Cats are fastidious groomers and spend lots of time licking themselves. But some felines like to lick other things, including blankets, toys, and their humans. Let’s dig into why cats lick.
Licking Themselves Clean
The number one reason cats lick is to groom themselves. Cats can spend as much as half their waking time licking their coat to keep it clean, smooth, and healthy. Mama cats also spend time grooming their kitties, and some cats groom other cats as a sign of affection.
Cats have the perfect tools for grooming. Their rough tongue acts like a brush that combs out the hair and cleans their coat. Their teeth help them get rid of more stubborn debris stuck in their fur. In addition, they use their forepaws as washcloths. They wet them with their tongues and use them to wipe their faces and hard-to-reach places.
All of that grooming can cause nasty hairballs. Regular brushing is one way you can help minimize hairballs in your cat.
Satisfying an Itch
When cats feel itchy, they might lick at a spot to try and stop that feeling. Itchiness can be caused by fleas, allergies, or other common cat skin problems.
If your cat has been focused on licking a particular area, you should check it out to see if there’s something going on. Be gentle when you look since the skin can get overly sensitive or painful after a lot of licking. If you see signs like redness, discoloration, or inflammation, you should contact your veterinarian.
Cats sometimes lick themselves to soothe irritated skin or a spot that is painful. For instance, they might lick at a cut, abrasion, or joints that ache from arthritis. Licking places that hurt may seem counterintuitive since the excess licking can make the situation worse. It can also lead to infection.
Licking can feel very comforting to a cat, so they may do it when they feel anxious, stressed, or just want to chill out. As they lick, hormones called endorphins are released, which make them feel happy.
Stress licking can become excessive and start to damage the skin. In this case, you may need to do a little detective work to figure out what’s distressing your cat. Has there been a change in their routine? A new roommate or baby in the house? You may need to give your cat time to adjust.
If nothing has changed, it could be that your cat is feeling anxious because they’re bored. Try enriching their environment with an interactive toy, set up a birdfeeder outside that they can watch, or put a nature show on the television. You can also schedule a regular time each day to play a fun game with your cat.
Answers to Common Cat Licking Questions
Licking behaviors can seem strange, but there are good explanations for many of them.
Why do my cats lick each other then fight?
If you have more than one cat in your house, you’ve probably seen them licking each other in what seems like a caring interaction, only to suddenly start fighting. This is completely normal behavior that can happen for a few different reasons:
- Sometimes, it’s simply a natural transition between activities your cats enjoy together. It might look jarring to go from grooming to playing, but your cats understand the game.
- Cats use body language and behaviors to communicate with one another. When they pull back or bite, they may be saying they’ve had enough licking for now.
- A cat might nip at the other cat’s fur during a mutual grooming session to try and work out a mat or a bit of debris. The cat who receives the bit might misinterpret that as a sign that it’s time to play fight.
If your cats lick then fight, there’s typically no need for concern unless either of the cats gets overly aggressive or upset.
Why does my cat lick then bite me?
The answer to this question is similar to cats who lick then fight with each other. They may want to switch from grooming you to playing with you.
Or they might be telling you they’ve had enough petting or attention for now. Some cats also give licks and little love bites to their humans as a form of affection.
Why do cats lick blankets?
Licking at blankets or fabric, called wool sucking, can feel very soothing to a cat. It’s reminiscent of nuzzling with their mama and littermates when they were young kitties. Wool sucking can be more common in kittens who were weaned from their mothers at an early age.
If you have a wool-sucking kitty, you don’t need to worry. Many cats outgrow this behavior as they mature. However, you’ll need to be careful that they don’t tear off and swallow pieces of the blanket, which can cause choking or block their digestive system.
Why do cats lick plastic?
Some plastic objects are simply fun for cats to lick. They might have a texture that feels interesting on their tongue or make a cool sound when they mouth them. Cats also like to lick plastic grocery bags that smell like the food that was in them.
Cats who lick plastic and other non-food things may have a disorder known as pica. Pica can be the result of a health condition, dietary deficiency, compulsive disorder, lack of mental stimulation, or a stressful change in routine.
You should talk with your veterinarian if you suspect your cat has pica. You’ll want to rule out an underlying illness and get advice on how to deal with the situation. Pica can harm your cat if they choke on or swallow something they shouldn’t.
Why is my cat licking the wall?
Like licking plastic, licking the walls can be a sign your cat has pica. It could also be that the wall tastes good to your cat. Maybe some enticing food or a drink was spilled or splashed on it. Sometimes the taste can linger even after you’ve cleaned up.
What can I do about excessive licking?
If your cat is licking things that concern you or overgrooming, you should visit the veterinarian to get to the root of the problem. Your veterinarian can determine if your cat is sick, hurt, or suffering from an allergy or skin condition. They can also give you advice on addressing the problem if your cat is healthy.
If something is wrong with your cat, pet insurance can help you cover the costs of treatment. Find out if coverage is worth it for you and your cat.
The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.
title: Why Does My Cat Lick Everything?
author: Heather M.