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Cats lick their humans for many different reasons, the most common being affection, attention and anxiety. Cats spend a lot of time grooming themselves, so licking is normal cat behavior, even when they’re doing it to you! Every cat is different, but understanding the main reasons why cats lick people can help you decipher your cat’s own unique tendencies.

Affection & Bonding

A display of affection is the most common reason why a cat licks their human, especially if they lick you when you pet them, or lick you while purring. They’re showing that they love you and feel safe with you. This behavior is learned as a kitten when the mother cat grooms and cares for her litter by licking their fur. Some cat parents wonder if cat licks mean kisses – it definitely seems like a valid interpretation of affectionate licking! Grooming establishes social bonds among cats, so your cat could be licking to groom you and strengthen your bond (from their point of view). You’ll often see bonded cats grooming each other.

Marking Territory

Cats are territorial, and some cats lick their humans as a way of marking their territory (in this case: you). Your cat’s saliva transfers a scent that other cats can detect, so by licking you they’re claiming you as part of their family group. It’s your cat’s way of saying: this human is part of my tribe, and I want other cats to know it! Cats also mark their territory using the scent glands around their cheeks, or by walking by and rubbing up against your leg (mixing your scent with theirs).

Seeking Attention

Cats often lick people to get their attention when they want someone to pet them, play with them or feed them. If your cat has learned that licking you gets the desired reaction, they’ll keep doing it!


Some cats will groom themselves, another cat, or their human in order to self-soothe when they feel stressed. The act of licking releases endorphins in cats, which is one of the reasons why licking is associated with bonding. If your cat licks you when their anxiety is triggered, it could become habitual behavior. It’s helpful to recognize and manage cat anxiety, and to understand how to read your cat’s body language.

Your Cat Likes Your Taste

If your cat licks you, they might just enjoy the way you taste! Cats like salt, so if you’ve been sweating that day it could explain their fascination. Sometimes people have traces of food on their hands, fingers or face, which can also be very attractive to a curious cat.

Why Cats Lick: Cat Parent FAQ

Often, cat parents have questions about why their cat licks them in a specific way or at a certain time. The reasons can be as distinct as each cat’s personality, but there are also some patterns in cat behavior that can shed light on their motivations.

Why Does My Cat Lick Me & Then Bite?

Most of the time, if your cat licks and then bites you it’s because they’re overstimulated – it’s their way of asking you to stop petting them for now. It’s typically a gentle bite that doesn’t break the skin. A soft cat bite (aka “love bite”) can also be a sign of affection, or something your cat does to request affection from you. Cats also lick and bite their fur when grooming, so licking and biting their human could be related to grooming and bonding.

Why Does My Cat Lick Me After I Shower?

If your cat likes to lick you after a shower, they might be reapplying their scent that you just washed off. They might also like the taste of the products you put on your skin in or after the shower. Cats also want to be around their humans, so they could just be happy you’re available again, and showing you some affection.

Why Does My Cat Lick Me While I’m Sleeping?

If your cat licks you while you sleep, it’s often for the same reasons cats lick their humans while they’re awake: to show affection, get attention, mark their territory, self-soothe, or because they like the taste. Cats are typically more active than we are at night, plus you’re an easy target while you’re sleeping. If your cat doesn’t get a chance to lick you while you’re up and about, they’re just being an opportunist! If it bothers you, you can try giving your cat more playtime and enrichment during the day, or a scratch pad/toy they can entertain themselves with at night.

Why Does My Cat Lick My Blanket?

There’s no single explanation for why cats lick blankets, but it’s often one of these reasons:

Why Does My Cat Lick Me, But Not My Partner?

If you share a household with a spouse, partner or roommate and your cat only licks you, it could be to mark you as their territory or show affection because they feel more connected to you. Or, your cat might just prefer your taste!

Should I Let My Cat Lick Me?

As long as it doesn’t bother you, it’s fine to let your cat lick your arms, hands, legs or feet. Of course, always wash your hands before you eat! It’s not a good idea to let your cat lick your face because cats’ mouths have bacteria you don’t want getting near your eyes, nose or mouth. Likewise, if you have any cuts or scrapes, don’t let your cat lick near them.

Why Does My Cat Lick Me Constantly?

Constant licking can be attention seeking behavior. Many times, cat parents are unaware they’ve been reinforcing attention seeking behavior, because any reaction rewards the cat with the attention they’re looking for. Excessive licking could also be due to anxiety. Think about if there have been any changes to your cat’s environment or routine, and be proactive about helping them manage their stress. Overgrooming (including overgrooming you), or a sudden change in grooming habits could have an underlying medical issue. To be on the safe side, get your cat checked out by your veterinarian to rule out potential health problems anytime there’s a concerning change in their behavior.

How Can I Get My Cat To Stop Licking Me So Much?

If you’ve ruled out anxiety or a health issue, there are some things you can do to discourage your cat from licking you:

Never yell at your cat or punish them for licking you – that will only hurt your relationship and cause your cat to feel afraid of you.

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