Why Do Cats Lick You? How Your Feline Shows Affection

Cats are enigmatic creatures. While they make wonderful pets, their behavior can often leave us baffled.

For instance, have you ever wondered why your cat licks you? Why do they run their little rough sandpaper-like tongue across your arm or face?

Well, as it turns out this action can be for a myriad of reasons. We spoke to some experts to find out...

Sign of Affection

If your cat "starts licking you while you're cuddled up together, it could be that they're trying to show affection and make friends with you," Cats Protection behavior officer Daniel Cummings told Newsweek.

The expert added: "Cats are usually quite happy to just groom themselves, using their rough tongue to remove any dirt and excess fur from their body.

"However, if they're in the same social group as another cat, they may lend a helping tongue and groom each other. This helps them to form a close bond, and it can sometimes happen across species too."

Felines can also show affection in many other ways, such as through eye contact, body language and making sounds such as purring.

Gather Scent

"Cats lick to wash themselves but they also can lick us to gather scent from us", Anita Kelsey, cat behaviorist and author of Let's Talk About Cats, told Newsweek.

"Our body scent or sweat can excite cats also, which is why some nuzzle up under our armpits."

Cats have a very good sense of smell, 14 times stronger than humans.

It is the primary way they identify people and objects; they have more than 200 million odor sensors in their nose, in comparison with the 5 million that humans have.

cat
A stock image of a cat with its tongue out. Cats lick their owners for a variety of reasons including to show affection and to gather scent. iStock

Cummings went on to add that another reason for licking is to share their own scent.

"This helps them tell, with a simple sniff, that the other cat is part of their social group and can therefore be trusted," he said. "By licking you, your cat could simply be marking you as safe and letting you know you're part of the family."

To Feel Good

As well as gathering scent, grooming and showing affection, cats also gain pleasure from licking.

Cummings revealed this releases "'feel good' hormones, called endorphins, in their brains."

"This gives them a natural 'high' so it's understandable that they may want to do it at every opportunity, even if that means licking you instead of themselves."

When Cats Lick Too Much

Although licking is normal and largely a positive thing, when your feline begins licking too much it can be a bad sign.

Due to the release of endorphins when a cat is stressed it may turn to licking to release anxiety.

This could manifest as compulsive grooming, known as psychogenic alopecia, which could be triggered by a change of routine or environment.

Cummings warns: "If they're licking you, or themselves, excessively then they could be feeling stressed or anxious, so take them to a vet to see if they can help identify a cause."

Cat licking finger
A stock image of a cat licking a finger. If your feline is licking you excessively it could be a sign of anxiety. iStock