DEAR JOAN — I have a cat named Cecily. She's a Maine coon and is very loveable and mellow. Lately, she has developed a habit 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 to her licking my legs, feet and a few times, even my face. I don't like the feel of her tongue. I can take it for a little while, but then it becomes annoying. I also worry that she might be licking something off my skin that can make her sick.
Why is she doing it, and how do I get her to knock it off?
Lucy L., Palo Alto, California
DEAR LUCY: There are several reasons that cats like to lick us — and contrary to myth, they aren't tenderizing us in preparation for a future cat revolt.
Although none of the reasons are indications of health issues, it's still something you will want to discuss with your vet. There might be something lacking in Cecily's diet — sodium, perhaps — that she's getting from licking your skin.
In all likelihood, Cecily is just showing you that she loves you. Cats often lick their litter mates and even other animals as a sign of affection. She probably sees you as a fine companion, and as such, she is showing her love.
She also could be marking you as her property. Cats use scent to mark territory, often rubbing their chins and mouths on items, leaving a smell that tells other cats that this property is taken. They also do it by licking things, or in this case, people.
If you have other pets or a human that you're fond of, Cecily could be warning them not to get too serious about you as you are taken.
Cecily might also be commenting on your grooming. Mama cats groom their kittens in order 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.
Has Cecily been under some stress? If you're someone who has mostly been at home with her during the pandemic, and now are out and about more, she might be feeling stressed or neglected. Licking you is a way to ease her stress — cats can become quite Zen in the act — or reminding you that you haven't been giving her all the attention she deserves.
Lastly, you might simply taste good, or different, to her. I had two Siamese cats who would attack my hands whenever I'd been handling brined olives. It was better than catnip, but quite painful for me. I also had a cat that went nuts for the smell of my deodorant and would try to lick it off.
If you wear cologne or hand or body lotion, there could be something about the scent that Cecily likes. Cats often taste smells by licking them.
There's no real concern unless something in the lotion is toxic. In that case, you need to stop her when she starts in. (And perhaps reconsider your lotion choice.)
Whenever Cecily starts licking you, and you've had enough, try to distract her with something else — a toy, play time, cuddling. If that doesn't work, just remove yourself from her presence. She will eventually get the message.