Why Cats Lick and Bite You, According to Science

Prepare for your heart to swell.

The average house cat spends between 15 and 50 percent of its time cleaning themselves. While this is not always the cutest thing to watch, if a cat decides to lick you, you should feel loved.

If you own more than one cat or look obsessively at cat videos online, you know that kitties love to lick each other. Sometimes kitties bite while they groom, but it’s easy to tell whether it’s a helpful or harmful nibble. It turns out cats lick their humans’ skin and hair to express a similar sentiment of kinship.

“Grooming is big,” Marilyn Krieger, a certified cat behavior consultant in the San Francisco Bay area, tells Catster. “Feel honored, because she feels that you are part of her family and part of the colony. She’s put her smell on you.”

Cats grooming each other

Flickr / THE Holy Hand Grenade!

Dr. Christensen Bell, a veterinarian in New York City, tells VetStreet the behavior is very likely a sign of affection.

“It’s normal for cats to groom the head areas of ‘preferred associates’ or friends — especially if they are related,” she says. “Obviously, cats aren’t related to their people, even though we often pretend they are, but hair licking could have its roots (pun intended) in this natural grooming behavior.”

Even though it might seem like your cat is lashing out at you by licking your hair, this could be because they simply just enjoy spending time with you. Clearly, they see you as a familiar figure in their lives and want to show you love in their own oddly charming way.

There’s another explanation for this behavior that’s a little less than warm-and-fuzzy. Your cat might be attracted to whatever hair product you’re using, and is trying to smell or taste it. If your cat is licking or biting your hair to a point that you think is unhealthy or obsessive, there are ways to curb the behavior.

“If you’ve been able to pinpoint that certain hair products may be the culprit, switch to ones with no scent or a scent that isn’t so cat-friendly,” animal behavior consultant Pam Johnson-Bennett writes in Cat Behavior Associates. “Cats generally don’t like the smell of citrus so look for shampoos and gels with a lemon scent.”

Next time you’re hanging out with your furbaby and he or she leans over to lick you, just know that they’re probably trying to show you some love. Don’t worry, they haven’t been abducted by very polite aliens — they’ll go back to shoving your belongings off furniture in no time.