When A Cat Licks You?

Why Do Cats Lick People?

Cats lick people for a variety of reasons. Some of the most common include:

Showing affection – For cats, licking is a way to bond and show affection, similar to kissing in humans. Cats will often lick their owners as a sign that they love them. It’s a social gesture that builds trust.

Grooming – Cats are clean animals and will lick themselves and others in their social group as a way to groom and keep clean. When a cat licks you, it may be trying to smooth down your hair or whisk away dirt.

Taste – A cat’s sense of taste is located in its tongue, so licks allow it to pick up chemical cues about you. Your skin may have traces of food, soap or lotion that your cat finds interesting.

Curiosity – Licking is also a way for cats to explore their environment. Your skin’s texture, temperature and smell may intrigue your cat and prompt it to lick.

Medical reasons – Sometimes excessive licking can signal a health problem in cats like dental disease, nausea or neurological issues. It’s important to monitor any unusual licking.

Does a Cat’s Tongue Feel Like Sandpaper?

Yes, many cats have tongues that feel rough and abrasive to humans. This is due to the papillae that cover a cat’s tongue. Papillae are small, keratinous hooks on the surface of the tongue that face backwards[1]. There can be as many as 480 papillae per square millimeter. These papillae serve an important purpose for cats.

The backward-facing papillae help cats groom themselves by scraping off dead skin cells and dirt from their fur as they lick. The barbs also allow cats to detangle knots and mats in their coat. Additionally, the rough texture helps remove meat from bones when a cat eats. So a cat’s sandpaper-like tongue is an evolutionary adaptation that aids their self-grooming, hygiene and feeding.

While a cat’s tongue feels rough to human skin, the papillae do not damage a cat’s own skin when licking itself. Cats also use licking to show affection. So while it may feel abrasive, interpret a cat’s licks as a social bonding gesture, not an intent to harm.

[1] https://www.getsetpet.com/blogs/pet-portal/why-does-my-cats-tongue-feel-like-sandpaper

Is a Cat’s Saliva Toxic?

Cat saliva is not toxic to humans, but it does contain bacteria that can cause infections or allergic reactions in some people. The main concern with cat saliva is the bacteria Pasteurella multocida, which over 60% of healthy cats carry in their mouths according to studies (1). While Pasteurella usually doesn’t affect cats, it can cause infections if transmitted to humans through bites or scratches.

Most people’s immune systems can easily fight off Pasteurella. However, people with compromised immune systems are at higher risk of developing infections from it. Common symptoms include redness, swelling, and pus at the wound site. In rare cases, cat saliva bacteria can even lead to serious complications like meningitis, especially if the bite or scratch is near the eyes, mouth, or nose.

People with allergies may also react negatively to substances in cat saliva. The allergen Fel d 1 is present in cat saliva, skin, and fur. When a cat grooms itself, the saliva spreads Fel d 1 over its coat. Allergic reactions happen when Fel d1 is inhaled or comes into contact with skin. Typical cat allergy symptoms include coughing, sneezing, irritated eyes, runny nose, and skin rashes.

While cat saliva can pose health risks in specific situations, it is not innately toxic or deadly to human health. Practicing proper hygiene and taking precautions can minimize the chance of infections or allergic reactions from cat saliva exposure.

Do Cats See Licking as a Social Bond?

In groups of cats, also known as colonies, mutual grooming is an important social behavior. Cats will lick the head, neck and body areas of other cats in the colony. This grooming behavior strengthens the social bonds within the group and reinforces trust and cooperation.

Feline Wisdom: The Importance of Licking and Sniffing for Cats indicates that the act of licking has a calming effect on cats as the repetitive motion releases endorphins. When a cat grooms another cat, it helps relieve stress and anxieties. The licking motion also distributes pheromones between the cats, reinforcing their connection.

Overall, mutual grooming behaviors in cat colonies indicate positive social relationships. When a cat licks another cat, it signifies trust, affection and friendship. The social bonds formed through grooming help the colony cooperate, play together and feel relaxed in each other’s company.

When Should Licking Be Discouraged?

While most cat licking is normal, there are some situations when licking should be discouraged:

Excessive licking of people – Constant and excessive licking of human skin can become annoying and even painful if the cat’s tongue starts to feel like sandpaper. This is especially common at night when the cat has access to exposed skin on hands and feet. Discourage licking by redirecting the cat’s attention or gently pushing them away.

Licking wounds – It’s natural for cats to want to lick wounds on themselves or humans, but their mouths contain bacteria that can infect cuts or scratches. Stop cats from licking open wounds and clean any licked areas with antiseptic. Bandage wounds securely so the cat can’t access them.

Biting or nipping – Playful nipping is normal for young kittens but adult cats may also gently bite during grooming. However, hard biting or breaking of skin should be discouraged immediately with a loud “no” and by standing up and walking away if needed. Biting can escalate and should not become a habit.

How to Train a Cat Not to Lick

While cat licking is normal behavior, excessive or unwanted licking can be discouraging. There are humane ways to train your cat not to lick you using positive reinforcement techniques.

Start by redirecting your cat’s licking urges towards more positive outlets. Get interactive toys that engage their natural hunting instincts, like feather wands, laser pointers, or treat-dispensing puzzle toys. Give them a cat scratcher or catnip to distract them. Place them in their cat tower or scratching post when they try to lick you.

