Many people who own pets associate their pets licking them with an expression of love, but there are some other reasons that your cat might be licking you. Knowing more about the reasons for cats licking their owners can help you to understand what they are trying to tell you so that you can meet their needs more effectively.
Cat licking can be linked to a variety of social behaviors. You have probably noticed that cats lick other cats as well, so when they are extending this behavior to you, you could be wondering what it means. We will talk about the reasons for cat licking so that you can be sure that you know what your cat is trying to tell you when they choose to lick you.
1. They Are Being Affectionate
The most common reason that cats might lick their owners is to show affection. They provide this kind of display of affection to other cats, and mother cats groom their kittens affectionately as well. This kind of behavior can sometimes escalate into unwanted biting and clawing if your cat gets too excited, but often the first stages of the grooming process are meant to be entirely affectionate.
Cats strengthen social bonds by grooming, which means that your cat is probably just trying to bond with you when they are grooming you by licking.
2. Seeking Attention
Cats are good at figuring out what gets them attention, and if your cat has realized that you will pet them if they lick you, they might repeat this behavior any time that they want some love from you. This behavior can be totally acceptable unless it turns into your cat biting or attacking you when they are not getting their way. You have to be cautious about rewarding this kind of licking as it can easily turn into unwanted aggression that you will need to discourage.
3. Your Cat Feels That You Are Part of the Group
Cats will only groom other cats that they feel close to. If your cat is licking you, this shows that they feel that you are part of their social circle. Since licking and grooming strengthen social bonds, your cat is providing you with signs that you are included in their social grouping and that they feel affection toward you for being included.
4. Your Cat is Displaying Kitten-Like Behavior
Cats will sometimes show signs of kitten-like behavior into adulthood if they were weaned too early or if they did not get socialized much as a young cat. Cats that knead and purr while licking might be showing this kind of bond-forming behavior to try and figure out where they belong in your home’s pecking order.
5. Your Cat Likes the Taste of Your Skin
If you have been touching food that your cat might be interested in, or if you are sweaty, your cat might lick you because your skin tastes good to them. While more common behavior in dogs, cats can still show this behavior when they smell something interesting on your skin as well.
Cats sometimes groom themselves or other cats to try and alleviate their anxiety. If your cat is anxious or scared, they might lick you to try and calm down and feel safe. This is a behavior that is linked with kitten-age bonding, but it can reassert itself in situations where your cat feels very worried. When you move or if you have taken your cat on a trip, they might lick you more than normal due to their stress or worry. Be careful that this kind of grooming does not turn into obsessive licking that can lead to bald patches or other skin issues for your cat.
7. Medical Problems
Some medical issues can be linked to dietary issues that might cause excessive licking. Inflammatory bowel disease, as well as other kinds of conditions that cause nausea, can lead to your cat licking too much or licking human skin excessively. You might need to take your cat to the veterinarian if they do not seem to be feeling well and they want to lick your hands, or your other exposed skin more often than they have in the past.
Should I Let My Cat Lick Me?
While there is nothing wrong with allowing your cat to bond with you through licking behaviors, you should be cautious about allowing your cat to do so too often. This kind of behavior can be linked with dominance in cats as well, and sometimes cats can develop obsessive habits related to licking that can lead to them grooming their own coats too much and bothering you to lick you when you don’t want them to.
Cat mouths are not the cleanest either, so always be careful about allowing your cat to lick any open wound or even a mostly healed wound to your skin. Immuno-compromised people should not let their cats lick them very often since this can lead to skin infections and other issues that can be quite serious.
Your Cat Might be Licking You for Many Reasons
There are many reasons that your cat might have started to lick you frequently. While this behavior can be linked with social behavior that indicates that your cat loves you, cat licking can also be linked to health issues and to dominant behavior in cats. Make sure that you consider limiting how much you allow your cat to lick you and that you take your cat to the vet right away if they seem not to be feeling well.
Cat licking can be sweet and cute, but you do need to be sure that you are not allowing your cat to use this behavior to try and put you in your place or to place their own needs for dominance above yours. Making sure that your cat only licks you when you want them to can make a big difference in your relationship in a positive way.