Why do cats lick?

CATS seem to lick everything – themselves, you and other cats and objects.

They do it for lots of different social and grooming reasons. It's totally normal and not a cause for concern unless it becomes obsessive.

Why do cats lick?

There are a lot of reasons why cats lick.

Here are the main ones:

1. To form and strengthen social bonds

Cats lick their owners to form a social bond.

They do this because because the household is part of their social group, which is very important to them, even though cats are independent and sometimes solitary.

Mother cats lick their kittens for various reasons, one of which is to bond with her new arrivals.

Cats who live together, even unrelated adults, use licking to wash each other as part of bonding within their social group.

2. To establish a group odour, which helps them identify members of their social circle

The odour profile of cats’ social circles is probably more important for felines in the wild.

But you should still class yourself as privileged if you are regularly licked by your pet moggy.

3. To wash their coats

Their saliva helps to wash dirt and unwanted smells from their fur, and their scratchy tongues lift dirt off the hairs.

Cats lick each other to help clean the places it’s hard to reach alone, and only wash other cats they feel safe with.

This means your cat licking you may be helping you out, but is also a sign kitty trusts you.

Being washed by their mum to clean them after birth is one of the first experiences a cat enjoys.

4. To groom as well as clean

Cats’ scratchy licking also performs the function of combing their coat.

If kitty’s fur has been ruffled, you will notice they wash themselves to put back that sleek coat you love to stroke.

This grooming also removes loose hair from their coat.

Mother cats lick their kittens to tidy up their fluffy little coats as well as keep them clean, scent them, and establish their bond.

5. To show affection

Sometimes these affectionate cat licks are slightly uncomfortable because cats have little hooks on their tongues, called papillae.

These back-facing little barbs give cat licks that scratchy sensation, as they are made of the same stuff as kitty’s claws, keratin.

6. Because they feel stress and anxiety

Cats lick things, including their owners, when they are troubled.

If it is persistent or continuous you should seek advice from a vet or cat behaviour specialist.

Try and distract your cat from the licking with a game or something your puss likes to eat.

A very stressed cat can lick itself so much it can suffer serious hair loss.

If your cat is licking you or objects in the house a lot, try and keep a record of what was happening just before the licking.

Keeping a record of events might help you to identify the cause of your kitty’s need to "stress wash".

7. Because they don't want to share something

This type of licking is territorial – your cat is saying "This is mine".

And it may be competitive washing if you have more than one cat.

You are part of your furry friend’s territory and possessions, so your feline pal may wash you to warn others off.

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