Almost every cat parent has experienced this, kitty snuggling close and the cat licks their human! Some of us lovingly call this gesture sandpaper kisses. Others would jokingly say it is your cat’s way of telling you “Hey human you need a bath!” Some cats like the taste of salt on sweaty skin and lick their icky humans!
This licking gesture is oftentimes endearing. But licking begins to be annoying if it becomes obsessive. It may even reach a point where your cat will not leave you alone and it interferes with your activities.
Cat licking you may be a sign of affection and is endearing but can become annoying if excessive.
So what does it mean when a cat licks you? Let us explore the reasons for this peculiar feline behaviour and what we can do to prevent it from becoming kitty’s obsessive habit.
Reasons Why My Cat Licks People
Bonding and Giving Affection
Among cats, grooming is a form of bonding. Queens lick their kittens and two adult cats who are good friends mutually lick and groom each other. We think cats may feel the same way about licking humans. It is a way cats communicate affection and form a bond with their favourite people. When a cat licks you, it is a form of compliment to you. It means kitty sees you as a friend, a part of the family and trusts you.
Mutual licking between cats is a sign of acceptance and friendship. This may extend to cats licking humans.
Attention Seeking and Boredom
Most cats are aloof creatures but a few seem to crave for human attention. While some cats vocalise their need for attention, others lick their humans. Licking, whether directed to the self or to others, is generally a sign of boredom. It is more often seen in cats that are confined indoors that have no outlets for physical or mental stimulation.
Anxiety and Stress
When cats are feeling anxious or stressed
they may start to lick themselves or others. Since kittens grew up constantly being licked by their mothers, some cats turn to licking as a gesture to comfort themselves. The usual sources of stress for cats are conflict with a family member, aggression from another household pet and unpredictability in the cat’s daily life. For a cat who is constantly exposed to a stressor, compulsive licking behaviour may become obsessive. Licking releases brain chemicals called endorphins that makes cats feel good and kitty might become hooked to this habit.
It is noteworthy to mention here that some cats are able to pick up on their owner’s moods. Maybe your cat is licking you not because he feels stressed but because he perceives that you are stressed and is trying to comfort you.
What to Do To When Cat Keeps Licking You?
The best action slowly moving and walking away. Let your cat down gently. Do not roughly push kitty away or hit or scold him. Placing a bitter-tasting substance on your skin to discourage licking may not be such a good idea. Your cat may start to associate you with something unpleasant. Kitty may start totally avoiding you.
How To Avoid The Behaviour?
Observe and identify the behavioural cues that signals kitty is about to start licking you. Distract his attention before he starts. You may provide play alternative. If you try distracting your cat with treats after he has started licking, this may reinforce the behaviour
If you notice that there is a particular situation or time of day that your cat starts licking, schedule some form of interactive play or go outside for a walk or ride during this period. To prevent your cat from getting bored when you are not around to play, provide a sturdy cat tree to increase physical activity. Puzzle toys or treat dispensers are also good for mental stimulation and keeping boredom away. For cats who love to go outside, construct an enclosed catio or a cat patio so kitty can still enjoy the outdoors but be safe from predators and accidents.
Interactive toys and treat dispensers provide mental stimulation and prevents boredom.
If All Else Fails, Take Kitty To The Vets
If the licking seems stress related, try to identify and remove or control the source of stress. In a multi-cat household, make sure there are enough number of food and water bowls and litter boxes. Clean the litterboxes regularly. Stick to a predictable daily routine especially the feeding schedule. You can also try installing a pheromone diffuser to help cats calm down.
If all of the suggestions above don’t work and still your cat licks you obsessively, bring kitty to see the veterinarian. Physical examination and laboratory tests may help identify or rule out health issues that may be causing your cat to be stressed. Your cat may need a CT scan and MRI to check for brain lesions. The veterinarian may prescribe your cat a behaviour-modification or anti-anxiety medicine. It is always best to have a regular veterinary health check for your cat.