Why do cats lick you?

Cats spend a large amount of their time grooming themselves with their tongues. In some instances, this can keep them busy up to 50% of their waking hours. This grooming is a natural behavior and their tongue is the perfect tool for the job.

Cats tongues are surfaced with “Papillae” this is what gives them that rasping feel when they lick their humans. These papillae are curved spines that make the perfect comb to keep their fur clean and healthy.

But, why after they have finished grooming themselves to cats often insist on giving their owners the same treatment. Actually, in many cases it could just be as simple as that, your feline friend merely wants to help you be as clean as they are.

This article sets out to explore possible reasons that your cat may lick and bite you.

Reasons a cat may lick then bite you

There is no real consensus between cat behavioral experts, vets and other feline experts as to why cats lick you. It certainly isn’t always for the same reason and is likely to be one or more of the following causes.

1 To Show Affection. Cats are affectionate creatures, in many instances, the licking is simply that they are showing you affection. Cats will often lick each other and even other family pets like the dog may grudgingly have to accept a cat grooming session from time to time. This is likely to be a learned behavior when the bond between kitten and mother was reinforced by their mothers grooming of the litter.

When cats are licking you and the begrudging dog, it could be that they are just reinforcing the social bonds between you.

2 To Groom You. Whether you need grooming or not, it could well be that your cat has decided that you do! This is a perfectly natural behavior for a cat, it is simply doing what its mother taught it as a kitten and it has been doing to itself all its life.

There are even studies that have shown that amongst a group of cats, one cat may become the “groomer” of the group. This cat will be the one that performs most of the grooming of all the cats in the group, perhaps it could even be considered the hairdresser!

If your cat is a frequent licker, it could be that she has decided that in the absence of anyone else stepping up to the plate, she’d better take on the grooming role.

3 To mark their Territory. Like it or not, once you have a cat in the family, you become part of their territory. Cats mark their territories in several ways, the most notable and problematic is spraying. But they also use cheek rubbing and back rubbing, scratching, and of course, licking and biting.

When cats lick and bite you, it could be as simple as letting the other neighborhood cats that this human is theirs!

4 As a means of getting your attention. Sometimes, it may transpire that you simply are paying your cat enough attention! At least, not in their eyes. Licking when followed by biting could well just be a double whammy way of ensuring that your attention is fully focused on where they want it to be, on them!

This is particularly likely to be the case around mealtimes, or when they have just woken up from a nap and have decided that it is time for their human to entertain them with some games.

5 You have a fascinating taste about you! In some cases, it could be as simple as you have an interesting taste on your skin. This could be that you are sweating after a workout or other strenuous activity, this saltiness upon your skin is something that may attract the attention of your cat’s tongue.

Alternatively, if you have been cooking or brushed against an interesting scent, the cat may just want to sample the intriguing scent or flavor that you are probably unaware is even there.

A point worth noting is that cats have a fairly limited sense of taste. Their tongue has evolved more as a grooming tool than a tasting tool. Cats are one of the very few mammals that cannot taste sweet flavors.

6 Anxiety or Stress. Sadly, sometimes cats are trying to tell us that they are stressed or anxious when licking us, this is often accompanied by biting behavior. If your cat is grooming itself, or you, more frequently than have in the past, it could be that something is stressing them. If the reason is obvious, perhaps a change of home, or a new pet in the family, then the behavior will likely cease before too long.

If there is no obvious reason for the excess licking or biting and the behavior continues, then it could be worth paying a visit to your vet to see if there are underlying causes that could be upsetting your feline friend.

Is it normal for a cat’s licking to be painful?

Those who have both dogs and cats will know there is a huge difference between a dog’s lick and a cat’s lick. Dogs will give you slobbery licks that feel like your getting sponged, albeit in warm dog saliva.

However, a cats lick can feel more akin to getting sandpapered. As noted earlier, a cat’s tongue is covered in papillae. It is these barb-like structures that give cat licks their “rasping feel”. These backwards-facing barbs are the ideal implement for a spot of fur grooming but aren’t quite so useful for giving their humans bare skin a going over.


Cats are affectionate creatures, it is highly likely that any licking behavior your cat exhibits is simply down to a show of affection. She may just want to groom you to show she cares, or she may want to play with her favorite human.

Whatever the reason your cat licks you, in most cases, it is perfectly normal behavior and nothing to worry about.

If you think it may be down to more sinister causes, then a quick visit to the vet to have her checked out is warranted.

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