Why Do Cats Lick You When You Cry?

Why Does Your Cat Lick Away Your Tears?

Have you ever broken down crying, only to find your feline companion climbing into your lap and gently licking the tears from your cheeks? Though unusual cat behavior to some, this act comes from a deep, instinctual place in your cat. When cats lick tears from their human companions, they are showing empathy and concern. This seemingly simple act has roots in your cat’s innate grooming behaviors, maternal instincts, and social bonding.

Though your cat may not fully understand human emotions, they can sense distress and have an instinct to provide comfort. By licking your tears, cats are following their natural caregiving impulses. Their sandpaper tongues and soothing purrs can bring a sense of calm during emotional moments. This behavior shows just how deep the human-feline bond can be.

Instinctual Grooming

In the wild, cats live in colonies with complex social relationships. Cats will groom each other as a way to bond and reinforce connections within the colony. This mutual grooming strengthens social bonds and provides comfort through physical touch and caring behaviors [1].

When cats are domesticated in a home, they transfer their natural colony instincts onto their human owners. Cats see their owners as colony members and will exhibit grooming behaviors to show affection, care, and inclusiveness. When a cat notices their human is upset and crying, their instinct is to comfort them by grooming them as they would another cat in their colony. The cat is trying to soothe and calm the human through this natural cat behavior [2].

So when your cat licks you while crying, it is simply acting on innate instincts to groom colony members and provide stress relief through grooming. The cat is showing that it cares for you and sees you as part of its family unit.

[1] https://heartandpaw.com/pet-parent-resources/6-reasons-cats-groom-each-other
[2] https://amerivet.com/blog/why-do-cats-lick-groom-each-other/

Scent and Taste

Cats have a highly developed sense of smell and taste. Their sense of smell in particular is very acute, with estimates ranging from 14 times stronger than humans to 200 million odor sensors compared to just 5 million in humans (Rover). This allows cats to gather a wealth of information from smells and pheromones. When a human cries, the salt in the tears can spark a cat’s interest. Cats have taste receptors for saltiness, so they may lick tears out of curiosity for the salty taste (PAWS Chicago).

Comfort and Bonding

When a cat licks a human, especially when the human is crying, it can release endorphins in both the cat and the person being licked. Endorphins are hormones that act as natural pain relievers and can induce feelings of pleasure and comfort (1). Licking is thought to be an instinctual grooming and nurturing behavior in cats, similar to when a mother cat licks her kittens. When a cat licks a human companion, it is likely trying to soothe and comfort them, much as a mother comforts her kittens.

Research has found that social bonding hormones like oxytocin increase in both cats and humans when they have positive interactions together, like cuddling or grooming (2, 3). By licking a human when they are sad or crying, a cat is strengthening the social bond between itself and its human companion through oxytocin release. The act brings comfort and closeness to both parties. It can relax and soothe the crying human while allowing the cat to provide care and affection to its loved one.

Overall, when cats lick humans, especially in times of distress, it demonstrates the depth of attachment and trust in the relationship. The licking serves to not only comfort the human through the release of feel-good hormones, but also to strengthen the affectionate bond between the cat and its beloved human.


  1. Discover Magazine
  2. Forbes


When a cat licks you while you’re crying, it is often a way for the cat to communicate affection, care, and concern. A cat’s lick shows that it is trying to comfort and check on you during a time of distress 1. The licking behavior demonstrates the cat’s maternal instincts to nurture and reassure 2.

Cats do not have words, so they rely on non-verbal cues and behaviors to express their feelings. When a cat sees its owner crying, it picks up on the cues that something is wrong based on the odd behavior and unfamiliar sounds. Licking is the cat’s way of communicating care and concern and trying to soothe your distress. The light tactile sensation of a lick can activate the release of endorphins that help humans feel comforted.

So when your cat licks you while crying, it is tapping into its natural instincts to nurture and its learned bonding with you. The licking demonstrates your cat is devoted to you and wants to comfort you in your time of need. It shows your cat is attentive to your emotions and is trying to communicate reassurance the only way it knows how.

