What It Means When Your Cat Is Smacking Their Lips

What It Means When Your Cat Is Smacking Their Lips

A calico tabby domestic shorthair kitten licking its lips.A calico tabby domestic shorthair kitten licking its lips.
A calico tabby domestic shorthair kitten licking its lips.A calico tabby domestic shorthair kitten licking its lips.

Table of Contents:

  1. What Your Cat is Telling You by Smacking Their Lips
  2. Other Signs To Watch For & How To Help
  3. Related Articles About Feline Habits and Behavior

Have you ever wondered why your cat may smack his or her lips? “Cat smacking lips” can be a cause of concern for cat owners, especially if it is a new behavior or associated with other symptoms such as not eating, vomiting, lethargy, weakness, and/or diarrhea.

In general, some cats are bigger “lickers” than others. Some cats lick their own lips as well as the other cats in the home, the floor, countertops, and more. Two other questions cat lovers commonly ask is “Why does my cat lick plastic?” or “Why does my cat lick me?” Check out these articles for answers to those questions: Why is My Cat Licking Plastic? and Why Do Cats Lick You?

On the other hand, some cats rarely lick. It can be an equally concerning symptom if your cat has always been a good licker or groomer and then suddenly stops. This can be a sign of illness. Here is a good article that explains the normal cat licking behavior and also when to worry: Everything You Need to Know About Cat Licking.

What Your Cat is Telling You by Smacking Their Lips

Licking and lip licking can be normal in certain circumstances. The problem is when a cat smacking their lips turns into an excessive occurrence or is caused by a behavioral or medical problem.

The causes for cats smacking their lips vary from minor to serious. The most common problems are related to nausea or oral pain.

Potential Causes of Lip Smacking

  • Displacement Behavior. Cats sometimes lick when they are anxious, which is referred to as a “displacement behavior.” For example, a cat may arrive at a veterinary hospital and be placed on the examining table. In this instance, many cats would be determining if they need to be aggressive or run. Some cats will relieve their stress by a displacement behavior, like licking or grooming themselves for a few seconds or minutes.
  • Compulsive Disorders. Some cats may lick their lips excessively from obsessive-compulsive disorders. It is more common, however, that cats with compulsive disorders will lick their fur.
  • Nausea. Cats that are nauseated or dehydrated can excessively lick their lips or smack their lips. Many times, cats will also drool and vomit following lip smacking behavior. Learn more about Nausea in Cats.
  • Dental Disease. Cats with dental disease and/or oral infections can also indulge in excessive lip licking or smacking. As dental disease advances, plaque turns to tartar. The build-up of tartar both above and below the gum line can gradually produce an environment for bacteria to grow that is destructive to the periodontal tissues. Many cats will also not eat well, lose weight, and/or drool.
  • Oral Ulcers. Oral ulcerations can cause pain, lip licking, drooling, and/or excessive swallowing. Ulcers can develop from oral infections, dental disease, systemic infections such as kidney disease, or from ingestion of caustic substances. Caustic products that may cause oral ulcers in cats include laundry or dishwasher detergents and liquid potpourri.
  • Something Tastes Funny. Cats that lick a floor that has cleaning chemicals, food, dirt, mold, soap, or other items that may have a funny taste often react by smacking their lips.
  • Wounds. Wounds can cause cats to lick. They may smack their lips, but more often you will notice that they are licking a wound and/or pulling out their fur. Learn more about Cats Licking Off Their Fur
  • Uncontrollable Lip Licking. Some cats can suffer from a seizure disorder that appears as chomping at the mouth, biting at the air, or even excessive and uncontrollable lip licking. This is most often a “focal seizure.” Learn more about Seizures in Cats.
  • Foreign Body. A common cause of lip smacking can be that something caught in a cat’s mouth. Common items that can be caught in the mouth are small pieces of bone, sticks, or plant awns, such as a foxtail.
  • Bites. Any type of bite to the face or around the lips can cause lip smacking. Bites can occur from other cats, spiders, horse flies, mosquitos, and stings can be caused by bees or wasps. Snakebites can also occur around the face and mouth and cause pain, swelling, discharge, and/or lip licking.

Other Signs To Watch For & How To Help

If you see your cat smacking their lips, we recommend the following:

  • Look at your cat’s overall behavior and attitude and determine if there is an underlying medical problem.
    • Evaluate your cat’s behavior. Is your cat nervous? Anxious? Fearful? Try to determine if the lip smacking is a way to communicate anxiety. If your cat is in a situation that you believe may make them uncomfortable, this can be a sign of displacement behavior. You can help your cat by removing the stressor and providing environmental enrichment.
    • Determine if it’s a medical problem. The best approach is to have your cat examined by your veterinarian. They may also want to know when the lip licking happens? Is it constant? Is it new? Only after eating? Does it occur when your cat is anxious or nervous? They will likely want to examine the skin around the face, lips, gums, teeth, and conduct a complete oral examination. Your vet will also look for any foreign body in the mouth, dental disease, and an oral ulceration. Finally, they’ll want a detailed history of your cats eating patterns, food changes, exposure to trash or toxins, overall appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and weight loss.

Related Articles About Feline Habits and Behavior

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