People ask: “Why do cats lick you?”. There are three main reasons in my opinion. The first is this. Humans are surrogate mothers to their cats. This places them in a mental state of being a kitten a lot of the time. They actually flick between being a kitten and being an adult (e.g., when bring prey into the home). Also, we know that domestic cats are great and fastidious groomers of themselves. This is called autogrooming by the experts. Domestic cats also groom, through licking, other cats with whom they are friendly. And mothers lick their kittens. This is called allogrooming. This background information informs us that your cat will lick you because they are engaging in allogrooming. They lick you because they want to be friendly towards you and they want to assist you. They want to do something for you. And in doing something for you they help to cement the bond between you and your cat. When a mother cat licks their kitten that also supports the bond between them.
When domestic cats who are friendly with each other groom each other it is obviously a bonding experience. But there is a functionality behind it as well: cleaning each other. So the first and second reasons why your cat licks you is to keep you clean while at the same time improving the bond between you.
The third reason has nothing to do with emotion and bonding. On a hot summers day you will sweat. Within your sweat there is the mineral: sodium. Sodium is released to help maintain the sodium balance in your body. Sodium tastes salty. Domestic cats like the taste of salt. The third reason, therefore, is because they like the taste when they lick your hand.
Clearly, the first and second reasons occur far more often than the third reason because you are not going to sweat sufficiently for your cat to enjoy the taste of salt unless it is warm or hot.
In my experience, when my cat licks the back of my hand to taste the salt in my sweat, he does it for too long for my liking. He will go on doing it until it becomes irritating because, as you know, the tongue contains masses of backward pointing spines made of keratin, the same material which makes your nails. After a while it feels like your hand is being sand papered. And if you are working on your computer at that time, as I frequently am, you can’t take any more after a while so you must put an end to it. This is something I don’t want to do because I want my cat to enjoy himself.
RELATED: Cat’s tongue in some detail.
You will see some other ideas about why domestic cats lick people. One website states (insider.com) that cats lick because they have been weaned too early. This is probably incorrect. Cats might rarely suckle on their owner such as on the ear lobe or their hand if they been weaned too early because they are suckling at their mother’s breast. They don’t normally if ever lick, though, under these circumstances.
The same website states that cats lick you to mark territory. This is entirely incorrect. Cats will rub against you with their flanks and with their cheeks to deposit their scent on you and to take some of your sent off you and put it on themselves. This is called scent exchange and it is a friendly process. And cats to do this sort of thing to mark territory as well but they don’t lick people to mark territory. And they don’t lick objects to mark territory.
There is one last point eight: when we stroke our cats, from their point of view we are licking them. They think that they are being groomed. This may stimulate them to groom themselves where we stroke them. It may also stimulate them to lick you because allogrooming is a mutual process. When one cat does it to the other, the other reciprocates.
Below are some pages on allogrooming.
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