Sometimes they want to keep you clean. Other times you’re just too much of a snack.

By Austin Cannon
December 08, 2020
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Cats treating their humans a bit like a lollipop isn’t weird or out of the ordinary at all—but what does it mean when your cat licks you? 

It could mean that your cat is just trying to help keep you clean, or it could indicate that you, uh, taste good. However, there are situations where cat licking isn’t great and you should find another place for your cat to get her kicks licks.

Why Does My Cat Lick Me?

Your Cat Is Grooming You

“It appears to be somewhat of a loose grooming type of behavior,” says Amelia Wieber​, CPDT-KA, CCBC, and a member of the Daily Paws Advisory Board.

Wieber explains that your cat licking you is especially common when you're petting her. It's an "affiliated response"; you're grooming them with your petting, and they're returning the favor by cleaning off your hand.

Cats groom each other by licking themselves clean, and Wieber says you can test the theory by stopping the petting of your cat as she licks you. If she keeps licking, she's likely grooming you. "You pet me, I'll lick you," she says. 

While it might not seem like it, our cats are invested in our emotional well-being. They must want us to stay clean, too. It's actually the (sometimes) opposite of dogs licking us to tell us to stop petting them, Wieber says. (Most of the time, those dog licks are kisses, though.) 

Black and white cat licks person's fingers
Credit: Joanna Kerkel / EyeEm / Getty

Your Cat Wants to Get Your Attention

If you're walking by with bare feet, for instance, your cat might stick her tongue out and lay one on you, Wieber says, just to let you know she's down there. Then you can get to the loving cat pets she's no doubt asking for.

You Taste Good

Not to be weird, but sometimes your skin tastes good to cats, Wieber says. It might be the lotion you’re using, or maybe your sweat is a little salty. Cats will lick what they like, and sometimes that’s you, Tasty Tom.

When Cat Licking Can Hurt and How to Get It to Stop

Here’s when this otherwise normal cat behavior can become troublesome. 

If your cat's licking is frequent and compulsive, it can be a sign of nervousness or even an anxiety disorder, Wieber says. Along with licking themselves and you, your cat licking windows, plastics, and other things around the house can indicate something is wrong. Call your cat's veterinarian to get a better idea of what's going on and schedule an appointment. (Licking can also be linked to nausea, Wieber says.)

Cat licking can also be harmful if your furry feline likes licking your head, Wieber says. Any product you use to style your hair won't be good for your cat, and the hair itself can be long and end up forming a hairball obstruction in the cat's digestive system. If you suspect that's happened, head to the vet right away.

But there's an easy way to get that to stop, Wieber says. You can wear a cap of some kind when you sleep to block your cat from accessing your head, or you can separate yourself and your cat to prevent that behavior. 

You can also buy something specifically designed for your cat to lick, Wieber says, like a lick mat. You can spread your cat's food on the mat, and, boom, your cat has something tasty to lick that isn't you. 

"Remove your attention. Don't reinforce the behavior with your attention but also redirect their attention," Wieber says.

An earlier version of this story misspelled Amelia Wieber's name. It's been corrected.