Can Your Cat’s Tongue Really Be That Dangerous?


Cats can show affection for their owners in different ways, and many cats enjoy licking their human companions. For some owners, a cat’s licks can feel like an endearing display of the cat’s attachment. The sensation of a cat’s tongue can be soft and ticklish, and some find this grooming behavior sweet and cute.

Allowing face licks may seem like an opportunity to bond with a cat and reciprocate their affection. A cat’s licking can be a sign that they feel safe and calm with their owner. Since grooming is relaxing for cats, a licking session may put both owner and cat at ease.

For cat owners missing the enthusiastic kisses dogs often give, a cat’s licks on the face or hand may satisfy the urge for that type of affection from their pet. Face licks from a feline can be a compromise for owners who want to experience that grooming behavior even though it’s less common from cats.

Health Benefits

Licking can provide some health benefits for cats. One of the main benefits is stress relief and bonding. When a cat licks their owner, it releases oxytocin in both the cat and human. Oxytocin is known as the “love hormone” and creates feelings of affection and attachment. This mutual grooming can strengthen the bond between a cat and their owner [1].

For cats, licking their trusted human companion has a calming effect that helps relieve anxiety, fear or stress. The act of licking releases endorphins in the cat’s brain, creating a soothing sensation similar to when they lick themselves for grooming. So your cat licking your face can actually calm them down and provide comfort during stressful situations [2].

Health Risks

One of the biggest concerns with letting cats lick your face is the potential transmission of bacteria and parasites. A cat’s mouth contains many types of bacteria that are foreign to humans. In particular, cats may harbor Pasteurella, Bartonella, and Capnocytophaga bacteria in their saliva, which could cause illness if transferred to humans through a bite or lick ( Pasteurella infections can lead to painful skin infections, abscesses, and respiratory illness in humans. Bartonella bacteria can cause cat scratch disease, fever, and swollen lymph nodes. Capnocytophaga bacteria is associated with potentially serious blood infections, meningitis, and septicemia.

In addition to bacteria, cats can transmit parasites like Toxoplasma gondii through their saliva. Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by this parasite that can cause flu-like symptoms, muscle aches, and other complications in humans with weakened immune systems ( For people with healthy immune function, toxoplasmosis often causes no symptoms. But the parasite can be risky for pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals.

When to Allow It

While licking around the face can be an enjoyable bonding activity between you and your cat, it should only be allowed under certain conditions to minimize health risks. According to [pet-expertise citation], you should only allow face licking if both you and your cat are healthy. Avoid letting your cat’s tongue make direct contact with sensitive areas like your mouth, eyes, or any open wounds. The bacteria present in your cat’s saliva could potentially cause infections if introduced into areas like your mouth, eyes, or broken skin.

Allowing limited face licking should be reserved for times when you know your cat’s oral hygiene is good and neither of you have any contagious illnesses. Pay attention to cues from your cat too. If the licking seems excessive or stressful for them, redirect their licking to a toy or brush instead. With a healthy pet, limited face licking focused on areas like your cheeks or chin may be permitted.

Alternatives to Licking

If your cat is excessively licking you and you want to discourage this behavior, there are some alternatives you can try to meet your cat’s needs in a safer way. According to the CVHCP blog (, providing your cat with a grooming or licking toy, such as a soft brush or textured surface, can satisfy their natural instincts without involving your skin. You can also try redirecting your cat’s licking to a toy whenever they try to lick you.

Increasing the amount of playtime and petting can be effective alternatives as well. PetMD suggests never using punishment to stop licking, as this may compromise your bond ( Instead, set aside 10-15 minutes a day for petting and positive interaction with toys like wands or laser pointers. This can meet your cat’s needs for affection and stimulation in safer ways.

Redirecting Licking

If your cat is licking your face excessively, there are some positive ways to redirect this behavior.

Use positive reinforcement, like treats and praise, when they lick an acceptable area like their own fur or a toy. This encourages licking in preferable spots instead of your face.

