Have you ever wondered why your cat licks you? Licking is a very normal behavior in cats and serves a variety of functions. Most cat licking functions have everything to do with their normal instincts and grooming behavior. To understand why cats lick you, you need to understand the normal grooming behavior of cats. In addition, there are other reasons for cats to lick that can be outside of the normal behavior or can indicate an underlying medical problem.
Normal Cats Licking Behavior
A normal healthy cat will lick to keep themselves clean and spend approximately 15% of their time grooming which is approximately three and a half hours a day grooming.
When born, kittens are licked by their mother, the queen, and to remove the amniotic sacs from around their faces and bodies. The licking also helps stimulate them to breathe and move. The queen will also chew through the umbilical cords and eat the placentas. This also creates a bond between queen and kitten.
Following birth, the queen will lick her kittens to keep them clean but also lick their abdomens and anuses to encourage them to eliminate waste (urinate and defecate) which they are unable to do without this stimulation.
As adults, cats will groom to keep themselves clean and as an instinct to protect themselves.
In the wild, cats may kill their prey leaving blood and odors on their own fur. To protect themselves, cats groom to remove any odors from killing their prey so they do not become prey to another animal. Licking and grooming is a survival instinct.
Learn more about cat licking here.
Steps in the Typical Cat Grooming Activity
According to Dr. Nick Dodman, the typical steps in the licking and grooming process of cats goes something like this:
- Licking of nose
- Licking of lips
- Licking a paw until damp
- Using that paw to clean one side of the head, ears, eyes, nose
- Licking the other paw
- Using that paw to clean the other side of the head, ears, eyes, nose
- Licking each shoulder and foreleg
- Licking the flanks
- Licking anal and genital areas
- Licking the hind legs
- Licking the tail from base to tip
Why Do Cats Lick You? How Cats Show Affection
Back to the question – why do cats lick you? Once kittens have learned to groom themselves, they may then begin to groom each other which is known as “allogrooming.” This is especially common in cats that grow up together. Allogrooming is most commonly focused on the neck and head areas. Studies show that in the cat hierarchy, higher-ranking cats groomed lower-ranking cats more often. Most often the cat that is doing the grooming positions itself higher than the one that is being groomed. For example, the cat that is grooming may be standing or sitting while the cat being roomed is sitting or lying.
Cats may lick you as you are they would another cat. Most often cats will lick your hands, fingers, and sometimes hair. It is believed that as the queen licks their young, this grooms, and communicates a bond. Just as with the young, why a cat licks you can communicate a bond with you. The licking also can mark you with the cat’s scent and communicate that you are part of the cat’s territory. They are literally marking you.
Another reason some cats will lick you is that they enjoy the taste of certain lotions or creams and lick you after application.
In return, many pet owners reciprocate by combing and brushing their cats. This can be beneficial to the cat encouraging the bond and removing unwanted hair and preventing hairballs.
Lip licking. Some cats will lick or smack their lips. Licking lips can be a sign of nausea in cats. Some cats will lick their lips just prior to the act of vomiting. Lip licking in cats is a big concern if your cat is not eating, vomiting, and/or acting lethargic. Learn more about What it Means When Your Cat is Smacking Her Lips and Nausea in Cats.
Licking fur. Some cats will excessively lick their fur. This can be due to normal grooming procedures, due to parasite infestation such as fleas, from injuries such as bite wounds, or skin infections.
Licking bags. Some cats will lick inanimate objects such as plastic. Learn more about Why is My Cat Licking Plastic?
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