Now, there are quite a lot of cats in my life who lick and essentially “groom” me. There’s my second cat Bjorn, who will do this on occasion while I’m petting or grooming him, as well as a couple of cats who frequent our garden who will also do the same.
These cats will typically only lick my hand or maybe my leg if they’re sitting next to my lap – basically what’s that’s near them while I pet them. I don’t particularly encourage the licking, but I know if I did, they’d do a heck of a lot more of it. When it comes to licking body parts besides my hands, it’s really infrequent to begin with, but I can imagine they’d take to licking my face if they happened to be sitting or sleeping near my face while I snuggled up with them.
It’s funny because I have another cat, Avery – my first furchild – who scents my glasses and sometimes also scents my nose. He does this pretty religiously, but I would never expect he’d take to licking my face. The why comes down to the fact that he’s not the type of cat who licks humans at all, and I feel like this quirky cat behaviour of licking human faces is one cats who lick and groom their humans in general would be much more likely to do than cats who aren’t prone to licking their owners.
There are so many behaviours I feel are related in part to this one. There are cats who bite then lick or lick then bite, as well as cats who nibble on their humans. Some cats give affectionate love bites in general, while others bite specific body parts, like feet or even fingers. Loads of these seem to overlap based on my experience, and I suspect you’re likely to find at least two or three other behaviours that go along with your cat licking your face that seem co-related.
Maybe it’s that some cats really like to groom other cats and other people besides themselves while others don’t? Not quite sure, but if you have a cat who licks your face, I’d love to know if he or she does anything else, like licking fingers or biting feet, so maybe we can figure out if there’s a pattern.
Either way, there are a slew of theories out there on why cats lick faces, and while the majority have something to do with the idea that they’re probably grooming you, there are a lot of angles this could be coming from. There are no scientific studies out there that investigate anything related to cats licking human faces, to my knowledge, but that’s okay! It just means we’ll have to theorize on our own, and if one day there is an answer, maybe it will be from one of the hypotheses we’ve postulated with our experiences living with our pets. Would be pretty cool!
Without further ado, a slew of reasons that might explain why cats lick faces, and what this quirky cat behaviour might actually mean.
12 Theories That Could Explain Why Cats Lick Human Faces
1. When your cat licks your face, it’s likely a form of socializing & showing affection, like when we pet cats.
If you have a cat who licks your face, the fact that he or she is likely doing it as a form of socialization and affection most likely crossed your mind first as the likely explanation behind why.
I absolutely think there’s an enormous case to be made for this explanation. Many cats do like to be pet and cuddled, and it would make sense if they reciprocated this type of positive physical attention with equivalents of their own.
2. Your cat is likely grooming your face – cleaning you as though you were a feline family member.
Mother cats groom their kittens, and kittens groom their mothers back. Felines who make up a clowder (a group of cats) tend to groom each other, though not always.
It would make sense to me if a cat licks your face in part because it thinks of you as it thinks of the other close-knit felines in the clowder he or she is a part of. Although it really would be interesting to find out if a cat who grooms other cats is more likely to lick the humans in the household on their faces. What do you think? Is there a co-relation in your household?
3. Your cat may lick your face because it’s the closest body part of yours to groom when cuddling.
I have noticed that my cat Bjorn will really only lick my leg or a body part besides my hand if it’s right next to him as he’s grooming and cuddling with me. If my arm is near him, he’ll lick that, whatever’s closest.
I do think that in some cases, the only reason a cat licks your face might be because he or she was closest to your face when he or she went to groom you. Like if your cat sleeps next to you, right by your head, and wakes you up in the morning licking your face, that may in part be because he or she was closest to your cheek when he or she decided to groom you.
4. Your cat licking you so close to your mouth likely means he or she trusts you considerably.
I definitely think cats realize we can eat them with our mouths.
Go up to a cat who’s not used to it and pretend to “eat” his or her head by making “om nom” noises and eating sounds – he or she’s likely to squirm, scream out of fear, or run out of dodge completely. If you do this over and over, a cat will realize you’re only playing, but the reason it’s so terrifying is likely because cats know what being eaten sounds like, and obviously, they don’t want to be eaten themselves.
If your cat is licking you or cuddling in any way next to your mouth, it’s likely a sign that he or she is comfortable enough around you to get close to your mouth in the first place. There’s no way a cat would be happy to do this to a person he or she doesn’t trust.
