DEAR JOHANNA: I have a cat named Cecily. She is a Maine Coon and is very lovable and soft. She’s been developing a habit lately that is driving me crazy.
She licks me all the time. She mostly licks my arms and hands, but at night I sometimes wake up when she licks my legs, feet, and even my face a few times. I don’t like the feel of your tongue. I can take it for a while, but then it gets annoying. I also worry that she will lick something off my skin that could make her sick.
Why is she doing this and how do I get her to leave it?
Lucy L., Palo Alto
LOVE LUCY: There are several reasons cats love to lick us – and contrary to the myth, they don’t tender us in preparation for a future cat revolt.
While none of the reasons suggest any health problems, it is still a good idea to discuss this with your veterinarian. There could be something missing from Cecily’s diet – sodium perhaps – that she gets from licking your skin.
In all likelihood, Cecily is just showing you that she loves you. Cats often lick their littermates and even other animals as a sign of affection. She likely sees you as a good mate and as such, shows her love.
She could also mark you as her property. Cats use scents to mark their territory and often rub their chin and mouth against objects, leaving a scent that tells other cats that trait is taken. They also do it by licking things, or in this case, people.
If you have other pets or someone you like, Cecily might warn her not to get too serious about you when you are welcomed.
Cecily could also comment on your personal hygiene. Cat mom brush her kittens to teach them how to do it. You shouldn’t take this as a serious criticism of your hygiene or grooming habits. It’s just a cat thing.
Was Cecily under stress? If you are someone who stayed with her most of the time during the pandemic and is now on the go more, she may feel stressed or neglected. Licking yourself is a way to relieve stress – cats can go straight to zen – or to remind yourself that you didn’t give it all the attention it deserves.
After all, you could just taste good or different for her. I had two Siamese cats that attacked my hands when handling pickled olives. It was better than catnip, but quite painful to me. I also had a cat who went crazy about the smell of my deodorant and tried to lick it off.
If you’re wearing eau de cologne or hand or body lotion, Cecily might have something to the scent. Cats often taste smells by licking them.
There’s no real concern unless something in the lotion is toxic. In that case, you have to stop her when she starts. (And maybe rethink your choice of lotion.)
Whenever Cecily starts licking you and you’ve had enough, try to distract her with something else – a toy, playtime, cuddling. If that doesn’t work, just move away from her presence. At some point she will get the message.
Sign up for our new, free Flora + Fauna newsletter to find out more about wild animals, gardens and backyards.
Do you have a question for Johanna?
Use this form to ask questions. Photos should be sent separately to email@example.com.