The Reasons Your Cat Licks You When You Pet Them

Cats are very mysterious creatures, they are independent, and yet they are the best of companions. And who doesn’t like that rasping lick from their tongue when you pet them. But why do they do it?

The reasons are as follows.

Cats lick you as a way of socializing and to strengthen your bond. 

Your cat also using licking to show their affection for you, or it can be a way of marking you as belonging to them.

They are fastidiously clean animals, and often the licking is a way of grooming you while you pet them. 

So let’s break that statement down a little more. Put bluntly, when your cat licks you while you are petting them, it may mean one or more of the following statements.

  • Licking is an expression of their love and affection.
  • Cats are clean animals so it is a way of grooming you
  • It is a way of socializing and forming everlasting bonds.
  • Your cat could be marking you as their territory – they can be very possessive!
  • Or it could be an invitation to play.

However, a lick followed by a bite or scratching could be your cat telling you that they have had enough of your petting, and it is time to stop!

Another not so obvious reason is if they lick themselves after you stop petting them, it may be to remove your scent from their fur. Try not to be offended, it is just feline logic.


Expressing their love and affection with actions.

The odd skeptic may question if cats do feel affection or love for their people, and express the opinion that cats are too independent and aloof to express such emotions.

But to your cat, licking is a part of natural maternal instinct and grooming habits. Mother cats groom their kittens to enhance the bond they share. It is a personal moment, one built on love and trust you might argue.

It is the same between your cat and yourself. When you pet your cat, it is a form of grooming and an expression of trust and affection. They, in turn, will lick you back to reciprocate the feeling.

Licking and petting are relaxing, it shows trust with each other, and it a sign of genuine affection for both parties.

So the answer to the skeptic is yes, cats do feel love and affection for those that they have close interactions with. The bond can be just as strong as the bond between a dog and their owner, with your cat displaying a loyal and strong attachment to their people.


Grooming is More Than Just Cleaning

Often cats who live in the same house will groom each other. This helps when there is a hard to reach area on an overweight or senior cat that they cannot quite reach.

The rhymic licking and grooming are also as relaxing to them as a massage is for us.

When you pet your cat, it is a sign of your affection and is a type of grooming – especially the area under the chin area or around the ears. They, in turn, return the favor and will lick your fingers, your hand, arm, or even your face to show they feel the same way about you.

Their motives could be a sign of affection, and licking you is like an incentive for you to continue. They are reciprocating your gesture of affection.

If your cat is licking itself, it is a sign of a mutual bond that the two of you share. If you pat them and they go into grooming mode, it is a clear signal that you are trusted and a part of their family. Felines will only do this if they trust you.


Social Interaction and Bond Forming.

Although cats are often solitary or independent creatures, they do form tight-knit bonds with certain individuals – often they are family-related, or they have known the other cat since birth and they move in the same circles.

When it comes to a cat and a person, the bonds can be even stronger. The way cats maintain these bonds is through socializing.

  • Your cat will often ‘talk’ to you, meowing meaningfully to welcome you home.
  • They will cuddle on your lap, and respond to your rubbing or petting them by purring or licking you in return.
  • Playing games and enjoying each other’s company can be great social interaction and bond-forming.


Marking Their Territory or Possessions.

Cats are very possessive of their territory and possessions. Catfights can be ferocious or at least sound that way over what they consider to be perceived territory.

Here is a little explanation about your cat that you should know!

  • They are possessive little souls, and cats are famous for their belief that everything and everyone belongs to them!
  • While it is endearing when they rub up against you, or painfully cute when they lick you raw, it is not always what you think.
  • They may just be marking you as theirs to ensure no strange cat or creature tries to muscle in on their human!!
  • Cat Saliva contains pheromones that leave a scent trail, which shows other animals that you belong to your cat. Licking is a way of marking you as their human.
  • If they ‘knead’ you as well as licking you, then you are getting a double dose of marking as the pads of their feet also contain scent glands.

But whatever the reason, it is nice to have your cat cozy up to you and begin purring and licking you when you pet them.

It seems a mutual advantage to both, it is relaxing and caring and eases the stress of the day.


Play Time – Who Wants a Game?

Often socializing and a good chin rub can lead to a game. It is quite an honor when your cat invites you to play. It shows trust and acceptance.

Early mornings and late evenings are times when your cat feels the most active and alive.

Your cat will let you know when they have had enough passive stuff and want a game of chase, attack, or hide and seek. It is like you and your cat have a secret understanding; they teach, and you learn.

And if you don’t learn, you will get punished!


Your Cats Body Language.

Watch your cat’s body language to see how your cat reacts to your petting.

  • If your cat appears happy, calm, and leans into your petting, and when it ‘asks’ you to continue when you stop, then they are happy with your petting.
  • However, if your cat gets tense, upset, and reacts as though they are going to bite or scratch you, then your cat is uneasy with your petting.
  • Some cats may have certain spots that they don’t like you touching, so respect their wishes and avoid that area.
  • Other cats that may be a little overweight and can’t reach an area, they will love you grooming that spot and help them to keep their cleaning up to scratch – pardon the pun!

Petting can be a tricky business – if you mistake your cat’s signals and end up touching them the wrong way or in the wrong spot, you could be severely reprimanded.

Just because your cat is rolling around on the ground and exposing their belly, it doesn’t mean that it is an invite to rub their tummy.

To your cat, it means they are showing you that they trust you by exposing the tender belly area, but they may not want a rub there thank you very much!

Instead of a gentle lick, you may end up with claws and paws kicking your hand to pieces as a punishment for your mistake.


Final Word

A cat’s tongue is like sandpaper according to Leigh Pitsko, who is the assistant curator of great cats at the Washington DC National Zoo.

She is quoted as saying that a cat’s tongue has tiny hooks called papillae and when these are guided across the fur (or skin ) it acts like a comb. These tiny hooks smooth the tangles out of the fur. They feel a bit rough on human skin, and excessive licking can become painful.

A few last-minute pointers about your cat’s licking behavior.

  • Be careful when trying to stop your cat from excessively licking you as they may  get offended and stalk off.
  • If you punish them or yell at them for licking your hand raw, they may begin to associate the unpleasant experience directly with you, so they regard you as an  unpleasant person to be with. The best way is to just simply get up and walk away when their licking becomes painful.

On the other hand, if your cat bites or scratches you when you pet them, it could be that they are suffering from feline hyperesthesia syndrome.

This is a disease where your cat has skin that becomes very sensitive to the touch, therefore they may be reacting to the pain your petting is causing them. They may even have skin allergies that make petting painful.

Consult your vet if your cat is being aggressive when you try to pat them.

And the final word is that your cat loves you if she is licking and purring up a storm on you. And there is nothing better than that!!


Writer: Jean Brewer

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