Stress Response

Research has shown that cats are remarkably adept at recognizing human emotions, including sadness. Studies at universities in Italy and Japan found that cats can differentiate between happy and angry voices, and recognize when humans are smiling or frowning (source). This allows cats to detect when their human companion is feeling down or distressed.

When a cat notices that a human is sad or crying, their natural response is to try to comfort them. One of the main ways cats provide solace is through licking. A cat’s tongue is covered in tiny hook-like papillae that release endorphins, which are natural chemicals that produce feelings of pleasure and relaxation. The act of licking exerts a calming influence on both the cat providing the grooming and the human receiving it. Through this grooming behavior, your cat is attempting to soothe and reassure you in times of stress or sadness.

Maternal Instinct

Part of the reason cats lick humans is related to their maternal instinct to nurture their kittens. When cats give birth, the mother will lick the newborn kittens as a form of cleaning and stimulation. This grooming behavior helps newborn kittens by stimulating circulation and bowel movements 1.

As kittens grow, the mother cat continues to groom them frequently as a way to bond with her babies, show affection, and comfort them. Kittens also nurse and nuzzle their mother to show affection. This reciprocal grooming and physical contact strengthens the bond between mother and kittens 2.

When cats are separated from their mothers and adopted by humans, they often transfer this nurturing, grooming behavior onto their human caretakers. Licking serves as both a bonding activity and a way for cats to show affection and comfort to their preferred people. The remnants of their maternal instinct cause them to treat their humans like kittens needing care.

Individual Personality

Cats have unique individual personalities, just like people. While breed tendencies exist, each cat is an individual with their own preferences, quirks, and behaviors. Some cats seem more empathetic than others when their owners are sad or crying.

Certain cat breeds are known for being more affectionate, including the Ragdoll, Persian, and Siamese. Ragdoll cats tend to be very relaxed, laidback, and loving. They often enjoy physical affection and comforting their owners. Persians are typically gentle, sweet-natured, and devoted to their families. Siamese cats often bond very closely with their favorite person and some can be sensitive to human emotions. Still, individual personality plays a large role, as some cats within these breeds may be more aloof.

While breed tendencies can predispose a cat toward certain behaviors, each cat has a distinct personality. Some cats seem to intuitively sense human emotions and provide comfort, while others may be more aloof. Understanding a cat’s unique personality and preferences is key to interpreting their behaviors.


In summary, there are several key reasons why cats will lick their crying human companions. First and foremost, it’s an instinctual grooming behavior derived from their ancestry as felines. The scent and taste of tears likely provides cats information about their human’s emotional state. Licking is also a gesture of comfort, care, and bonding, allowing cats to console their distressed owners. It helps facilitate communication between species and is a maternal instinct in some cats. While individual personalities play a role, cats seem to have an innate drive to provide tactile reassurance when they sense humans are sad or upset. Their licking behavior appears to be an empathetic response that strengthens the attachment between cat and human.

Cats form close social bonds with their human families similar to relationships within a colony. They see us as companions and providers of food, shelter, and affection. When a human cries, it triggers the cat’s innate nurturing response. Licking away tears is intended as a comforting act from an animal that has a vested interest in the human’s wellbeing. While the motivation differs, the end result is that many cats offer solace to their crying owners just as they would for a kitten. This instinctual licking behavior illuminates the depth of connection cats feel with their chosen humans.


DogTime. “Why Do Cats Lick You? The Surprising Reasons Why Cats Lick Humans.” DogTime, https://dogtime.com/cat/14984-cats-lick-human-reasons-behavior.

Hartwell, Sarah. “Why Do Cats Lick You?” PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/cat/behavior/evr_ct_why_do_cats_lick.

Lindell, Angela. “Why Does My Cat Lick Me? 9 Reasons Why.” iHeartCats, 15 Mar. 2021, https://iheartcats.com/why-cats-lick/.

“Your Cat Is Licking You Because They Love You… and 4 Other Reasons for All That Licking.” The Cat Doctor, https://catdoctordc.com/your-cat-is-licking-you-because-they-love-you-and-4-other-reasons-for-all-that-licking/.

Scroll to Top