You can also try distracting your cat when they go to lick your face. Redirect them to a toy, scratching post, or treat to shift their focus. Engage them in playtime when they start licking.

With consistency, your cat can learn that licking toys and their own fur results in rewards and attention. Face licking no longer achieves their desired result. Stay patient, as it may take time for your cat to break the habit.

Safe Licking Areas

When allowing a cat to lick you, some areas of the body are generally safer than others. The hands, arms, and legs tend to be less sensitive areas where a cat’s licking is less likely to cause issues.

According to experts at PetMD, the thick skin on human hands and arms provides an effective barrier against cat saliva penetrating into the body in large amounts. The skin on the hands and arms also has relatively few blood vessels close to the surface, reducing the chance of bacteria entering the bloodstream if the skin is broken.[1]

The legs are another area where cat licking poses lower risks. Cats often lick human legs as a form of affectionate bonding. While the thin skin on the legs may be more sensitive, the risk of excessive bacteria exposure is mitigated as long as the cat is healthy and the skin remains intact.

Allowing licking on the hands, arms, and legs can provide cats with comfort and fulfill their natural grooming instincts. However, it’s still important to wash the area afterward and watch for any signs of skin irritation or infection.

Hygiene Tips

To help mitigate any potential health risks from face licking, it’s a good idea to follow proper hygiene guidelines with both yourself and your cat.

For yourself, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water, especially after interacting with your cat or letting them lick your face. Scrub for at least 20 seconds and rinse thoroughly. You may also want to gently cleanse your face after getting licked. [1]

For your cat, regular dental care is important to reduce bacteria in their mouth. Brush their teeth at least 2-3 times per week with a pet-safe toothpaste. Annual veterinary dental cleanings can also help. Checking your cat’s mouth regularly and addressing any dental issues will improve their overall health and hygiene. [2]

By practicing good hygiene habits for both yourself and your feline friend, you can safely enjoy those special moments of kitty kisses and affection.

When to Seek Help

In some cases, excessive cat licking can be a sign of an underlying medical issue that requires veterinary attention. Seek help from your veterinarian if your cat is displaying any of the following symptoms:

Excessive licking that leads to hair loss, wounds or skin irritation. Cats that compulsively lick themselves can cause self-inflicted wounds from overgrooming. Look for signs of hair loss, reddened skin, sores or scabs. This may indicate anxiety, allergies, pain or other problems prompting obsessive licking.

Significant changes in licking behavior that seem abnormal for your cat. For example, if your cat suddenly starts licking much more frequently or intensely. Sudden excessive licking may signal an illness or condition causing skin irritation or discomfort.

Inability to redirect licking behavior through techniques like distraction or bitter sprays. If your cat continues licking the same area excessively despite efforts to stop it, a veterinary exam can check for underlying causes.

Licking accompanied by other symptoms like appetite changes, lethargy, vomiting or diarrhea. Excessive licking combined with other signs of illness warrants a prompt vet visit to diagnose the cause.

Skin damage from licking that becomes infected. Licking wounds are prone to bacterial or fungal infections. Redness, swelling, odor or discharge signals an infected wound needing antibiotic treatment.

By consulting your vet about abnormal licking behavior, you can get to the root of the problem and help your cat feel better.


To summarize, there are good and bad aspects of letting your cat lick your face. On the positive side, it is their way of showing affection and grooming is healthy for them. The main risks are infection if they injure you, and transmission of bacteria or parasites. Overall, it’s best to avoid licking around the mouth, and limit face licking to areas around the forehead and cheek. Proper hygiene is important, like washing before and after. If excessive licking becomes problematic, try redirecting the behavior or limiting access to your face. But in general, occasional licking in safe areas should not be a concern for healthy cats and humans.

The most important things are ensuring your cat is kept free of fleas and intestinal parasites by your vet, maintaining good hygiene, and using common sense about how much licking to allow. As long as you take precautions, letting your cat lick your face can be a sweet display of cat affection.

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