5. Your cat may lick your face to try to get your attention.
To be honest, I think a lot of times quirky cat behaviours can be explained away in large part by the fact that cats want attention, and they sometimes do cute and weird things to get it.
If you have a cat who licks your face when you’re not paying much attention to him or her, say when you’re distracted lying on the couch watching TV, or have been sleeping in bed peacefully for a few hours, chances are pretty high your cat’s licking your face to get your attention.
Cuddle your cat straight after? Talk to him or her? Wake up and start the day with a different interaction with your cat (heck, even yelling qualifies as attention, though not the positive kind)? You’re likely playing right into a cat’s successful trick of getting the attention he or she wants.
6. Cats who lick faces may also be trying to get their humans to do something in particular – like feed them.
If the first thing you do in the morning is feed your cat, and your kitty wakes you up with “kisses” on your face, there’s no question in my mind that your cat is almost certainly licking you on your face because you’ll wake up and refill the bowl of cat food.
And who could blame them? I’m sure if I was a cat, I’d use this trick myself.
7. Cats who lick humans may do so because they enjoy the act of licking.
A lot of cats seem to enjoy the act of licking, and it seems to me that those particular cats are the type most likely to lick human faces.
As I said in the intro, while I’ve never had a cat lick my face before, I’m sure all the cats in my life who like to lick are most likely to do this. Even though I have a cat who scents my glasses, nose, chin, and face regularly, I doubt he will ever lick my face, because he’s not the type to lick my hands while I’m petting him or anything along those lines. The cats who like licking my hands even when there’s no food on them? I’m pretty sure would take to licking my face in the right circumstances.
Let me know what you think of this theory, and if you feel it lines up with your particular cats’ behaviours.
8. Cats who lick their humans may also be doing so because they like the taste and texture of skin.
Cats enjoy a lot of peculiar tastes and textures. A lot of cats like the taste and texture of thin plastic, like the type garbage bags are made of. My cats fit into this category, both liking to lick plastic and chew plastic at times.
Bjorn once took to licking bars of soap, however, a habit that reminds everyone who’s heard of Jenna Marbles of her dog Kermit’s obsession with soap. It feels like quite an odd thing to like the texture and taste of, but cats do like animal fat, so on another level it makes sense.
There might be something about the taste and texture of skin that attracts cats who like licking it.
9. Your cat might enjoy the taste of the soaps, lotions, or other facial products you use.
There are plenty of things you’re likely using on your face – from soaps to lotions and other facial products – that might be attracting kitty to your face in the same way Bjorn was attracted to the hand soap we were using in the bathrooms.
Plenty of times the way lip gloss and chap sticks taste and smell make even us as humans want to eat them – make up and other beauty products smell & taste quite nice at times! As a result, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn this is sometimes a factor in why cats lick our faces.
10. Your cat may lick your face to mark you as his or her territory.
When cats lick objects, they leave a scent that let’s other cats know they’ve been there. Scenting frequently used amongst cats to mark an object as their territory, so it may be that part of the reason your cat licks your face is to “claim” you as his or her own! This may be a little odd, but I think it’s also pretty cute that your cats might want to show other cats that you’re theirs; that you belong to them.
11. Cats may lick human faces may be showing dominance over these humans.
When cats allogroom – or groom one another when they stick together in a sort of pack – the dominant cats are typically the ones who start the grooming sessions, and so there’s definitely a dominance element to the act.
A subservient cat will sometimes groom back, but will really infrequently start off the grooming or participate in it as much as a dominant cat. So who knows – maybe your cat’s showing dominance over you when he or she grooms your face as well!
12. Kittens groom their mothers, licking them on their faces; doing this to you could be a behaviour from kitten-hood.
There are quite a lot of kitty behaviours that seem to be leftovers from kitten-hood, like kneading, for instance, which kittens do to get milk out of their mothers as they suckle.
Kittens also grow up grooming and licking their mothers clean, including on their faces, so maybe doing this to you is a behaviour your cat never grew out of, even well into adulthood.
They could also be grooming you as though you were a surrogate mother; you never know!
Your Thoughts on Cats Licking Human Faces?
Why do you think cats sometimes lick their humans on their faces?
Do you have a cat or multiple cats who do this? How often do your cats lick your face?
Do these cats have similar behaviours that seem connected (like licking hands, for instance)? Do your cats lick your face at a particular time of day (like in the morning while you’re still asleep) or during something else (like while you’re snuggling on the couch?).
Would love to hear any and all thoughts you have on the topic in the comments down below!