Feeling Peeled Alive? 5 Reasons Why Cats Lick Us


Have you ever wondered why cats lick us? Naturally, when our pets lick us, we assume they are merely showing love. But just how accurate is that assessment?

White cat licking women hand describing why cats lick us


Reason 1: Cats Lick Us Because They Feel Secure With Us

According to petmd.com. perhaps your cat is giving you a tongue bath because she sees you as a member of her tribe and feels secure when she is with you. She may recall how her mom gave her cleanings as a kitten. Now, your cat is emulating that behavior towards you as an act of nurture, keeping you clean and claiming you as one of her own.

Reason 2: Cats Lick Us To Establish Territory

Another reason your cat may lick you is to establish her territory. Licking allows her to mark her scent, telling others to back off because this is her property. Just like mother cats lick their offspring to mark them as their own, your cat licks you to declare to the world that you are hers. (Remember! You don’t own your cat; she owns you!)  Licking is also a bonding mechanism.

Reason 3: Weaned Too Early or Orphaned

Cats lick us because they may have been weaned too early or were orphaned, developing an oral fixation making them excessive lickers. Without an appropriate means by which to get the same comfort that nursing gave them, they turn to licking, which is the closest they can get to that sensation.

Reason 4: It’s Cat Version of Petting Us

Licking is also a cat’s version of petting you, another form of affection she has towards you. Because she can’t really pet you, she lets her tongue do the work for her.

Reason 5: Anxiety

Excessive licking on your cat’s part can be attributed to anxiety. This may be a sign she needs to be petted and cuddled to relieve her stress. If your cat does seem to be licking too much, offer her more attention and affection.

Check for Skin Irritations

When an older cat who has never shown her affection for you in this manner suddenly begins licking you or suckling at your clothing, take note.

Some cats initiate vigorous licking trying to get relief from a skin irritation, fleas, an insect bite or even an infection. Examine her skin and fur for the source of the problem. Check with your veterinarian as to proper treatment.

While there are varied reasons as to why your cat might lick you – and we know it can hurt at times – never punish or reprimand her for doing what is natural for her.  If you need to distract her, try massaging her a bit or engaging her with a catnip toy.





Written by Ann Butenas

Ann Butenas

An internationally-recognized author and writer, Ann began her professional writing career at age 12 and began speaking while in college. She has been published thousands of times over the past three decades in all media forms, was former editor and publisher of KC Metro Woman magazine, and has also hosted three talk radio shows in the Kansas City area.

22 Responses to "Feeling Peeled Alive? 5 Reasons Why Cats Lick Us"

  1. My cat Peanut Butter loves to lick my son-in-law, who isn’t a fan of cats. I suspect she simply likes establishing that he has to tolerate her when he visits our house. It could be affection, but….;-)

  2. My cat Puck would lick me all the time. He adopted me as his momma early on and was my shadow cat. But he was also territorial and your post makes a lot of sense that perhaps he was in some way marking me as his.

  3. Very informative post! Some of my dad’s cats have been known to be lickers and I always thought it was an interesting behavior for a cat. When you add the sandpaper like feel of a cat’s tongue, I can see where the issue lies. I love your advice to not reprimand the cat, but rather re-direct him if it gets to be too much. Great advice!

  4. Our cat Jasmine licks me every night during her mandatory snuggle session right before we go to bed. She waits for me to lie down and hops up on my chest for love and kisses.. painful sandpaper kisses! I don’t know exactly why, but it’s a bonding moment for us and I love it, even if it hurts!

  5. I never thought about the licking being a result of anxiety. Truffle has always licked me and she came to live with me at 3 months of age. Brulee rarely licks me, so when she does, I take it as a compliment.

  6. It is interesting to learn the reasons why a cat might lick. I remember the first time a cat licked me, I was in shock that his tongue was so rough! Our cat isn’t much of a licker and that is okay with me.

  7. Very interesting! I hadn’t thought of some of these reasons for a cat licking! I wonder how many of these reasons overlap with why dogs may lick people. Thanks for sharing this resource for pet owners who may not know this information!

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