What it Means When Your Cat is Smacking Her Lips

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cat smacking lips

Have you ever wondered why your cat may smack his or her lips? Cat smacking lips can be a concern of cat owners as they try to determine the possible cause. This is especially a concern 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 lips as well as their other cats in the home, lick the floor, countertops, and more. Two other questions cat lovers commonly ask is why cats may lick plastic or even why a cat would lick them. Check out these articles – 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. Go to Everything You Need to Know About Cat Licking.

What Your Cat is Telling You by Smacking Her Lips

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

The causes of cat smacking lips can be caused by various problems that vary from minor to serious. The most common problems involve issues related to nausea or oral pain.

Causes of lip smacking may include:

  • Displacement Behavior. Cats sometimes lick when they are anxious which is referred to as a “displacement behavior”. For example, a cat may come into the veterinary hospital and be placed on the table. The cat may be trying to decide if they need to be aggressive or run. Some cats will relieve their stress by a displacement behavior of 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 that cats 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 vomiting will follow the cat lip smacking behavior. Learn more about Nausea in Cats.
  • Dental Disease. Cats with dental disease and/or oral infections can also have 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 may cause oral ulcers in cats include ingestion or oral exposure to laundry or dishwasher detergent pod toxicity or liquid potpourri.
  • Something Tastes Funny. Cats that lick the floor that has cleaning chemicals, food, dirt, mold, soap, or other items can have a funny taste that can cause a cat to smack their lips.
  • Wounds. Wounds can cause cats to lick. They may smack their lips but more often you will notice they are licking a wound and sometimes pull out their fur. Learn more about My Cat is Licking Her Fur Off, What Do I Do?
  • 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 is caught in the cat’s mouth. Common items that can be caught in the mouth can be a small piece of bone or stick. Another cause can be a plant awn getting caught in the mouth such as a foxtail.
  • Bites. Any type of bite to the face or around the lips can cause cat lip smacking. Bites can occur from other cats, insects such as spiders, horse flies, mosquitos, and/or a bee or wasp stings. 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 lips, we recommend the following:

  • The first thing to do if your cat is licking his or her lips is to look at your cat’s overall behavior and attitude to determine if there is an underlying medical problem. Two important points include:
  • Evaluate your cat’s behavior. Is your cat nervous? Anxious? Fearful? Try to determine if the lip smacking is a message of anxiety. If your cat is in a situation that you believe may make him or her or uncomfortable, this can be a displacement behavior. You can help your cat by removing the stressor and providing environmental enrichment.
  • It is important to determine if the cat lip smacking is due to 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? Is it 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 a complete oral examination. They will look for any foreign body in the mouth, dental disease, and an oral ulceration. They will also want a detailed history of your cats eating patterns, food change, exposure to trash or toxins, overall appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and weight loss.

Additional Articles that May Be of Interest About Cat Licking

Why Do Cats Lick You? 
My Cat is Licking Her Fur Off, What Do I Do?
Why is My Cat Licking Plastic?
What is Pet Insurance?
How Does Pet Insurance Work?
When is the Best Time to Get Pet Insurance for Your Cat?
Questions To Ask When Choosing A New Vet
How to Have a Trauma-Free Veterinary Visit for Your Cat

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