Cats lick and clean themselves frequently throughout the day, but when they start licking their owners, it can make one wonder why. Often, this licking can be a sign of affection or a desire to clean. Although there is no way to know a cat’s exact thoughts, one can rest assured knowing that if a cat licks them, it is because of their love for them. This article will delve into why cats lick their owners and what can be done if a cat licks too much.
Why Do Cats Lick Their Owners?
Some reasons why cats lick their owners are believed to include:
Marking Their Territory
Cats use scent glands on their tails, feet, and cheeks to claim items and territories. By licking, cats spread their scent, making it one of their ways of marking their territory, which can include their owners. Since cats’ sense of smell is far more superior than a human’s, they can detect the scent left by cats, even though humans might not be able to do so.
Cats’ tongues feature small and hard thorn-shaped structures called papillae, which they use to clean dirt off their fur and untangle their hair while they are grooming themselves. Since kittens don’t know how to lick effectively, their mother teaches them how to lick. When a cat licks its owner, it may be teaching them how to lick, thinking they do not know how to do so, as they are considered their family. As cats spend most of their waking hours grooming themselves, it is natural for them to want to groom and clean their loved ones as well. If your cat licks you so they can clean you off, reward them by brushing them around their ears or pet them any way you know they like.
Smell or Taste Preference
The scent of the owner’s shampoo or the food they eat may be why a cat licks their skin or hair. Cats may even find the smell of their human’s sweat appealing.
If a kitten is separated from its mother too early, it can experience stress. Therefore, cats should not be separated from their mothers until they are at least 8 weeks old. In nature, kittens nurse their mother for up to four months. Therefore, cats separated from their mother too soon can be stressed. To cope with stress, kittens may knead soft things, such as blankets. Finger or earlobe sucking sometimes appears as a manifestation of this behavior. Therefore, if your cat licks or sucks on your fingers, it may be the result of their early separation from their mother.
Cats tend to lick their owners as a way of seeking attention when they want it. Licking provides tactile stimulation that signals their owners to cuddle with them or to realize that their litter box is dirty. In rare occasions, excessive licking by a cat may indicate that they are feeling stressed. If you notice other behaviors beside licking, such as hiding, fear of food, or urinating outside the litter box, your cat may be stressed and you should consult a veterinarian.
It is common for cats to see their owners as their family members. For example, the reason a cat hunts birds or mice and leaves it in front of the door may be to offer their human owner a treat or to teach them how to hunt. Cat owners may also notice female cats exhibiting these behaviors towards their owners more than male cats.
Underlying Health Issues
Cats might lick their owners or objects within the house because of underlying health issues. Cats may lick objects excessively if they are experiencing disgust or feeling uncomfortable. Cats may even become sick from licking things. If your cat licks you or other objects more often than usual, suddenly started, and without discernible reason, you can consult your veterinarian and have your cat checked for any possible health issues.
How Can You Stop Your Cat From Licking You?
A cat licking its owner is generally considered safe, but some complications can arise from it. For example, bacteria in cats’ mouths can cause infection if it comes into contact with any open wound. This can lead to complications especially in immunocompromised people. While it is rare, not letting your cat lick your face or skin sores is still a preventive measure.
Similarly, cats’ licking can also be detrimental to their health. They may ingest medical creams that are dangerous to their health. The cream or lotion one might put on their skin or hair may also harm a cat’s health.
While most people generally do not mind their cat licking them, some find it bothersome. If one doesn’t want their cat to lick them, they should avoid punitive measures such as squirting them with water or scolding them. Discipline techniques may damage the bond between the cat and its owner making the cat more anxious, and increase their licking behavior.
To stop cats from licking, one can try out the following tips:
- Wear long-sleeved clothes when taking care of the cat.
- Walk away if the cat starts licking; this behavior is usually to attract attention, and one can curb it by ignoring it. Only ignore the cat when they want to lick, not when they want attention naturally. After walking away, if the cat continues to lick, it is wise to consult a veterinarian for a thorough examination.
- Throw toys to distract the cat; this can deflect their attention from licking.
- Reinforce positive behavior, such as playing and petting, when the cat shows interest without licking, making them realize there are other ways of seeking attention.
- Provide their environment with toys and scratching posts, and play with them for at least 15 minutes a day. This significantly reduces time spent on licking by engaging them in other stimuli.
If you follow the tips above, but your cat does not stop the licking behavior, and it continues to be excessive, you should have your cat checked by a veterinarian to ensure there are no underlying physical or psychological issues.
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