Why do dogs and cats lick us?

We’ve got an exciting topic lined up for you today: Kisses! No, not that kind. 🤭 The wet, slobbery licks bestowed upon us by our pets.

Some find those licks endearing. Others could do with less and wonder why their pets lick them so much. (Which one are you?)

Coming up, we explore 12 reasons dogs and cats lick us—and when excessive licking is a problem.

Seriously, why does my pet lick me so much?

Licking comes naturally to dogs and cats. It's literally animal instinct! But it can mean so many things, so let's get deciphering.🕵️

#1: I love you (cats & dogs)

It should come as no surprise that, being the wonderful person you are, your pet loves you! 😻 Licking you is his way of showing affection and one way of bonding with you.

#2: I need attention (cats & dogs)

Licking you can also be a request for attention. Think of it as a little nudge, a hint-hint moment, that your canine/feline could use a belly rub right about now.

#3: I’m stressed (cats & dogs)

Passionate licking is one way your pet soothes himself—and communicates anxiety. This is because licking triggers the release of happy and stress-relieving hormones (dopamine and endorphins) that make your pet feel good. Just one thing: Anything that feels good can become addictive. (More on that in a bit.)

#4: Mmm, yummy! (cats & dogs)

Sometimes, your fur baby will go to town with the licking because something on your skin smells or tastes good. Maybe you fried some fish for lunch? Or dehydrated a bunch of homemade liver treats? Fluffy and Fido know you were handling the good stuff and want to get in on the action any way they can. They may also be attracted to the salt in your sweat!

#5: You're mine (cats)

FYI: Cats mark their territory through urination or licking. Saliva "marks" you so other cats know you belong to him. (On the bright side, at least it's not pee. 😆)

#6: How comforting! (cats)

A kitten might develop obsessive licking behaviours if he was weaned from his mother too soon. He might lick your arms and ear lobes, his own paws and tail, and even items around the house like pillows and blankets. This is because licking reminds him of nursing.

#7: I’m grooming you (cats)

Know how a mother cat grooms her litter? All that licking could be your feline grooming you. It's sweet and all, but repetitive licks can seriously hurt… (Look closely at your cat's tongue, and you'll find papillae that resemble hooks and feel like sandpaper. Ouch! These are designed to untangle hairs and remove matted fur.)

#8: Hi! (dogs)

This type of licking behaviour needs no explanation. Licking, jumping, and possibly excitement urination are all common ways pups greet their humans!

#9: Ooh, what's that? (dogs)

Doggies have an out-of-this-world sense of smell, which they use together with their sense of taste (licking) to explore, investigate, and understand their surroundings.

#10: I'm bored (dogs)

If your dog is bored, he might wait the time away by licking you. It sure beats lying around doing nothing... 😜 Plus, the happy hormones kick in!

#11: I feel you... (dogs)

One of a million things we love about dogs is how they get us. They know when we feel sad, anxious, or afraid and are there in a flash to uplift our spirits with their reassuring presence and gentle kisses. Such licking behaviour in dogs is their way of being empathetic.

#12: I'm hungry (dogs)

Some believe licking is a canine's subtle way of informing his owner that he is hungry. This behaviour seemingly remains from when dogs were in the wild, and a pup would lick his mother's lips (after a hunt) to signal hunger.

When is excessive dog/cat licking a problem?

Licking here and there is well and good. (No one ever says no to extra puppy kisses! 🥰) But it's important to note two things.

  • Licking can turn into obsessive-compulsive behaviour in dogs and cats. Anything beyond the boundaries of normal is unhealthy and, for the owners involved, unpleasant.
  • Excessive licking could indicate a medical condition. For example, pica, long-term stress, allergies, injury, arthritis, and nausea. Left uncontrolled, it can lead to self-inflected wounds like acral lick granulomas (skin lesions) and bald spots.

You know your pet best, so trust your instincts. If you notice changes to your pet's licking habits (for example, frequency) or worry about your pet licking you/himself/items around the house into oblivion, please consult your veterinarian.


Get Our

15-Minute Speed Cleaning Routine For Pet Parents


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published