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Why Does My Cat Lick My Face? 6 Top Reasons

Have you ever wondered, "Why does my cat lick my face?" If your cat won't stop licking your face, or you just want to understand the behavior better, you are in the right spot. We explain more about why cats lick our faces and how to discourage it if it becomes too much.

Danielle DeGroot

Last Updated: January 18, 2024 | 6 min read

A cat licking woman's face.

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On any given day, my cats will come up to me and lick my face. It’s normal behavior for them and not something I worry about too much. But when I stop to think about it, why does my cat keep licking my face? Is this a form of communication, or does she just like how my face tastes?

While my cat will lap softly at my face to say hello or get my attention, this is not the case for every kitty. Excessive licking can be a problem, especially if it’s accompanied by biting or scratching. Along with that, it’s not always welcomed by owners or visitors. Not everyone likes the feel of a cat’s rough, sandpaper-like tongue.

As with any other odd behavior in our furry friends, it is helpful to understand the reasons why felines might want to get close to their owner’s faces. Jump in, and let’s find out why cats like licking our faces.

What Does It Mean When A Cat Licks Your Face?

When cats lick our faces, it is often a sign of affection but not always. Cats communicate with us through actions and body language. Licking is a big part of that. There are a few reasons your cat may lick your face.

6 Reasons Your Cat Licks Your Face

A cat licking man's face while sleeping.
Cats often lick us to form a closer bond.

1. Showing You Affection

Affection is one of the most common reasons cats lick our faces. Our fur babies want to show us they love us, and they do so through physical contact. Licking is one way they can communicate that they are happy to see you. Mother cats groom their kittens to show affection and form a bond. Your kitty is, in turn, bonding with you.

2. Grooming You

Cats groom themselves thoroughly, and we see them licking themselves constantly. Grooming is a natural behavior for them. Mother kitties teach it to their kittens, and it is part of forming that close bond. This action is also called allogrooming. Our purr babies often do it to us as a way to get close.

Mother kitties groom their babies to bond, comfort them, keep them clean, and stimulate suckling and urination. After a few weeks, kittens will mimic this behavior and groom themselves and their siblings. Grooming kittens also helps spread the mother’s scent, creating a common scent among the familiar group. Your kitty may groom you to include you in her familial group.

3. Seeking Attention

Cats are social creatures who can get bored and seek out interaction with you or other family members. Licking you is a way to grab your attention and let you know it’s time to make them the center of your world. Cats do not appreciate it when we don’t pay attention or ignore them when they think they should be our primary focus. A gentle lap on the face is a way to get our attention to center on them.

4. Scent

Felines learn a lot about the world through scent. They likely enjoy your scent and will lick you to get more of it. Felines use their mouths to pick up scents. They have a Jacobson’s organ, which is an odor detector located in the mouth. The Jacobson’s organ gives kitties the ability to “taste-smell.” They pick up more than just what is smelled through the nose and also taste them, giving them a deeper sense of scent than humans experience.

This extra strong scent detection makes us smell even better. Lapping at our faces and other skin gives cats that closeness to us they seek. They may also be attracted to the smell or taste of our sweat or even our lotions and products.

5. Marking Territory

Along with liking our scents, felines use scent to mark their territory. They have scent glands on their faces, and that scent transfers to you. Licking your skin is one way to let other animals know you’re taken. You probably already know this, but sharing the scent lets other felines and pets know your kitty is laying down a claim.

6. Stress & Anxiety

Stress-triggered licks will not feel like a soft lap to get your attention. Often, it’s excessive and not gentle. When felines get anxious, they lick their paws, lips, objects, and people. You may notice this when your kitty starts to lap at your fingers repeatedly. It can also be directed at the face.

Kitties who are anxious or stressed may lick you for attention, but often, they seek reassurance. Being near you and your familiar scent comforts and soothes them. Our pets do not exhibit emotions the same way we do, so paying attention to abnormal behavior, like excessive licking, is essential.

If you notice other symptoms of stress, such as hissing, growling, loud, obsessive meowing, loss of appetite, or your purr baby becoming more withdrawn, it’s best to contact your veterinarian for guidance.

Is It Safe For My Cat To Lick My Face?

A woman hugging a Burmese cat who's trying to bite her face.
Don’t let licking lead to an injury or infection.

As long as the behavior is not obsessive or accompanied by biting, it’s generally considered safe. That said, felines do carry bacteria in their saliva. They also lick themselves in all areas of the body, which is another way they can spread germs and bacteria to you. Keeping pets clean in general, regularly cleaning the litter box area, and keeping your kitty up to date on parasitic prevention treatment are all good steps to take to keep yourself safe.

How Can I Make My Cat Stop Licking My Face?

Close up of a kitten licking a man's nose.
Annoyed by your cat’s licking? Follow these tips!

While many owners are perfectly fine with their purr babies lapping at their faces now and then, if the behavior becomes obsessive, or if you are not one of those people who likes being licked by a cat, there are ways to discourage and stop it.

Make sure that the behavior isn’t triggered by stress, anxiety, depression, or another medical issue. Once that has been done, you can work on changing their behavior. The process will involve some retraining, rewards, and patience on your part.

  1. Pick a term to use to redirect your kitty’s behavior. A simple no will suffice. The “leave it” or “stop” are also common and effective options.
  2. When the licking starts, redirect it with your chosen term in a firm voice. Then, offer a reward when she stops.
  3. Next, provide your fur baby with a distraction. Offer interactive toys like feather wands, floppy fish, and puzzle feeders. Keep plenty of tasty treats on hand as rewards when she stops the behavior.
  4. Do not get angry, yell, or punish a kitty for licking. This will only scare her and may reinforce the behavior. Positive reinforcement and rewards work better.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below, we answer some often-asked questions owners have about this behavior. Let us know in the comments if we didn’t get to yours.

Why does my kitten lick my face?

Most often, your kitten licks you because she is cleaning you. She learned this from her mama and is passing that on to you. She wants to feel close to you and bond with you through grooming. If you are a man with a beard, she may like the feel of the hair on her tongue.

Why does my cat lick my forehead?

It is likely a show of affection and a convenient place to lick.

Why is my cat obsessively licking everything?

If your kitty obsessively licks furniture, clothing, blankets, plastic, or other items, it may be boredom, but it could also be a condition called pica. Pica refers to the constant consumption, chewing, and licking of inedible materials. Eating inedible materials can lead to gastrointestinal distress as well as internal obstruction. Some breeds, including Tonkinese, Burmese, and Siamese, are more prone to it. Pica is not a super common disorder but can be triggered by stress, change, dietary imbalance, boredom, or other health conditions.

If you suspect your kitty has pica, contact your veterinarian for an examination. You will want to identify or rule out any underlying health condition or illness. Once that is done, your veterinarian will work with you on a treatment plan.

Looking For Ways To Keep Your Cat Entertained?

Often, when our cats lick, knead, or rub up against us, they are trying to get our attention. Keeping your fur baby entertained is a big job, and there are several ways to approach it. Try to cover both mental and physical stimulation. Providing plenty of toys and options for physical play, like cat towers, exercise wheels, tunnels, and other climbing structures, will ensure your pet has well-rounded avenues for interaction.

Make sure to take time every day to play interactive games, including chase with a laser pointer, fetch, and hide and seek. Our purr babies need our companionship just as much as we need theirs. Some cats thoroughly enjoy playing in cardboard boxes and paper bags, so mixing those in every once in a while keeps them interested, prevents boredom, and deters destructive behaviors.

A cat sitting on toilet bowl with rolls of paper.

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