Cat owners and cat lovers know different cats have different personalities and behavioral patterns. Some of them love to play with ping-pong balls, while others like paper towel roll more. Some can curl up on a windowsill and watch birds flying for hours, whereas others will follow you everywhere you go.
But one habit that almost all cats share is ‘licking.’ They love to lick themselves, their little ones, and their owners, but the question here is: What does it mean when a cat licks you?
What Does It Mean When a Cat Licks You?
Cats spend most of their time licking themselves. This is a natural of cats, and they do it for different reasons. As it is somewhat impossible to ascertain why your cat licks you, the researchers have come up with several reasons behind this habit. So let’s dig in to know a little more about your feline fellow.
Mother cat licks her kittens to help them feel secure and safe. When the cat licks you or other cats or even other pets, it means the cat wants to create a social bond. It is her way of communicating love and acceptance. This behavior is passed on from mother cats to their kittens, and they carry it with them in their adulthood as well. So if your cat licks you, it means she wants to communicate the sentiments of love and affection to you.
Like other mammals, our furry friends also mark their territory so that the cats in the neighborhood know there is another cat around. For this reason, the cat will either urinate around those areas or leave her scent by rubbing her head, spraying, or licking the objects there. This is the same reason why she may lick you too; to show other pets and cats that you belong to her.
Licking is also done as a grooming mechanism. Cats have scoop-shaped and hollow backward spines that work as combs. With the help of these spines, cats lick and clean themselves and their young kittens. These are also used to scratch themselves, their kittens, or even other cats. By licking themselves, they help clean their fur, get rid of odors, move oils around the skin, shed loose hair, and lower their body temperature. So, if you find your cat licking you, she might be doing it to groom and clean you, just as a mother cat grooms her kittens. Strange creatures they are!
What if your cat is anxious? What does it mean when a cat licks you when she is restless? What is she trying to communicate?
Many a time, cats lick themselves or their owner as a coping mechanism against anxiety or stress. Or they may lick themselves when something unexpected happens. For example, if a cat jumps from a table to the window next to it but instead lands on the floor, her instant response might be licking herself. This can be her way of coping with the confusion of something unexpected happening.
Another reason why your cat may be licking you is that she is seeking your attention. She may want you to pet her, feed her, or give her your attention. So next time you notice your cat licking or rubbing against you, just show her a bit more affection and care.
This can sound a little silly, but your cat can lick you because she can smell/taste something pleasant on your skin. You may have come in contact with something that she likes or have spilled something on your clothes that is her favorite food. In such cases, your cat will circle you and sniff the source of that smell and thus will start licking you.
Why Does it Hurt?
Another question cat owners frequently try to find an answer to is why it hurts when a cat licks?
The answer is, it hurts because of ‘papillae’ on the tongue of a cat. The papillae are hollow, backward spines used by cats for cleaning their skin and fur. These papillae are made up of keratin, which is also found in animal claws and human fingernails. Cats use their tongue to strip the meat off of their prey.
When cats lick themselves, these papillae help them brush their fur. It is like a small kitty brush. As mentioned above, cats lick other cats or their kitten as a gesture of love and affection. So when they lick you, they are doing so as a way to groom you, thus using their papillae. This is why it hurts when your cat licks your skin.
When Is It a Problem?
Now, as a cat licking herself or her owner may seem an innocent, full of affection habit, it can be a sign of something serious if she starts doing it obsessively. If she is licking herself more than she normally does, there can be some medical issues involved, such as skin allergy, digestive disorder, or they may be experiencing pain due to a common condition called anal sac impaction.
After ruling out physiological reasons behind this behavior, if she is still licking herself or you excessively, it might suggest she is trying to cope with anxiety or stress. A change in routine, addition or loss of another pet in the home, or a move to a new place may trigger anxiety in a cat, and she may start licking you or herself more than normal.
Swelling or infection in their anal glands can force cats to lick themselves excessively. If they are excessively licking themselves, it can also result in alopecia, the bald patches. So it is wise to keep a check upon your feline friend and its behavior. If you notice something unusual, it is always advisable to get them checked with a vet.
How to Stop It?
As discussed earlier, licking is a cat’s natural behavior. Unless it is done excessively, it is not something to fret about. But if you feel like the cat is doing it obsessively, or if you get irritated because of the roughness of her tongue, you can try to restrain your cat from this.
One way to do that is by diverting her attention. You can use a toy to distract her. You can also start her favorite game, cuddle with her, or pet her to divert her attention from licking. If nothing helps, you can try to leave the place and move away from your cat.
If you feel like the cat is licking herself because of some medical issue, take her to a vet. The vet will check her for possible medical problems and suggest solutions. The vet will also start medication if need be. If the cat’s excessive licking is because of stress and anxiety, the vet may suggest a change of environment for your cat. You can also help your feline friend feel more loved by playing with her and giving her your attention more often.
So, to sum ‘what does it mean a cat licks you’ up, licking is a cat’s natural way of showing love and affection to her owner, kittens, and other cats. There is no need to worry about it if it is not done obsessively. But if you feel uncomfortable due to your cat excessively licking you or see bald patches on her skin, it is time to inform the vet about it. Otherwise, licking is just your feline friend’s way of showing love that you can pay back by playing with them, cuddling, and petting.