Why Does My Cat Lick Me?

A Word from Dr. Joyce Ashamalla

Dr. Joyce Ashamalla is the managing partner at Hinsdale Animal Hospital with Kremer Veterinary Service, as well as a partner at CARE Animal Emergency Hospital. She received her BS in Animal Sciences from the University of Illinois- Champaign Urbana, where she also completed her Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine in 2007. She is AO certified, USDA-APHIS accredited, and is a member of the CVMA, ISVMA, AVMA.

You just cleaned up dinner and you and your favorite kitty are snuggled up for a night of must-see television. As you get settled in, you detect a strange sensation on your arm. You can’t seem to process it as it feels both wet and abrasive. You look down, only to see your cat licking your arm. She stops momentarily to look up at you and then gets right back to it.

While we think mostly of dogs when it comes to licking their human companions, cats often do it too. In this blog, we will look at why cats lick people, what your kitty might be trying to tell you and finally answer once and for all why their tongues feel like sandpaper.

Why Does My Cat Lick Me?

Why Do Cats Lick Themselves, Each Other & You

  • Grooming – The most common reason cats lick themselves is for grooming purposes, by using the prominent papillae (soft spikes) on their tongues. Cats are very clean creatures and they are born with the natural instinct to groom themselves. Adult cats also lick each other as a form of social grooming, usually focused around those hard to reach areas, like behind the ears. Although, one of the unpleasant side effects of cat’s self-grooming is hairballs. Read more about hairballs here.  

  • Sign Of Affection When a cat licks you, it’s usually a sign of love and affection. Licking is one of the very first sensations a kitten feels after birth, when mama did it during the early weeks of life. A cat licking your arm or hand shows that she cares and wants you to feel a sense of belonging. Cats will also lick to  mark their territory as well. She wants to put her unique scent on you, for this is the cat’s way of telling all other felines to back off – you are hers.    

Excessive Licking

If you notice that kitty is starting to lick herself much more than normal, she is trying to tell you that something is wrong. It is important to pay attention to a sudden change in her behavior. Cats that suddenly start to lick themselves in a vigorous fashion could be suffering from skin irritation, a bite, fleas or some sort of an infection. In addition, excessive licking could also be from allergies, drug reactions, autoimmune disease or even certain types of cancer. Be sure to visit your vet should you suspect any of these conditions.

Another important factor to consider is that maybe the excessive grooming could be caused by stress or anxiety. Were there any changes in the household before the licking started? Maybe a new animal or people? If kitty is having some emotional issues, your vet can also help in this area too. During your visit, be sure to share with your vet any changes in the cat’s environment.

Licking in cats is a very natural behavior and you can expect that kitty will do this her entire life. There are many reasons why a cat will lick themselves, the primary one being for grooming. When kitty licks you, it could be that she’s showing affection and also marking you as hers. If you notice that your cat is excessively licking herself much more than normal, be sure to consult your vet. So remember, next time you are feeling wet sandpaper on your arm, that’s kitty speak for "I love you"!