Why Does My Cat Lick Me?

Why Does My Cat Lick Me? 

In the most simple of terms, your favorite feline is showing you affection and petting you much the same way you pet him, but let's explore this in more detail.

Cat Licking Paw

Kittens are totally dependent on their mothers after they are born and one of the first things your kitty remembers is being licked and groomed by her mama. Immediately after delivery, felines lick their newborn kittens with their sandpaper-like tongues to stimulate breathing and to remove the birth sac and any fluids from their kitten's fur. This cleaning ritual feels really nice and includes a good over-all cleansing from the tip of their tiny pink nose to the end of their cute little tail. It's bonding for mama cat and her kittens, the same as cuddling and gentle stroking is for any human mother and newborn.

It is thought that kittens that have been weaned too early, or that have been prematurely removed from their mothers, sometimes lick more as adult cats than those that weren't. The act of licking their people companions is satisfying and recreates the pleasurable experience of being nurtured by mom. If you have a cat that loves to lick your face, hands, or arms, it is a compliment. She is demonstrating the comforting closeness that was experienced at birth.


His Licking Hurts! Why Is His Tongue So Rough?

Now that we know the basis for cat licking is comfort and affection, what's up with those rough kitty-cat tongues?  Being licked on the hand by your cat is an experience to be had, a skin peel of sorts where you feel like you've been exfoliated with coarse grit sandpaper. 

We all know that cats are clean creatures. They constantly groom behind their ears, in between their toes, and all over their fur bodies. They remove lots of dirt and grime with special tongues that mother nature has so aptly provided them. Cats tongues are covered in hook-like protuberances named papilla. A good way to understand these papilla is to visualize them as the hook in what we know as hook and loop closures. Papilla are made of keratin, the tough stuff fingernails are made of. These protruding papilla face backwards on your cat's tongue making his tongue comb-like, and durable enough for thorough cleanings, including the ability to remove shedding hair.

Ouch! No wonder his tongue feels so rough on my skin!

Rough Cat Tongue - Papilla
This image was originally posted to Flickr by Jennifer Leigh at http://flickr.com/photos/45206157@N00/388846359. It was reviewed on  by the FlickreviewR robot and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-2.0.


Why Does My Cat Lick Herself? 

Aside from grooming, cats that are under stress may lick themselves for comfort. If you find your cat is incessantly licking herself, she may be anxious. Give her more attention and remove her from the situation that is making her nervous. Sooth and calm her with gentle petting.

If you notice a change in your cat's over-all licking behavior, it may be something more than grooming. Older felines and cats that are licking frequently could be ill. Insect bites, skin irritations, fleas, and mouth conditions could be the culprit.


Your Cat's Licking You Is Normal 

Cats are wonderful creatures and their licking is all part of what makes them fascinating, but don't respond harshly if you don't like your kitty's affectionate scratchy licks. Discourage and distract their behavior with toys or catnip. Spritz some lemon juice on your skin; cats don't like it and will shy away. But be careful. You may get what you wish for, and find yourself missing your favorite feline's lovable licks. 

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