Cats are incredibly cute, but sometimes they have little quirks that aren't easy to interpret. Take licking, for example. Your cat grooming himself is normal. But sometimes he starts grooming you, and then things get confusing. "Why is my cat licking me so much?" you might ask. Why does he lick your shoes or groom you, then bite you? Although it might seem odd from your perspective, it actually makes a lot of sense to your cat.
How Your Cat's Tongue Works
Have you ever wondered why your cat's tongue feels rough when he licks you? Cats have prickly tongues with little hollow spines on them called papillae. These spines help your cat get his fur very clean by attracting more hair, and they also help cool him by transferring larger amounts of saliva onto his skin.1 In the wild, those barbs aid him when hunting by helping him hold prey and get more meat off the bones while eating.2
Your Cat May Be Expressing that You're Part of the Family
Cats are not pack animals like dogs, but they do like to help each other when living in a community. One of the ways they help is by grooming each other and cleaning harder-to-reach spots. Cats might also like to clean others in the group to deal with an offensive smell. It's not just a pragmatic act; communal grooming helps solidify the understanding that they're all part of the same family.3
Your cat might be grooming you to mark you as part of her family, not just to clean you. It can be regarded as a sign of affection and trust. Some cats even lick each other to help calm and ease nervousness in the group. So try to see if your cat is more likely to lick you when she thinks you might be upset or stressed.
If your cat licks you, then gently bites you without breaking the skin, it's often called a "love bite." Some believe this is your cat's way of "gently" telling you she's had enough. Others say it's a sign of affection and part of the general grooming routine.
Your Cat May Be Stressed or Bored
Overlicking and overgrooming can sometimes be a sign of stress. This might be expressed not just when your cat goes overboard with licking himself, but when he licks you a lot too. Cats find comfort in licking, so your cat may calm himself by grooming a lot if he feels intimidated by something inside or outside the home.4
Your cat might also turn to frequent licking if he has too much energy and no other means to express it. That's why if he's bored and trying to get your attention, he might start licking you.
Your Cat Might Be Drawn to a Taste or Texture
There's also a chance your cat licks you a lot simply because she's drawn to a specific taste on your skin or to a texture, like the feel of your shoes. If you were just walking outside barefoot, she might be drawn to the taste of the outdoors lingering on your skin. This cause is easily identified by removing the texture or taste she seeks.
How to Stop Your Cat from Licking You
There's nothing wrong with your cat licking you, and it's often a sign of affection and love. But if the licking is too much, then you might need to take action. First, take your cat to the veterinarian to make sure a health issue isn't causing this change in personality.
After you get the all-clear from your vet, look for different approaches to completely discourage your cat from licking you. (You may need more than one.) Try gently moving your cat when he grooms you too much. You should also try redirecting your cat's attention to a catnip toy that's more enticing than your skin.
If boredom is the cause of his licking, then take time to play with him more. Get him to chase a feather wand or try clicker training. Take him outside on a cat harness for a change of scenery. Set up cat trees, cat condos, and window perches since cats tend to feel more confident when they have high spaces to call their own. A confident cat is less likely to act out.
If stress is the cause, be sure you focus on improving your cat's e-meow-tional health. Comfort Zone products can help by mimicking the calming pheromones that signal to your cat in his language that everything's okay. Try the Comfort Zone Calming Diffuser or use the Comfort Zone Calming Collar if you want the calming signals with him wherever he goes.
If you have more than one cat, this might be a source of stress. Try plugging the Comfort Zone Multi-Cat Diffuser into the rooms where your cats spend the most time.
The next time your cat starts grooming you, remember his licking can actually be a compliment. If he's not stressed, he may simply be trying to get your attention. Or your cat may be trying to show you that he considers you part of his family.
1. Bess, Emilie. "Why are cats tongues rough?" Rover.com, https://www.rover.com/blog/why-are-cat-tongues-rough/.
2. Tucson. "Blue Sky Science: Why Do Cats Have Rough Tongues?" Tuscon.com, 21 November 2018, https://tucson.com/news/science/blue-sky-science-why-do-cats-have-rough-tongues/article_0670be6f-7e0b-5945-a0ba-f9ec720c9079.html.
3. Gilpatrick, John. "Why Does My Cat Lick Me?" PetMD, 10 November 2017, https://www.petmd.com/cat/behavior/evr_ct_why-does-my-cat-lick-me.