Our Veterinary Blog
Why Does My Cat Lick Me and Wake Me Up?
Cats engage in all kinds of quirky behaviors, from springing 2 feet straight up into the air to knocking objects off countertops. But another behavior that leaves many cat owners scratching their heads is licking. Cats lick themselves all the time as a grooming behavior, but why would they lick us? Is it their way of trying to groom us, or is there another reason? At Plant City Animal Hospital, we frequently get questions about pet behaviors and what they mean. Below, we tackle the question of why cats lick and propose some potential reasons as to why your feline family member licks you.
If you have any questions about your cat’s behavior that aren’t answered in this blog, feel free to call us at (813) 752-3073!
Why Do Cats Lick in General?
Before we get to the main point of this blog, first we’d like to address why cats lick in general. When it comes to themselves and other cats, licking can mean several things:
- Showing affection
- Marking territory
Cat licking is more or less a healthy, positive behavior. It shows they are capable of grooming themselves and other cats, have affection for the other cats in their household and their humans, and consider you part of their family. Like it or not, you are one of your kitty’s most prized possessions.
Reasons Your Cat Might Be Licking You
Let’s dive a little deeper into cat-licking behaviors and what they mean for you.
They Want Attention
Cats communicate in all kinds of ways with their humans to get attention (and demand food). Licking is a prime example of this, especially when you’re fast asleep. Cats will meow, paw at your face, and yes, even lick you to get you to wake up. It’s fairly easy to see why cats use this tactic on their humans; it’s impossible to ignore! When your cat realizes how effective licking is as an attention-grabbing strategy, they’ll use it at every opportunity.
Similar to dogs, cats will sometimes lick you simply because they like you. Licking can be comforting to cats because they experience it from their mothers as kittens. By licking you, your cat is showing a similar affection. They may also lick you as a way of requesting pets and chin scratches.
Nurturing and Grooming
Another reason why your cat might be licking you is that they’re trying to teach you how to groom yourself. Cats lick their kittens to groom them and show them how to groom themselves. It is not uncommon for cats, especially females, to attempt to “teach” their humans how to groom and care for themselves. Some cats will even bring their owners gifts in the form of toys, or (less pleasant), dead mice or birds. This is thought to be a cat’s way of trying to teach their humans how to hunt.
Licking can also be a nurturing behavior to help you calm down. Cats will lick other cats for this reason, so if you happen to be particularly stressed or sick, your cat may pick up on this and lick you as a way to help soothe you.
No, this doesn’t mean your cat wants to eat you. Rather, they might catch a scent of food on your hands from when you were preparing dinner, or perhaps you went for a run and got a little sweaty from the exercise. Whether it’s residue from a meal or salt, your cat may be tempted to give you a lick or two!
They Were Weaned Early
Cats that are weaned from their mothers at an especially early age might get into the habit of licking to satisfy their need for oral stimulation that was not sufficiently met when they were kittens. In addition to licking, cats that have been weaned too early may also spend a lot of time kneading (making biscuits) and suckling on blankets and towels.
Can My Cat’s Licking Get Me Sick?
There is no danger in having your cat lick you from time to time. But if you have a cut on your hand, just applied lotion, or have a compromised immune system, it might be safer to prevent your cat from licking you. Cats do have oral bacteria that could cause an illness or infection. This doesn’t mean cats are walking incubators for disease, but we do recommend caution just in case!
If you regularly use topical medication or handle other substances that might be toxic to cats, contact Plant City Animal Hospital at (813) 752-3073 so we can help!
Don’t Want Your Cat to Lick?
It’s okay if you don’t like having your cat lick you. After all, there are lots of ways your cat can show affection to you, and vice versa! Simply move away from your cat when they try to lick or turn away and withhold attention until your cat moves on to something else. You can also try diverting their attention with toys or treats. The key is to always praise your cat when they do the right thing, and never to verbally or physically punish them for licking.
Call Plant City Animal Hospital at (813) 752-3073 for more information about cat behaviors, or to make an appointment with your veterinarian! We’re committed to helping you and your pet enjoy your best life together with outstanding veterinary care and advice you can trust.
Family is family, whether it has two legs or four. At Plant City Animal Hospital, we've spent the last 40 years healing and caring for your pets. As a family-operated practice, we know that family is about more than simply being related. Animals give us the ability to develop strong bonds and feel great compassion for a fellow living creature.