Why Does My Cat Lick Me When I Pet Her?

Why Does My Cat Lick Me When I Pet Her?

Getting licked by your cat is adorable although it may not be the most enjoyable feeling. This is because a cat’s tongue is covered with papillae that resemble tiny and backward-facing barbs which gives it a rough and sandpaper feeling.  

Why does my cat lick me when I pet her?

Your cat may lick you when you pet her for the following reasons:

1. Your cat may be thinking that you are socially grooming each other.

Cats groom each other to forge social bonds and if you are petting your cat she may think that you are socially grooming her so she may just be returning the favor.  This type of social grooming among cats is also called allogrooming and is meant to reinforce social hierarchies among their species.  

While getting licked by your cat may be adorable it is quite unpleasant since her tongue feels like sandpaper because the barbs are meant to glide through fur and act as a comb. A cat’s tongue feels rough against human skin and some people may feel uncomfortable with the sensation. Nevertheless, take it as a compliment since your cat may just be grooming you in return.

2. Your cat is marking you as her territory.

Your cat may be licking you when you are petting her to show affection but more so to claim ownership of you. Cats mark their territory by transferring pheromones through their scent glands and their saliva, thus, the licking. By marking you as their own they are signaling to other pets around that you belong to them. It may also be your cat’s way of saying that she wants to connect with you. 

Felines instinctively mingle their scents with that of family members to create a unified scent as it makes them comfortable so that when your cat licks you it is a sort of invitation to their family circle. 

3. It may be a cat’s way of telling you to stop petting her. 

Some cat owners note that their cats tend to behave like that as their kitty’s way of discouraging them from petting them further. They also state that instead of becoming defensive a gentle cat may tend to lick when petted as a subtle way of pushing a person’s hand away from her body and may proceed by grooming herself after someone pets her. 

Cats may also lick their owners when they pet them to replicate what their mothers did to them when they were young. This may signify trust and love. Other cat owners also strongly believe that their cats may have detected the smell of fish or something tasty in their hands while petting them which is why their cats lick them and may also sniff them

Should I let my cat lick me?

It is up to you if you want to let your cat lick your hands or face. All cat owners have their own preferences when it comes to bonding time with their pets. Nevertheless, there are pros and cons if you allow them but to be on the safe side, you should not let your cat lick your face. 

Here are the pros and cons of allowing your cat to lick you:


It helps protect wounds.

According to research done in the Netherlands, a cat’s saliva contains histatins, a chemical that hastens the healing of wounds by promoting the spread of new skin cells. Thus, if you have a wound in your hand or face, your cat’s saliva may aid in the healing process just as it is effective in healing their wounds. Dr. Nigel Benjamin of the London School of Medicine also attests that cat saliva produces nitric oxide when it comes in contact with human skin. Nitric oxide acts as a barrier to the wound and discourages bacterial growth thus preventing infections. 

It helps build trust.

Letting your cat lick you means that you are honored to be groomed and lets your cat feel that you trust her. It may signify that your cat is opening up to you and she is comfortable in your presence.


There are health risks. 

Just as there are benefits to being licked by your cat, there are also impending dangers since parasites and bacteria thrive in her saliva. Thus, you may become infected if you allow your cat to lick your hands or face. Pasteurella bacteria that is found in a cat’s mouth may cause infections and lymph nodes while Bartonella henselae may cause cat scratch fever that can affect humans.  

While these bacteria are not deadly, certain kinds like E.coli and salmonella may cause severe intestinal diseases among humans. Parasitic worms from cats may also be transferred to people through licking and may cause skin problems, blindness, intestinal disease and brain disorder. 

It is unhygienic.

You can never know what your cat’s tongue and mouth came into contact with although you try your best to keep her clean. She may have caught and ate a mouse or she might have licked her backside before licking your hands or face. So, just think of the myriad of diseases or infections that you can contract if you allow your cat to lick you in the hands or face.

What to do if you allow your cat to lick you?

Here are some safety protocols to keep in mind if you decide to still allow your cat to lick your hands or face

  • Clean your cat’s paws and mouth after she goes outside your home.
  • Bring your cat to the vet for regular deworming sessions.
  • Wash your face and hands with antibacterial soap after your cat licks you.
  • Check your cat for fleas and ticks and promptly treat her if you notice its presence.
  • Give your pet a proper diet of cooked, canned and dry cat food. 
  • Dispose of your cat’s poop properly. 
  • Schedule annual fecal examinations and utilize anti-parasite treatments. 

Why do cats lick themselves after you pet them?

Cats lick themselves after you pet them since they may have detected a certain scent on the spot where you petted them. It may be a trace of your cologne or the scent of your last meal. Some cats may also behave that way to activate their own scent and get rid of unfamiliar smells due to the petting or to rearrange their fur back into place. 

Other possible reasons why cats lick themselves after you pet them include:

1.It is your cat’s way of performing mutual grooming which is a gesture that occurs between bonded cats that trust each other. 

2. She may be trying to indicate to you you to reach a spot that is hard for her to get at such as the base of her tail. 

3. If you suspect that your cat has skin infections or allergy, bring her to the vet for proper treatment. 

4. She may be suffering from feline hyperesthesia syndrome where your cat’s skin becomes hypersensitive and petting may cause pain or discomfort. Have her checked by the vet if she is manifesting other symptoms such as dilated pupils, self-aggression, vocalization, excessive grooming and tail mutation.

Why does my cat lick me then bite me?

Your cat may lick you and then bite you to show her affection and it may mean that she is relaxed and comfortable in your presence. She may also do this as an invitation for playtime and as her way of grooming you. However, it may also mean that your cat is warning you to stop giving her physical attention and may also be a sign of stress or anxiety. 


Being licked by your cat when you pet her is like receiving hugs and kisses from your family. However, it may also mean that she is marking you as her territory, she may be thinking that you are mutually grooming each other or she may have detected a delectable smell in your hand.

Image: istockphoto.com / Magryt