that cats groom humans! Most of these reasons are nice, such as a cat marking you as theirs, wanting to play, or indicating it’s comfortable. However, there are a couple of instances where a cat will groom a human that indicates something more serious, like anxiety or a medical issue. You should be able to ascertain whether the reason for the grooming is good or bad, though, by checking your cat’s body language while it’s licking you.

For the most part, you can just sit back and enjoy your pet’s attention. But if being groomed by your cat isn’t in your top ten list of favorite things, you should be able to break your kitty of the habit by redirecting its attention or ignoring licking when it occurs!

Featured Image Credit: congerdesign, Pixabay

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