The Real Reason Your Cat Licks You

Some find it comforting, while others think it's a little bit painful. As anyone who has ever owned a cat is well aware, though, certain cats love to lick their owners. It isn't possible, of course, to ask our kitty friends what the deal is with their tongue baths, but scientists do have some theories as to why cats like to lick their owners. Some of the reasons why your cat licks you are sweet, while some others are simply practical — at least in the worldview of the cat, as Reader's Digest reports. Before getting into any of that, though, let's answer another commonly-asked question about the tongues of house cats: Why are they so rough and bumpy?

Cats love to groom themselves, as any cat owner has likely noticed. This behavior is for cleanliness, but cats also do it to regulate their body temperature and to take care of their coat, spreading around oils from their skin. Excessive grooming can also be a sign of stress or anxiety, according to Hill's Pet Nutrition. To get through all those layers of thick fur, and to even pull out some strands, cats' tongues are covered in comb-like papillae which create that sandpaper feeling. That's why cats are known to lick themselves, but what does it mean when they turn their tongues on us?

It means they like you

Again, there's no real way to ask a cat what it has in mind when it settles for a serious lick session with their owners, but experts have some evidence-based theories. As Chewy explains, mama cats lick their babies to keep them clean, mark them as territory, but also for affection. When a cat licks you, it might mean that they're awash in comforting memories of childhood, or just exhibiting an affectionate behavior their mothers displayed to them when they were small. They might also be marking territory. Some cats who were weaned too early continue to lick their owners as a soothing suckling substitute.

More than anything, though, cat licking is highly common and can be seen as your cat choosing to stroke or pet you back. If it does become excessive — whether they're licking themselves or licking you — it could be a sign your cat is feeling lonely, bored, or anxious. This can be particularly true if the lick is accompanied by a playful bite or nip, as Reader's Digest reports. In this case, try to distract the animal with a toy, or simply show your pet some more attention and affection. If the behavior doesn't cease it might be time to consult a vet, but generally speaking, cat licking is nothing to worry about. It's a sign you're a good kitty mom or dad and that the animal thinks so, too.