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Why Is My Cat Licking Me?

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by Alexander Thompson
May 24, 2022
4 minute read
TABLE OF CONTENTS
  • Why Do Cats Lick You?
  • Why Is Cat Licking Hurtful?
  • Should You Allow Your Cat to Lick You?
  • How Do You Prevent Your Cat from Licking You?
  • Why Is Cat Papillae Important?
  • Conclusion
Cats and licking are inseparable. A considerable part of their alone time goes into grooming. Therefore, most cat parents are used to getting tongue-bathed by their cats and usually enjoy the soft sponge feel of their tongues.

Why Do Cats Lick You?

There is no scientific evidence for why cat licks people. What we have for now are hypotheses and potential reasons, including:

Displaying Affection

Cats show their affection for a person by licking and sticking to them. So, it is a common occurrence between cats and their owners. Cat owners, in return, can rub them and interact with them.

Craving Attention

Cats who seek their owner’s attention will most likely lick them. It’s simply a call-to-action, so you play with and pay attention to them. Therefore, this is just an attention-seeking cat behavior, similar to what they hope to achieve with meowing and pawing at their owners.
a cat is licking a man’s hand

Response to Anxiety

Anxiety or stress brings out some forced and uncontrollable compulsive grooming behaviors. In most cases, if this is unchecked, it leads to baldness – psychogenic alopecia. This is due to the involuntary actions of cats to relieve their pressure and anxiety. Stress is another common cause of this obsessive-compulsive disorder in cats. So, when cats lick and suck on plastics and fabrics, they are likely to lick excessively on their owner’s skin.

Marking Territory

Cats often mark their territories by licking. Cats that lick their owners are warning other pets and animals and telling them to back away from their owners.

Why Is Cat Licking Hurtful?

Cat licking can hurt you for a simple reason. As stated above, the papillae – tiny spines on the cat’s tongue – are made of keratin. Keratin is quite strong – it is the same component found in human fingernails. But the keratin in cats is designed to help them get saliva down to their skin. So, as self-groomers, cats redistribute oils, detangle their fur, and get rid of substances and dirt using this saliva.
For these reasons, a cat licking you may feel slightly hurtful.

Should You Allow Your Cat to Lick You?

Allowing your cat to lick you puts you at a few risks:

Bacteria Infection

Your cat’s saliva is a potential home to several bacteria and parasites. They can transfer these bacteria and parasites to your face when they lick you there.
For example, “Pasteurella” is a group of bacteria present in a cat’s mouth that cause lymph nodes and other forms of serious infections. We also have the “Bartonella henselae” associated with scratch fever in animals and humans.
Despite causing infections, none of these infections are deadly. However, you may have to deal with several intestinal diseases if you end up with clostridia, E. coli, campylobacter, and a few others.
Some cats also have single-celled parasitic worms or parasites, which cause skin problems if they find their way into human skins. They also cause intestinal diseases, brain disorders, and blindness in some cases.

Unsanitary Touch

Even the most conscientious cat cannot be trusted enough not to bring you harm. Cats can stick their tongues into almost anything, including their own anus. Imagine the content of a cat’s anus ending on your face.
It is even worse if your cat goes outdoors. There are several foreign substances that contain harmful materials. This puts you at the risk of facial infections, especially those that affect the face.
a cat is licking a man’s nose

How Do You Prevent Your Cat from Licking You?

Your cat will always want to lick you. However, there are ways to make them stop. Do not scold, intimidate, or squirt your cats; otherwise, you want to create friction. These methods may make your cat even more anxious, forcing them to lick you even more.
Instead, do these to reduce licking:
  • Wear clothing with long sleeves when you are getting physical with your cats. Alternatively, you can use small towels on your skin or toys and treats.
  • Do not stop your cat if it starts licking you. However, do not give in if it is doing this to get your attention. You are not ignoring it entirely, but only when it licks you. If this continues for more than a week, the licking is not a call for attention.
  • Throw their treats or toys away to a distance or walk away so that your cat comes after you to get their treats or toys.
  • Only pet or play with your cat when they are not licking you. This is some form of reward for them keeping their tongues to themselves.
  • Introduce more toys. Having new batches of toys regularly helps create some form of freshness.
  • Introduce vertical spaces to enable your cats to hide. For example, get a climbing frame.
  • Play with your cat daily for at least thirty minutes.
  • Arrange a vet appointment if your cat continues over-licking.
a cat is link a man’s finger

Why Is Cat Papillae Important?

Cat papillae are quite important, and here is why:

Keep the Hair Clean

The cat papillae are an excellent absorber of saliva. So, when your cat licks, the saliva is spread evenly on the hair or portion of skin, it wants to clean. Even in the smallest amounts, this saliva can help clean the cat’s hair deeply. For instance, if the skin contains fleas, lice, and such hiding under the hair, the papillae will effectively clean them.

Regulate the Body Temperature

Cats regulate their body temperature by evaporating their saliva, especially in those hot summer months.

Make Feeding Easier

Thanks to the barbs, when cats kill and eat prey in the wild, their tongues are better equipped to scrape the meat off the bones. They also help to separate the meat and the bones, ensuring they eat only the meat.
There are about 200-300 taste buds on the tongue of an average cat. They are efficiently equipped to distinguish between good and bad foods. Cats are lovers of fresh drinking water, so it is best to provide new water as much as possible daily.

Make Drinking Easier

Cats drink water with their tongues. All they have to do is flex their tongues, allowing the barb to hook up the water and straight into their system. They may also press their tongues against their throats, forming a small jet of water through which the water flows into their mouths.
You will notice this when next you watch your cat drink water.

Conclusion

Licking is normal behavior among cats.
If your cat is fond of licking you, just enjoy the time under the premise of paying attention to hygiene and health.
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