Does your cat lick you when you pet it or scratch her/him? Some cats have a curious habit of licking the owner when they receive gentle scratches and pettings. If you have ever wondered why it happens, read on.
Why does my cat lick me when I scratch her? Scratching your cat can trigger certain instincts in your cat which might lead them to lick you. Licking is a part of cats’ grooming and social bonding. As their companion, grooming you comes naturally to them. In certain cases, your cat might lick you due to anxiety or stress.
Cats are licked by their mothers as kittens. This is a memory they carry with them. Also, mutual grooming is common between kittens from the same litter and their mother, and cats who are close to each other.
When cats live as pets with humans, many animal behavior specialists believe that they see their human companions as one of their own. Hence, your cat licking you is a sign that they have accepted you. Owners claim that when they scratch their cat, they get a good licking in response.
Here’s all you need to know about your cat licking you.
5 Reasons your cat might be licking you when you scratch her/ him
Below are some of the reasons your cat might be licking you.
1. If you are scratching the base of their tail…
Most of the cats will display curious behavior when you scratch the base of their tail – the part where their tail meets the rump. When you do this, they might arch their backs, lift their tails, even close their eyes, and yes, lick you quite a lot. There can be various reasons for this behavior:
- this spot is difficult to reach by the cats themselves while grooming,
- it relieves a possible itch that they might be having in this area,
- it stimulates a gland known as the ‘supracaudal gland’ which cats use to leave their scent and to communicate with other cats,
- cats like being scratched, but they like being scratched at this spot a little bit more.
2. If you are scratching their back along the spine…
This is usually true for cats who are overweight or not that flexible anymore. While cats are very particular about their grooming, overweight cats might have difficulty licking themselves clean over the line that runs along the spine.
Usually, cats that live together might engage in assisted grooming and then this spot gets covered. So when you, as their constant companion, scratch them in this area, it triggers the instinct to mutually groom and the cat might start licking you.
They look at it as grooming you to help you groom them in return.
3. If you are scratching the side of their face…
The side of their face is another area which the tongue cannot completely cover. In the absence of other cats who can groom them, your cat depends on you to scratch them.
So when you scratch their cheeks, they lick you back to return the favor and as a mark of appreciation. Since your hand is nearest to their tongue when you rub or scratch the side of their face, cats might lick your hand.
4. They don’t like you scratching them
Sometimes your scratching can bother them and they just want you to stop. To get you to stop scratching, they start licking you until you stop.
5. They want to play
Have you every scratched your cat and suddenly he or she started to lick you, then bite you, and then lick you again? Cats usually do this when they have a lot of energy and want to play, but can’t really decide between playing or showing affection.
Other reasons why your cat might be licking you
Apart from thinking that your scratching and petting is a part of mutual grooming, below are a few other reasons why your cat licks you. Cats value their privacy and autonomy. Hence, the licking is usually triggered by you coming close to them and scratching or petting them.
You taste good
Yes, it’s quite possible that your kitty loves your taste. It could be a food residue on you, or it could be the natural salts on the skin.
Cats have a very keen olfactory sense. They know your unique smell, and exchanging personal smells is a way of bonding for them. Hence, by licking you, they want to put their scent on you while you pet them.
Marking you as their own
Cats are territorial and possessive animals. Your pet wants other cats to know that you belong to them. By licking you, they ensure that other cats will smell their presence on you and stay away.
Cleaning you up
Cats are very particular about grooming themselves and keeping clean. You obviously don’t meet their standards of hygiene. So, as someone who knows better, they try to clean you up by giving you a nice licking.
Protecting you from predators
Cats clean themselves up quite well after a meal. This is so that other predators don’t smell the remnants of what the ate and don’t attack them. Thus, in order to keep you safe, your pet might want to lick you clean.
Cats might be infamous for being indifferent to their owners. But, in their own feline way, they do care for you. Have you noticed how you can absently scratch your cat when you are stressed or just feeling down?
Your cat picks up the change in your mood and will lick you to make you feel better. This is also why some cats will seek out their owners and sit by their side when their owners are sick.
All in all, remember that cats only lick them whom they love. So your cat licking you is a sign that they approve of you, love you, and cherish your presence.
When is licking a problem?
Licking can be a problem if the trigger for licking is loneliness or anxiety.
Licking each other is a very common habit of cats and is a method to socialize their bonds with others. So when they start to feel lonely, they initiate to lick and play with you as soon as you scratch them. Basically, all they are looking for is some attention.
If you are busy and unable to spend quality time with your pet, then surely they need some extra bonding time to kill their loneliness. Reassure your pet by petting and scratching them to let them know that you love them.
Sometimes cats might over-groom you to relieve themselves from stress and anxiety. They try to comfort and soothe themselves by licking you.
This anxiety is caused in them due to various reasons such as shifting to a new home, moving the furniture, having a new roommate or a sudden change in their diet.
You can look for any changes to zero in on what could have triggered anxiety in your pet cat so that it can be minimized or avoided.
This anxiety in cats results in them to lick compulsively. They might also try to lick themselves very hard such that it creates bald spots on them. Other compulsive behavior shows sucking and licking any fabric, plastic, and even your skin vigorously.
If your cat is displaying compulsive behavior, a vet could help you calm down your pet so that it’s healthy and happy again.
How much licking should be considered excessive?
Even if you find your cat’s licking adorable, great! But excessive licking can be a red flag. It could be a precursor to an underlying problem. But how much is too much, exactly? And when should you be worried?
It should be considered a red flag when your cat licks you for an absurd period of over 30 minutes. Even if your cat is an adorable ball of fur that you love to its, getting licked for so long could be a bit too much for you, too.
The cat might display the same excessive behavior by licking itself more than normal, too. This may be observed by some bald spots on a cat or by thinning of her coat fur. If this continues for a long time, we can see irritated patches of skin or bleeding and infected skin on the cat.
There can be three main reasons for this problem: parasites, skin allergies or anxiety. Parasites and skin allergies can cause itching and some odd sensation on the body of a cat which might cause it to lick itself to relive the itchiness.
Anxiety might lead to compulsive behavior where they just cannot stop licking themselves. To find a solution to this problem, visit a veterinarian who might prescribe a treatment involving medication for pets.
How does it feel when a cat licks you?
To be honest, getting licked by a cat is not the most comfortable feeling in the world. Cats have a rough tongue that has a spiky texture. Think of the bristles of a boar brush.
This bristle-like structure of the tongue is due to the taste buds that are backward-facing and are known as ‘papillae’. These papillae help them to remove the flesh from the bones completely when they eat.
It also helps them to clean their coats properly and remove any food or debris on them.
Papillae are made from the same tissue that the cats’ claws are made from. This is why the tongue feels like sandpaper against the human skin. And the papillae are rightly known as barbs. It could actually hurt when a cat licks you repeatedly at the same place.
If your cat is licking you, you don’t need to worry at all. Just make sure your cat is not going through a behavioral issue or health issue. If you suspect a problem, visiting a vet is always advisable.
Reassure your pet that you love them and care for them. And give them some love and attention when the demand it, and you should be fine.
Why do cats lick their paws after eating? Cats like to be very clean and use their front paws as a washcloth. They dampen their paw first by licking it and then use that same paw to wipe the left out food, smell and tiny remains of oils and moisture on the area to be cleaned.
How to destress your cat while she is anxious? Healthy play helps cats to be free from their anxious behavior. It also helps to keep your cat fit and strengthens the bond between the two of you. The chemicals released in cats during their playful activities make them relaxed and feel contented.