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If you’re a cat owner, odds are you have been on the receiving end of a raspy feline tongue.
Whether you find this endearing or annoying will vary between individuals and circumstances, but at some point, you will find yourself wondering “why does my cat lick my face?” and perhaps even “is this really a good thing to allow?”
Let’s go over the most common reasons why a cat might lick your face and what to do about it.
Why is my cat licking my face?
Broadly speaking, your cat licking you falls under one of four general categories:
1. Social Behaviour
By licking you, your cat may be trying to groom you as a means of showing affection.
Mother cats groom their kittens, and groups of cats which live together tend to groom one another. Attempting to groom you could very well be a sign that your cat has accepted you as part of their social group and is bonding with you.
Your cat may also be marking you so any other cats you encounter will know who you belong to!
2. Seeking Attention
Sometimes your cat has decided that you have clearly spent too much time with whatever else it is you’ve been doing and is ready to get some attention from you. Or maybe, it’s just time to eat.
Whatever the cause, this is an indication that it may be time to pay more attention to the needs of the cat.
3. Taste Or Texture
Cats have different ideas of what tastes good, just like humans. You, or something you’re wearing, may be considered tasty to them.
My cat doesn’t try to lick my face but, if I’m not careful how I’m laying in bed at night, he will try to lick my armpits.
I have no idea why he thinks this is a good idea, but if I take my shoes off and stretch out in a chair while still wearing sweaty socks, he’ll roll all over my feet and eventually start trying to bite my toes.
Licking, particularly if it seems excessive, may be a sign of stress or anxiety. It is also possible your cat may have been separated from its mother too early and the licking is a carryover behavior.
Should face licking be allowed?
We obviously want a close relationship with our feline friends and enjoy hearing them purr. Chasing them off is likely the last thing we want to do, even if you don’t enjoy having the skin abraded from the end of your nose.
However, in addition to any physical discomfort, allowing your cat to lick you (particularly your face) does have the potential to be dangerous.
Unsurprisingly, cats can harbor many bacteria in their mouths which may be problematic to us humans — particularly the elderly or immunocompromised.
Additionally, while we can’t know everything our cats’ tongues have been in contact with, we do know at least one of the places they’ve been, and it is possible they may transmit fecal pathogens to us, especially if they lick around our mouths.
What To Do
As noted above, the last thing we want is for our cats to think we don’t want them around. So, what can we do to protect ourselves while maintaining our relationship with them?
1. Love & Distraction
Distracting our cats from licking us isn’t the same as chasing them away.
Cuddling, petting, and playing will reinforce our social bond while also giving them their desired attention and may even help alleviate their stress or anxiety.
If it’s time for breakfast, hopefully it is almost time to get out of bed anyway.
2. Health & Hygiene
There are two parts to this:
The first is to regularly schedule our cats for a visit to the vet to be screened for fecal parasites and to be vaccinated against zoonotic diseases which can be transmitted between animals and humans.
The second is washing ourselves, preferably with an antibiotic soap, after being licked. This part should be easiest as many of us are probably almost obsessive hand-washers after the year we had in 2020.
In either case, the goal is to reduce the odds of something bad happening as much as possible.
3. Visit The Vet
If your cat’s licking is excessive, possibly due to either stress or anxiety, and you providing love and distraction doesn’t seem to be doing enough to alleviate the issue, you should consult your vet.
There isn’t really one definitive reason why our cats might lick our faces, or any other part of our bodies, and isn’t even necessarily a common behavior in all cats. However, the majority of the time, the licking is harmless and simply comes down to grooming and affection.
What we do know, above all else, is that we enjoy our relationships with our cats, regardless of how annoying or frustrating we may find their various behaviors at times.
As the “thinking animal” in the equation, it falls on us humans to keep both halves of the relationship healthy and happy.