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Why Do Cats Lick You? 5 Possible Reasons Why

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

cat licks on mans hand

Cats are complex creatures. Yes, these beautiful animals are sassy and love to show their dominance around the home, but they also tend to show signs of love and affection. Occasionally, if you own a cat, you may think your pet shows its affection for you by offering a random lick. This is both true and false. Yes, cats show their love with a cute little lick, but they also try to express other things with this common gesture. If you’re a cat parent and want to know the reasons behind their licks, read below to find out more about the complicated mind of your feline best friend.

The 5 Possible Reasons Why Cats Lick You

1. Your Cat May Be Showing You Affection

The most common reason your cat may lick your hand or face is that they love you. Cats who are raised with their human families become accustomed to the affection they receive. Petting, scratches, and even soft words will make your cat happy. In an attempt to show you the same kind of happiness, your cat may offer you your very own tongue bath.

If your cat is being affectionate, the licks they offer may be their way of asking for return gestures from you. Often when your cat licks your hand, they want you to show love by petting them gently, or perhaps they want to be held. Cats are quite good at showing their feelings. If they are in the mood for special times with their owners, it’s best to give it to them. They are known for the tantrums they can throw when they don’t get their way.

cat licking a mans fingers
Image Credit: Piqsels

2. Kitten Memories

You may not realize it, but licks from your cat may be their way of mothering you. As a kitten, your cat received love and nurturing from their mother. Her way of showing this affection was to lick. Mother cats use their tongues to clean their kittens, show them they are cared for, and even console their kittens in times of need. Having learned this behavior at a very young age, your cat may be showing off their nurturing side by trying to keep you well-groomed. No cat wants an owner they feel is not up to par.

3. You Have Been Marked

Cats are known to mark everything they consider theirs. In some situations, this may mean urinating inside your home to mark their territory. This isn’t the only way cats do this, however.

Cats use pheromones to show other cats which people and things are most important to them. Instead of urinating on you, a cat will rub its cheek against you or offer a gentle lick to mark you as theirs. This is often why other cats you encounter avoid you or shy away when you approach. They smell your cat’s claim. Don’t be upset by these actions. If your cat considers you special enough to mark, you’ve shown it enough love and affection to gain its trust.

cat licking owners face
Image Credit: AJR_photo, Shutterstock

4. Early Weaning

If your cat was weaned too early as a kitten or was possibly orphaned, it may tend to excessively lick. This is due to your cat missing out on its chance to suckle when they were kittens. Another sign your cat may have weaned too early is kneading you when they want affection. Both of these actions help your cat mimic the actions they missed out on with their mothers. In your cat’s eyes, you are now the mom they are needing and you will receive their extra love and lots of happy purrs.


5. Your Cat May Be Slightly Anxious

Cats may be considered strong, self-reliant pets but anxiety can get the best of them. When your cat is nervous or feels overly anxious, licking may be their way of showing you they need your attention.

If you notice your cat is licking excessively, staying near you, and wanting to be held or given extra pets, it’s your job to make them feel better. Take the time to offer your cat all the attention they need when their anxiety is at a high. This will not only make them feel better but will help the two of you form a stronger bond with one another.

Image Credit: karpova, Shutterstock

Yes, The Licks May Hurt a Bit

Unfortunately, if you have been on the receiving end of your cat’s excessive licking, you know it can hurt just a bit. While your cat may be trying to give you a little extra love, the feel of their sandpaper-like tongues may leave you cringing. Don’t worry, this is completely normal.

A coating called papillae covers your cat’s tongue. This coating helps your cat properly remove dirt and loose hair from its body. While the feel of papillae may not be the greatest thing to experience, knowing most of the reason behind your cat needing to lick you makes taking the slight discomfort easier. For your cat, experiencing licks is a good feeling. When they offer you this treatment, they don’t realize it doesn’t feel the same for you.

Licking Can Be a Bonding Experience

Now that you are aware of the reasons behind your cat’s licking, you can let your guard down. With some cats, a slight bite may follow a tongue bath, but in most instances, this isn’t meant to cause you harm. If your cat licks you, take the time to gauge their mood and understand their needs. You can then make sharing affection with your feline pal a bonding experience you can both enjoy.

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