8 Reasons Your Cat Licks You and What It Means

8 Reasons Your Cat Licks You and What It Means

Cats are, well, fascinating little creatures. Sometimes they’re cute and cuddly, and other times they want nothing to do with you. While this is normal behavior, some cats will walk right up to you and give you a lick.

It might be shocking at first, but it’s perfectly normal, and there are many reasons our furry friends want to bless us with a lick. We’re going to take you through a handful of reasons why your cat licks you and how to stop it if their tongue is hurting you.

1. To Show Affection

We’ll start with a fun one: affection. We know that cats can be hot and cold. One minute, they’re purring on your lap, and the next, they’re knocking things off your kitchen table. Cats aren’t always the best at showing affection, but one way they do is by giving us a little lick.

When cats are young, their mothers groom and lick them. Besides teaching their kittens to groom, it’s a mother’s way of showing love and affection. If your cat licks you often and gives you a small nibble, there is a good chance they’re showing appreciation. Cats remember their experiences as kittens, so it’s their way of passing on the knowledge their mothers passed onto them.

2. To Mark Their Territory

Every animal is territorial, even us humans. While we choose to build houses, cats prefer a more modest life; to claim their territory, cats like to get their scent in a designated area. Some ways cats do this is by rubbing their face on things, desecration (which is rare), and licking.

So, when your cat licks you, they’re claiming you as territory. This trait comes from their mothers when they’re kittens. Cats lick their kittens to claim ownership and prevent other cats from taking the litter. When your cat licks you, it’s their way of inviting you into the litter.

You’ll also notice that sibling cats or cats that get along well lick each other too. While it’s a way for them to mark territory, it’s also a gesture of trust and security.

3. To Groom You

While licking yourself doesn’t seem like a great way to clean up after a long day, it’s an essential behavior for cats. To stay clean, cats use their tongues to dig between fur and get the grime out. Furthermore, their mothers teach them how to do this as kittens. Even large litters of kittens have one cat that functions as the dedicated groomer.

If your cat likes to groom you all of the time, there is a good chance they’re trying to invite you into their littler. Plus, cats don’t believe in showers, so they’re trying to make sure you clean yourself.

We know it’s weird, but cat’s tongues can have benefits for your skin. For example, cats can lick away oily skin and cleanse your pores. It sounds gross, but at least they’re trying to help! This is also their way of encouraging you to lick yourself!

4. To Get a Taste

Sometimes we’re messy eaters, and other times we spill drinks on accident. If anything gets on your arm, your cat might get curious about it. Some cats will wander over, take a look, and give it a little lick. So, where does this behavior come from?

This one is simple, and there is no secret meaning behind your cat licking spaghetti sauce off your arm. It’s just your cat’s way of getting a taste of what you’re eating and satisfying their curiosity.

When you see something good, don’t you want to try it too? You and your cat aren’t so different in this way. In fact, some people just taste good to cats. If your cat licks you often, there is a good chance you’re one of those people!

5. To Use You as a “Pacifer”

Cats might also lick you because your arm is a substitute for a pacifier. This doesn’t make sense to humans, but for cats with an oral fixation, your arm or finger is a great place to fixate. This occurs in cats that are weaned too early. If your cat was an orphan and didn’t spend much time with its mother, licking you is the closest thing they have to nursing.

Unfortunately, using your arm as a pacifier is not something you want your cat to do forever. If your cat is a kitten, giving them a chance to emulate nursing can strengthen your bond, and by letting them lick, you won’t cause any harm.

On the other hand, if this continues into a cat’s adulthood, you should wean them off this habit. Instead of letting them lick you, try distracting them with toys or catnip. You never want to scold them for licking you.

6. To “Pet” You

If you like to pet your cat, you’ll understand that your cat wants to pet you too. Unfortunately, cats don’t have thumbs or hands to pet us with. Furthermore, their paws aren’t designed for petting. With sharp claws and thick padding, petting us with their paws isn’t feasible or pleasurable. Plus, cats have less feeling in their paws than we have in our hands.

Still, cats have learned that we like to pet things, specifically them. Over time, cats have learned to reciprocate that behavior. Unfortunately, they do this with their tongue, which doesn’t feel as gentle or smooth as petting.

7. Because They’re Feeling Anxious

Licking tends to be an innocent behavior. Most cats lick you to show affection or welcome you into their family but sometimes licking has a deeper meaning. In some cases, cats develop compulsive licking behavior because they have anxiety. Some signs of anxious behavior include licking, hiding, running, avoiding people, and frequently kneading.

If it’s anxious licking, your cat will hunt you down for comfort. This leads to excessive licking if you don’t give your furry companion attention. If you’re looking to reduce their anxiety, make sure you provide them with plenty of affection. Go out of your way to interact with them more and shower them with cuddles, pets, and playing.

8. Because They Want Attention

Cats don’t always want attention. They’re aloof animals that like to explore and live life on their terms. While cats are independent animals, that doesn’t mean they dislike you. For many cats, their owner is more than the hand that feeds them. Some studies have shown that cats crave affection from their owners and show signs of preference and love.

If your cat comes over to lick you, it might be their way of asking you for attention. This type of licking is usually accompanied by scratching, nibbling, and meowing. Cats don’t always want attention, so when they ask for it, we recommend showing them some love.

Why It Hurts When Cats Lick You

While licking is a heart-warming gesture, it doesn’t always feel good. Unlike dogs, the tongue of your cat doesn’t feel pleasant; it feels more like sandpaper. So, what makes it hurt?

Cat’s use their tongue to clean their skin and fur. For this reason, the tongue is covered in papillae. Papillae are made of keratin, which is the same material your cat’s claws are made of. So, your cat’s tongue is covered in dozens of tiny claws.

To make things worse, the papillae are shaped like backward hooks to sink into surfaces they’re licking. While this works for cleaning in between fur, it doesn’t feel good on our skin.

How to Discourage Cats From Licking You

It’s adorable when cats lick us, but it doesn’t always feel good. Frequent licking can lead to pain, discomfort, allergic reactions, and annoyances. If you dislike your cat licking you, you’re not alone. So, how do you prevent a cat from licking you?

Avoid Scolding Your Cat

First and foremost, you never want to reprimand your cat for licking you. This comes naturally to them, so making them feel bad about it won’t make matters any better. Instead, we recommend diverting your cat’s attention away from licking and onto something else.

Distract Them With a Toy

One of the best ways to distract your cat is with toys. When your cat starts licking you, grab their favorite toy, and create a playing session. Not only will playing tire out those energetic balls of fur, but it will keep them from peeling your skin with their tongue.

Consider Catnip as a Last Resort

If all else fails, you can also resort to catnip. Don’t use too much, but a little catnip will quickly distract your cat.


There are many reasons for cats to get friendly with you. Typically, your cat licking you is nothing to worry about because it’s their way of showing love and affection. Plus, cats don’t always want attention, so seeing them initiate intimate behavior is a blessing.

Still, compulsive licking behavior needs to be dealt with and shouldn’t be encouraged. If you feel like your cat is licking too often, do your best to distract them with toys and petting. But if there is one thing you should never do, it’s scolding a cat for giving you a lick.

Team PetMag

We’re a diverse team of animal lovers with a penchant for pups and a fascination with felines. As pet owners, we know that all pets are part of the family. Whether you live with pooches, pussy cats, rodents, or reptiles, we want to support them in living happy, healthy lives. Nothing tops our unwavering love for animals, but sharing all of our tips and tricks here at Pet Mag is a close second. We’re here to guide you through all of your pet care needs, like fighting fleas, picking grooming gloves, or simply hunting down the tastiest treats available.