Praise and reward your cat with treats when they lick an acceptable object instead of you. This positive reinforcement can teach them what to lick. You can also try bitter sprays designed to deter licking. Apply these non-toxic topical sprays to your hands or feet. The unpleasant bitter taste can discourage licking behavior.

Be patient, as it may take time and consistency before your cat breaks the licking habit. Use distraction, redirection, and rewards to achieve the positive, friendly behavior you want from your feline companion.

For more tips, see this helpful guide: How can I make my cat stop licking me compulsively?

Health Risks of Cat Licks

A cat’s tongue may feel soothing, but licking can also pose some health risks for humans. This is primarily due to the bacteria present in a cat’s saliva.

Cat saliva contains bacteria including Pasteurella multocida and Bartonella henselae, the agent of cat scratch disease. If a cat’s licking breaks the skin, these bacteria can enter the wound and cause infections.1 Some common infections that may occur include:

  • Skin infections like cellulitis or abscesses
  • Joint infections like septic arthritis if bacteria spreads to joints
  • Serious bloodstream infections like septicemia if bacteria enters the blood

Cat saliva may also provoke allergic reactions in some people. Redness, itching, swelling, and hives can occur on the licked area of skin. In severe cases, a systemic allergic response is possible.

In addition, cats can transmit parasites like roundworms and bartonellosis through their saliva. Licking poses a particular risk if the cat recently ate rodents or other prey infected with parasites.

For these reasons, discourage excessive licking behavior. See a doctor promptly for any skin infections or concerning reactions after a cat has licked you. With treatment, most complications resolve without further issues.

Benefits of Cat Licks

While cat licks may seem like just a quirky behavior, they actually provide several benefits for cats. Some of the key advantages of cat licks include:


Licking helps cats keep themselves clean and well-groomed. Their barbed tongues allow them to smooth down fur, distribute natural oils, and remove dirt and debris. Licking maintains coat health and hygiene.

Social Bonding

Licking is a social behavior that strengthens bonds between cats. Mother cats lick their kittens to groom them and provide comfort. Cats that live together will lick each other as a sign of affection. Licks reinforce social connections.

Stress Relief

The act of licking releases endorphins in the cat’s brain that provide pleasurable sensations. This can help relieve anxiety and calm the cat. Licking serves as a self-soothing mechanism for stressed cats.

Pain Relief

Studies show that licking activates neural pathways that block pain signals in the brain. The light pressure and sensation from licking can relieve minor aches and discomfort. Licking may function as a natural painkiller for cats.

So while cat licks may seem strange, this common feline behavior has a number of benefits related to care and comfort. Understanding the advantages of licking can help owners appreciate this unique cat habit.

When to See a Vet About Licking

While some licking is perfectly normal cat behavior, excessive licking of themselves or other household items may signal an underlying medical issue. Signs that your cat’s licking has become excessive and requires veterinary attention include:

  • Licking or chewing areas of their coat until the hair is thin or completely absent
  • Constant licking or chewing of their paws, belly, or base of tail
  • General lethargy or personality changes along with increased licking

Excessive self-grooming and licking can lead to skin irritation, hair loss, and open sores. The compulsive behavior may indicate your cat is experiencing skin allergies, parasites, anxiety, stress, or other conditions causing discomfort or itchiness.

A vet visit can help diagnose and treat any underlying medical issue leading to obsessive licking. Tests may check for ringworm, fleas, food allergies, and other problems. Treatment may include antifungal or antibiotic medications, anti-anxiety drugs, parasite prevention, dietary changes, or medication to relieve itchiness.

It’s important not to delay if your cat’s licking habits seem abnormal. Left untreated, compulsive licking and chewing can lead to infection, pain, and behavioral issues. Veterinary assistance can help resolve the problem before it seriously impacts your cat’s health and quality of life.




Frequently Asked Questions

Cat licking behavior is quite common, leading many cat owners to have similar questions. Here’s a summary of key points about why cats lick and common reader questions:

Summary of Key Points

– Licking is a natural cat behavior used to show affection, mark territory, clean, and self-soothe.

– A cat’s tongue feels rough like sandpaper due to small barbs called papillae.

– Cat saliva isn’t toxic, but may cause skin irritation or infection in some people.

– Excessive licking can indicate a medical issue like pain, stress, or obsessive compulsive disorder.

– Licking can be discouraged through distraction, bitter sprays, or addressing underlying causes.

Common Reader Questions

– Why does my cat lick me then bite me? This likely shows overstimulation. The licking led to them getting too aroused, so they redirected into a nip or bite. Reduce petting sessions to avoid this.

– Why has my cat started licking me constantly? Sudden excessive licking may indicate a new stressor or skin irritation. Check for fleas, injuries, or changes in the home. Consult a vet if it persists.

– Are cat licks dangerous? Usually not, unless the cat’s mouth is unclean or the person has an open wound. Avoid letting them lick open cuts or burns. See a doctor for redness, swelling, or infection after a cat lick.

– How can I stop my cat from licking so much? Determine the cause, distract with play, use bitter anti-lick sprays, provide alternative scratching posts, or try synthetic pheromone diffusers for compulsive licking issues.

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