Why do cats lick people, Thomasina? My cat licks my hands all the time. Does that mean she loves me?
— Curious Cat Mom
Cats lick people for a few reasons, and one of them is love!
Sometimes being around a human we like and trust brings out the mom cat in us, too. Just like our mothers licked us when we were kittens to keep us clean, some cats lick people to get all that invisible (to you) dirt off.
Cats Lick People With Invisible Sponges
Your cat’s tongue is well equipped to do this, too. Did you know our tongues feel like sandpaper because they’re covered with little barbs or papillae (in case you wondering, that’s not a word I use a lot. My human typist added it.). These tiny hooks face backward and are made of keratin (Yikes! Thanks, human typist), the same material our claws are made of (Well, I did know that. I just didn’t know what it’s called).
The barbs work like a comb and help us separate our fur to get to the dirt underneath.
If your cat licks your hand and nips at the same time, she’s probably trying to get rid of an especially pesky piece of dirt.
Of course, it’s also possible that she licks because she likes the taste of your hand cream or soap, or your hand might taste a bit salty.
Whatever her reason for licking you, to us, licking is a bonding experience. When your cat licks you, not only is she getting you clean or enjoying a taste she likes, she’s covering your hand with her scent so the world knows you belong to her.
What do you think? That sounds like love to me!