Hepper is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Why Do Cats Lick Themselves After You Pet Them? 3 Likely Reasons

Ashley Bates

By Ashley Bates

tabby cat licking-her-paw

We can be highly bonded with our felines and still not always know how to read their body language. Anyone who’s ever spent time with a cat knows that sometimes after you finish petting them, they will turn around and start licking where you have touched them.

Luckily, there isn’t much mystery here. There are less than a handful of things it can mean, and none of them are harmful unless your cat shows signs of discomfort or pain. Let’s decode this kitty business.

The 3 Reasons Why Cats Lick Themselves After You Pet Them

1. They Correct Your Inadequate Grooming Job

This might be an “I’ll just do it myself” approach. If you’ve just got done petting your cat, they might mistake your affection for an attempt to clean them. If that is the mindset, you’re not going to live up to their expectations–we all know they are grooming masters.

Don’t be offended if your cat cleans up what you left behind. It’s just their perception of what’s happening. They don’t mind picking up your slack as necessary. But the bottom line is that they weren’t happy with your grooming skills—and they need to fix it.

We all know just how important it is for your cat to look sleek and fresh. They are always sitting on a windowsill or lounging in a cat bed, caressing their bodies with their rough, textured tongues. They even take time out to do this with other cat friends or their babies.

Not only is grooming something natural to promote cleanliness, it also relaxes them. When cats do this together, it’s a love language of sorts. And let’s face it—they do it best and we are in second place easily.

cat licking paws
Image Credit: TeamK, Pixabay

2. They’re Getting Rid of Your Scent

No offense, human, but they really don’t want your scent on them. They have birds to catch and mice to chase. They don’t need your stench, making them detectable during the stalk. Also, how are they going to attract a suitor if they can’t get a good whiff of their au naturel pheromones?

Cats have their own musk that gives off messages without mixing with any other smells. And without us even paying it any mind, we give off and leave trails of human odors.

So, if your cat is grooming themselves after you touch them on the same spot, it is probably evident that your contribution is unwanted.

Even if your cat doesn’t hunt outdoors, it can just be an embedded response in their DNA. If they’re out hunting, the last thing they’re going to want is for their prey to detect a human scent. So, in their mind, if they rid their body of your scent, they will be less detectable.

3. You Encouraged a Bath Session

Realistically, the only other reason that your kitty would lick themselves after you’ve petted them is that you jogged their memory–it’s bath time. Because petting often mimics grooming motions, you might’ve just reminded them that they haven’t done that themselves in a while.

Of course, this might coincide with trying to get your scent off and correcting the poor job you’ve done so far, but that doesn’t always necessarily mean that that’s why.

cat licking paws
Image Credit: AntonMaltsev, Shutterstock

What If Your Cat Licks You While Petting Them?

If you are giving your kitty a good rub down and they start licking you, you might wonder what that signifies. Relax–they are engaging in a mutual grooming session, thinking that you are partaking in this cleaning event. Even though you are trying to show them affection, they consider grooming a big part of their love language, too. So, enjoy the sandpapery tongue bath!

Also, often our felines enjoy the saltiness on our skin. So, that’s just one more perk for them.

grey cat licking its paw
Image Credit: michal dziekonski, Unsplash

When Is Licking an Issue?

We want to be very clear that not all licking is normal. If your cat appears that they are uncomfortable, in pain, or a little touchy, you need to get to the bottom of what’s going on.

Sometimes cats excessively grooming or licking a specific area has something to do with a medical issue.

Some of these reasons might include internal pain, skin allergies, or even parasitic infestations. It can also be something behavioral, like anxiety or displacement.

If you’ve noticed any changes in the skin, bathroom habits, or behavior, it might be time to schedule an appointment to get some answers.


We all know that our cats are peculiar little critters, and they march to the beat of their own drum. We can speculate as to why cats would lick themselves after you pet them, but the only one who actually knows the answer is your cat.

So, if you see your cat licking themselves directly after you show them affection, don’t take offense to it. They know you mean well, and they love spending time with their human, no matter how poor your grooming skills are.

Remember, if it seems like your cat is in pain or acting a bit frantic during petting, it might signal a health problem. Don’t delay speaking to a professional for further guidance.

See also: 

Featured Image Credit: SJ Duran, Shutterstock

Related Articles

Further Reading

Vet Articles

Latest Vet Answers

The latest veterinarians' answers to questions from our database