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The Meaning Behind Your Cat’s Licking Behavior

A cat’s licking behavior is essential when it comes to grooming and bonding. If your cat likes to lick you, there’s no doubt it’s telling you that you’re loved but there are other reasons behind it.

This licking behavior shows how your cat feels towards you and its mates, its state of health, and its social standing in a group.

In this article, you’re going to know more about the meaning behind your cat’s licking behavior. When should you be concerned? How to stop it if you don’t like being licked? Read more below.

Why Do Cats Lick?

Licking is a part of cats’ non-verbal communication to convey how they’re feeling about themselves, around you, and in their territory.

To Groom and Clean

There are four types of grooming behavior seen among cats, according to Dr. Debra Primovic: self-grooming, allogrooming, post-birth grooming, and maternal grooming.

Self-grooming is practiced to clean their fur of dirt and dust and minimize their odor. They spend about 50% of their waking hours grooming themselves, according to Dr. Cynthia McManis in an interview with Reader’s Digest.

Allogrooming, on the other hand, is a grooming behavior of an individual towards another. Cats clean each other in areas they cannot reach on their own such as the back of their head and neck.

Female cats perform post-birth grooming to rid of discharge and odor that attract predators. When this is done, the queen does maternal grooming on its kittens to clean them as well and stimulates breathing. Dr. Primovic further notes that the mother also chews the umbilical cord and eats the placenta.

Read: Understanding Your Cat’s Body Language: Why Is My Cat Acting Strange and Scared?

To Bond and Show Affection

Licking is also a social bond among felines and between cats and owners. Your cat may stick its tongue out and scrape it against your skin from time to time to show how relaxed and secure your cat feels around you. This is more commonly seen among felines that were raised together in the same household, and cats and dogs!

To Remain Cool

During the warm seasons, cats lick their fur to remain cool. Because they can’t sweat through other parts of their skin aside from their paws, saliva acts as a substitute. When the saliva evaporates, it takes with it the excess heat felt across the body.

To Alleviate Stress

Changes, in any form, can affect our cats. When they get stressed, they groom themselves obsessively. They could also displace this behavior and turn to lick you almost every time you’re nearby.

As a Sign of Infestation or Medical Condition

Because of how often cats lick themselves daily, owners don’t assume anything is possibly wrong. Cornell Feline Health Center published in an article that compulsive licking at the tail head (the area where the tail connects to the lower back) may indicate a flea infestation, while cats with pollen or food allergies may lick their backs, abdomens, or other areas of the body.

Dr. William Miller of Cornell University notes that when the cat experiences hair loss and produces many hairballs from licking, it is abnormal. The behavior can be caused by psychological or physical stress that only a veterinarian can verify.

When the licking becomes very compulsive to the point of creating a bald spot and breaking the skin, it could be a clinical sign of Psychogenic Alopecia. With the appearance and gradual growth of lesions (a wound, an abscess, tumor, or ulcer), it could potentially be Acral Lick Dermatitis which requires mandatory veterinary help.

Read: Why Is My Cat Acting Weird After Being in the Rain?

Why Does My Cat Lick Me a Lot?

There are two potential reasons behind your cat’s licking behavior. One may be a simple display of love towards you, similar to allogrooming when it grooms fellow felines but it is extended to you because your cat sees you as a part of the group.

Another reason is displacement behavior. When cats are confronted by a stressful event, they normally respond with flight (and hide), fight, or freeze. Instead, they react differently and it is manifested into excessive licking/grooming to themselves and you.

Read: How to Make Your Cat and Dog Get Along?

Why Do Cats Lick Each Other?

Felines lick each other to bond socially and help each other reach areas on their bodies the individual can’t reach. In a house with more than two cats, this behavior is a good sign that your furry companions have a loving relationship with each other.

Surprisingly, it is also a tool to show dominance. In a Reader’s Digest article, Bruce Kornreich, DVM, Ph.D., and a professor at Cornell University explains, “In some cases, a dominant cat may groom a cat that is ‘lower’ in social structure (subordinate), perhaps to establish or to reinforce their social dominance.”

Why Do Cats Lick Their Private Parts?

Grooming the genitalia is a part of a cat’s grooming process. It becomes concerning when your cat starts to lick the area excessively as it might be a sign of a urinary problem.

It should be observed that your cat shouldn’t be straining itself just to urinate. When this happens often, urinary obstruction or infection could be a likely culprit. It is best to consult with your veterinarian.

Read: Why Does My Cat Want So Much Attention in the Morning?

When Should You Be Concerned?

Generally, over-the-top licking is a number one sign that something is wrong. For milder concerns, scratching and licking the tail head or the area where the tail connects to the lower back could be a cause of flea infestation and food allergy.

When there’s an excess number of hairballs being produced, watch out for loss of fur in other areas. Obsessive licking could lead to bald spots (Psychogenic Alopecia) and these can develop lesions (an alarming sign of Acral Lick Dermatitis) that lead to threatening infections. Lesions are abnormal skin growth that could appear as ulcers, tumors, and abscesses.

Many feline diseases overlap when obsessive licking manifests as a clinical sign and while we can’t always point out what is specifically ailing your cat, the best we can do is watch out for early symptoms to prevent it.

My Cat Stopped Grooming Himself, Should I Be Concerned?

The lack of and over-the-top grooming in felines is alarming. A cat that has stopped grooming its coat will have matted fur on its body and a more noticeable odor.

This happens due to aging, health, and changes in routine and lifestyle. A healthy cat will keep up with its daily grooming and look presentable.

What’s a Healthy Amount of Licking for Cats?

Depending on where you look, veterinarians provide differing numbers. Dr. Wailani Sung stated that cats groom about 15% to 50% of their waking hours, and 30% to 60% according to Dr. Pamela Perry, animal behavior resident of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Cornell University.

Cats sleep between 12 to 18 hours a day, so based on our two sources, a healthy amount of grooming for cats should be around 10% to 60% of their waking time, an estimate of an hour to six and a half hours!

How to Stop My Cat from Licking a Lot?

For a solution to be effective, you should’ve been able to figure out a possible reason behind your cat’s licking behavior.

  • Provide physical and mental stimulation. Boredom can result in strange coping mechanisms that your cat will adapt. When your cat is occupied through exercises that stimulate its muscles, it develops an active and healthy mind which is the number one key in reducing the possibility of your cat getting sick and creating weird habits.
  • Keep up to date with vet visits and nutrition. Strictly adhere to your cat’s vet appointments to spot early symptoms of bad health and behavior. Ask your vet questions and share with them your concerns.
  • Introduce changes step by step. Cats prefer to live by routine especially domestic felines. When moving to a new house, adding another pet in the home, or so on, be gradual with the changes so they will not trigger stress in your cat.
  • Help with grooming. The teeth of a comb can be soothing on their skin as it filters out dirt from their fur and it allows you to bond with your cat.
  • Use a neck collar. When it’s severe, cones and neck collars can help reduce your cat’s licking behavior.
  • Apply citrus or bitter-tasting products. Mix one lemon and half a cup of water. You can also use essential oil, preferably lavender or cinnamon. Spray it on areas your cat licks a lot.


We should always observe our cats to deduce what they could be hinting at with their licking behavior. It could be a want to bond socially, to groom, to alleviate stress, or to soothe the pain and discomfort they are feeling from an illness.

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