If you’re a pet parent to a cat, you’re probably very familiar with your cat’s slightly odd but endearing habits. A cat’s behavior is different from ours, which means even the strangest things that your cat does usually have a reason behind them.
Cats might lick their owner's face to show affection, groom them, or mark them with their scent. Certain health conditions can cause cats to be ravenously hungry or indiscriminate about what they eat or lick. Cats carry bacteria and parasites in their mouths, so it's important to worm them regularly and wash your face immediately after they have licked you.
Cats might lick their owner's face to show affection, groom them, or mark them with their scent.
Certain health conditions can cause cats to be ravenously hungry or indiscriminate about what they eat or lick.
Cats carry bacteria and parasites in their mouths, so it's important to worm them regularly and wash your face immediately after they have licked you.
Take face-licking for example. You might be wondering why your cat licks your face, whether you find it cute, uncomfortable (it feels like sandpaper, after all!), or even a bit gross! Let’s take a look at some of the possible reasons why your cat might lick your face.
1. They’re Grooming You
Cats spend lots of time meticulously grooming themselves to keep their skin and coat healthy. You’ll probably have noticed your cat licking their paws and rubbing their eyes and behind their ears as part of their grooming routine—it’s the cutest! When your cat licks your face, they might just be taking care of you and making sure you look your best and aren’t too grubby!
2. You Taste Good
Cats have a great sense of smell and taste, and the Jacobsen organ on the roof of their mouth helps them to detect even the most subtle scents. A cat’s tongue will lift the scent particles to the roof of their mouth, so their sense of smell and taste are almost intertwined.
If they’ve lived with you for a while, your cat will be familiar with your scent, and find it comforting, so it’s no surprise that they might lick you to pick up more of your scent.
If you’ve been working out, doing heavy lifting, or running from the bus, you might have broken out into a bit of a sweat. It might sound a little weird, but your cat might enjoy the salty taste of your perspiration.
Another reason your cat might suddenly show interest in licking your face is if you’ve just eaten something tasty. Even the most civilized of eaters will have tiny particles of food around their mouth after eating. If you ate something fishy or another food that particularly appeals to your cat, they might be keen to clean you up.
3. They Love You or Want Your Attention
Cat lovers will be pleased to hear that often when cats lick their owners it’s a sign of affection. Your love for your cat is definitely reciprocated! Even cat owners who are not so keen on the idea of their cat licking their face (which is understandable!), might find it helpful to remember that it’s a sign of love.
Additionally, many cats don’t like to be ignored, especially if it’s dinner time or if they’ve been alone in the house for a while. If you aren’t paying enough attention to their meowing, purring, kneading, and rubbing against your legs, they might resort to a more “in your face” approach.
4. They’re Scent-Marking You
Cats have scent glands around their nose and mouth, so when they lick you, their scent will transfer to you. This is known as allogrooming and it helps you smell like them. Being surrounded by their familiar scent helps them feel calm, contented, and safe, meaning that they can enjoy your cuddles more.
5. They’re Mothering You
A mother cat grooms their litter of kittens to keep them clean and warm and encourage them to pass urine and feces. The licking also helps to create one uniform scent for the whole family. This is why, if a kitten is handled too much by humans when they are very young, the mother might reject them because they have an unfamiliar scent. If your cat keeps licking your face, it might be that they are mothering you.
6. They’re Anxious
You might be aware that dogs lick their lips, people’s hands, or other objects when they’re anxious, but did you know that cats might, too? Licking and grooming behavior can have a soothing effect on your cat, providing them with the comfort of being surrounded by their scent and the scent of their owners.
7. They Have Pica (Or Another Health Condition)
Occasionally, certain health conditions can make a cat ravenously hungry or indiscriminate about what they eat or lick. Pica is one particular phenomenon that happens in humans but is also thought to occur in cats.
Usually, there is an underlying health condition causing the pica, often affecting the internal organs like the gastrointestinal tract or the liver, and affected cats might eat or lick soil, plasterboard, and other non-edible things. Sometimes, pica is thought to be fueled by a nutritional deficiency, so the salt-rich secretions on your skin could be appealing to your four-legged friend.
Is It Safe To Let Your Cat Lick Your Face?
Cats’ mouths are full of bacteria, just like ours are. The bacteria levels in a human mouth are reduced by our oral hygiene, but even so, there are huge numbers of bugs. Considering a cat’s habits, you can imagine that cat saliva contains even more pathogens, regardless of whether you brush their teeth.
On top of this, cats can carry parasitic infections, including worms and protozoal infections, which can often be transferred to humans. Therefore, it’s a good idea to stay up to date on preventative parasite treatments for your cat and wash thoroughly if your cat licks you.
How Can You Make a Cat Stop Licking Your Face?
If you own a cat, you probably already know that it’s not always easy to stop them from doing what they want to do! However, if you want to stop your cat from licking your face, there are a few things you can try:
- Get them checked by a vet: If your cat’s behavior has changed suddenly, or if they have any other symptoms, their licking could be a sign of a health problem. So, before you try to put an end to the behavior, get them checked over by a veterinarian.
- Move away: Don’t encourage your cat to lick you in any situation and be consistent.
- Avoid strong negative reactions: Don’t shout or respond aggressively when your cat does lick you. Even negative attention is still attention, and you might be inadvertently encouraging the behavior by showing them they’ll get a response from you.
- Use positive reinforcement: Give your cat a treat, a fuss, or verbal praise when they are spending time with you without licking you.
- Avoid boredom: Make sure your cat has plenty of cat toys and cat scratch posts to entertain them while you are away or busy.
- Spend more quality time: Avoid your cat feeling lonely or needy by increasing the amount of time you spend interacting with them. That way they won’t feel the need to seek attention from you.
If your cat licks your face, you might find it sweet. After all, they are part of the family and it could be their way of showing their love for you and helping strengthen your family bond. However, it’s important to be aware of the health risks of letting your cat lick your face.
Perhaps most importantly, if your cat’s behavior has changed and they are suddenly licking your face, hands, or other objects, it’s a good idea to take them to the veterinary clinic for a checkup.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why does my cat lick my face so much?
Cats lick their owners’ faces for lots of reasons, including affection, scent-marking, attention seeking, or due to a medical issue. If you are concerned about your cat’s excessive licking, speak to your veterinarian.
Should I let my cat lick my face?
Knowing that there are health risks related to letting your cat lick your face, it's probably not a good idea to let them. However, if you do, make sure you wash thoroughly afterward and stay up to date with your cat's parasite control.
Why does my cat lick my face while purring?
If your cat is purring while they lick your face, they are likely showing affection and marking you with their scent. They might even be mothering you, as mother cats will often purr as they groom their kittens.