Why do cats lick?


Have you ever wondered why cats spend so much time licking themselves? It might seem like a routine grooming activity, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. As a cat owner or enthusiast, delving into the intricacies of feline behavior can help you better understand your furry friends and strengthen the bond you share. In this blog, we’ll explore the fascinating world of cat licking, examining the reasons behind this behavior, from grooming to social communication.

Q: Why do cats lick?

A: From grooming and social communication to potential health concerns, cat licking holds a myriad of meanings.

Section 1: Grooming – The Foundation of Cat Licking

Grooming is an integral part of a cat’s life. Cats are meticulous about cleaning themselves, often seen licking their fur for extended periods. This behavior has various purposes, each contributing to the overall well-being of your feline companion. The multi-faceted purposes of grooming:

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  1. Cleaning and Hygiene: Cats are meticulous when it comes to personal hygiene. Their barbed tongues help remove dirt, debris, and loose fur from their coats, leaving them clean and odor-free. This self-cleaning process helps prevent skin issues and maintains a glossy, healthy coat.
  1. Temperature Regulation: When cats lick themselves, the saliva evaporates from their fur, creating a cooling effect. This is especially important in warm weather, as it helps regulate their body temperature.
  1. Wound Care: Licking is not just about preventive maintenance; it’s also a way for cats to attend to minor injuries. The enzymes in their saliva have mild antiseptic properties, which can help clean and disinfect small wounds or scratches.
  1. Stress Relief: Grooming provides cats with emotional comfort. When they’re stressed or anxious, they may groom themselves more frequently as a coping mechanism. This behavior releases endorphins, which have a calming effect.

Grooming is not merely a cosmetic activity for cats; it’s a holistic practice that covers cleanliness, health maintenance, and emotional well-being. Understanding the significance of grooming allows cat owners to appreciate this behavior as a fundamental part of their pet’s life.

Section 2: Social Communication – The Subtle Language of Cat Licking

Cats are known for their mysterious and subtle communication methods. One of the less obvious ways they interact with other cats and humans is through licking.

  1. Maternal Bonding: Mother cats use licking to bond with their kittens from the moment they are born. It not only cleans the newborns but also strengthens the maternal bond. Kittens, in turn, often lick their mother as a sign of affection and gratitude.
  1. Affection and Friendship: Cats often groom each other as a sign of friendship and acceptance. When a cat licks another cat or even a human, it’s a clear indication of trust and affection. It’s their way of saying, “You’re part of my family.”
  1. Hierarchy and Dominance: In multi-cat households, you might observe one cat grooming another. This behavior can signal the hierarchical structure within the group, with the groomer asserting their dominance. It’s a way for cats to establish and maintain their social order.
  1. Soothing and Reassurance: When a cat licks you, it’s not just about affection. They may also be trying to soothe you. Some cats use licking as a means to calm their owners or provide reassurance during times of stress.

Licking serves as a unique and intricate language in the feline world. Understanding its various social nuances can help you decipher your cat’s feelings and strengthen your connection with them.

Section 3: Underlying Health Issues – When Licking Becomes a Concern

While grooming and social communication are primary reasons for cat licking, it’s crucial to be aware that excessive licking can also be a sign of underlying health issues. If in doubt, see your veterinarian.

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  1. Skin Allergies and Irritation: Cats may lick excessively when they have skin allergies or irritations, including flea bites or environmental allergens. It’s a response to the discomfort they are experiencing.
  1. Pain and Discomfort: Cats may lick a specific area when they are in pain or experiencing discomfort. This can be due to injuries, arthritis, dental problems, or other medical conditions.
  1. Stress and Anxiety: Chronic stress or anxiety can lead to compulsive behaviors, including excessive licking. Cats that are overwhelmed may resort to this as a coping mechanism.
  1. Digestive Issues: Some cats with digestive problems may lick excessively due to nausea or discomfort. Licking may be a response to an upset stomach.

As responsible cat owners, it’s crucial to monitor your cat’s licking habits. If you notice any sudden changes or signs of discomfort, consult with a veterinarian. Identifying and addressing underlying health issues is essential to ensure your cat’s well-being.


From the essential role of grooming in a cat’s life to the subtle language of social communication through licking, and the potential health concerns associated with excessive licking, we’ve uncovered the multiple layers of this seemingly simple behavior. As a cat owner, take the time to observe and understand your cat’s licking behavior. It’s an opportunity to connect on a deeper level and don’t hesitate to seek professional guidance if you have concerns about your cat’s health.

Cartoon Image of Mieshelle Nagelschneider | Cat Behaviorist