When it comes to behavior, there are some things your cat does that are adorable (like snuggling up next to you on the couch), some that are funny (like chasing laser lights), and some that are downright strange (like jumping into every empty box within a five-mile radius). But there’s one behavior that has all three of these characteristics—and that’s licking.
If your cat likes to lick you at every chance they get, you’re probably wondering—what’s the deal? Are they licking you as a sign of affection—like the feline version of a kiss? Are they trying to groom you? Or are they just hungry and mistaking you for their next meal?
Unfortunately, there’s no definitive answer as to what’s behind your cat’s licking. But if you’ve ever scratched your head and wondered “why does my cat lick me,” here are a few possible reasons behind your cat’s licking behavior:
Your cat is trying to give you a bath
When a cat has kittens, they regularly lick them as a way to keep them cleaned and groomed. So, it makes total sense that if a cat is licking you, it might just be replicating that grooming behavior.
Now, obviously you don’t need your cat to groom you (that’s what showers are for!), so if the grooming/licking behavior gets excessive, try redirecting your cat’s attention with a treat or some playtime.
Your cat is showing you affection
Cats lick their kittens as a way to groom them, but it’s also a way to show affection! Licking is a caring behavior between the mother cat and her kittens. And, when those kittens grow up, they may take that behavior with them and lick as a way to show love.
If your cat licks you, it might just be a way to show you that they care, so show them a little love right back with a scratch behind the ears or a belly rub.
Your cat wants your attention
Cats are independent animals, but they still need attention! If cats feel neglected, they may act out in a number of ways to get your attention—and that includes licking.
If you notice your cat has a tendency to lick you when you’re busy or otherwise distracted, it could be a sign that they’re in need of a few minutes of undivided attention or some good, old-fashioned quality time.
Your cat feels anxious
Does your cat’s licking have a compulsive quality to it? Do you get the sense that they’re licking you because they’re nervous or afraid? Does it seem like once they start licking, they can’t stop? If so, your cat could be licking you because they’re feeling anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed.
Many animals (including cats) may lick repetitively as a way to deal with feelings of anxiety. If you get the sense that your cat’s licking is an anxious behavior, see what you can do to alleviate their anxiety. For example, some cats get anxious when they’re bored, so more activity, stimulation, or play time could be all you need to kick your cat’s anxiety (and excessive licking) to the curb.
You’ve got something on you—and your cat wants to get a taste
Even if you’re the neatest eater in the world, there might come a time when you spill something on yourself. And if your cat gets a whiff, they might want to get in on the action.
Your cat might be licking you simply because you’ve got food on you and they want to get a taste. If this behavior bothers you, be aware of any time you spill your food or drink—and if your cat starts licking your clothes, swap them out for something clean. Once you eliminate the tasty temptation, you should eliminate the licking right along with it.
When to talk to your vet or trainer
If your cat’s licking becomes out of control—or they refuse to stop licking you even when you try to redirect them—talk to your vet or a trusted animal trainer. They may be able to help you get to the bottom of your cat’s behavior—and, more importantly, help you train your cat to stop all the licking.