Grooming is one of the many talents that make our cats special. They can turn their shaggy coats, or the coat of their fellow feline friend, into silky perfection, while lazily lounging in a sunny spot.
Most of us might also be familiar with the sandpapery feel of our cat’s tongue, and despite its roughness, we might even welcome their grooming capabilities from time to time.
But what happens when they also start licking other things around the house? Some cats just can’t seem to help themselves and their default way of exploring the world around them is…licking!
If you’ve made it here, you probably live with one of these cats and frequently find yourself asking, why does my cat lick everything? If your cat is licking non-food items occasionally, they might be feeling curious about a new smell or an item you’ve brought. This behavior is likely harmless unless it turns into obsessive licking which could be related to stress, dietary needs, or a form of pica.
If you’d like to know more about what makes a cat lick everything, we’ve got you covered!
Let’s get into it!
What Do Cats Normally Use Their Tongues For?
As with most feline related things, the tongue plays an important role in a cat’s wellbeing. Before we understand why outs cats lick certain objects and surfaces, it’s important to understand the big picture functions of their tongue. What we might perceive as just another simple act of self-cleaning can be a far more complicated task.
To Keep Clean
Cats are known to be self-sufficient animals especially when it comes to their basic needs and keeping clean is what they do best. Plenty of research has gone into the study of the feline tongue and researchers have found that a cat’s tongue is curved and hollow-tipped. It’s covered in tiny spines, called papillae, which may feel like sandpaper and can transfer large amounts of saliva from the mouth to the fur.
David Hu, a bioengineer at Georgia Tech states that, “a cat tongue works like a very smart comb.” But their tongue doesn’t only help our cats reach the skin beneath the fur and keep it clean, it also helps lower their body temperature, as the saliva evaporates.
So, during grooming, our fluffballs keep themselves clean and cool, but they also successfully detangle their fur. Alexis Noel, a Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering explains that “when the tongue glides over fur, the hooks are able to lock onto tangles and snags. As the snags pull on the hook, the hook rotates, slowly teasing the knot apart.”
Perhaps our cats aren’t lazy after all, maybe they’re legendary multitaskers!
To Make Friends
While the tongue’s role is mainly to keep our kitties presentable, as with most things in life, it can also serve more than one purpose. For cats, their grooming technique can be a way of becoming friends with another cat. Studies support this by saying that “allogrooming (which is a special term that describes social grooming) is a form of caregiving through physical contact.”
Cats usually learn this behavior from their mothers, a behavior the grown cats use later in their life as a sign of familiarity and relatedness with other cats and humans. So, if you see your kitties spending their grooming energy on each other chances are that they’re a bonded pair.
To Eat And Drink
In order to get their food into their mouths animals usually use their teeth, hands, paws, or lips, but cats also rely on their tongue. There’s research to suggest that the papillae in our cat’s tongue also helps them with gripping their food. “The sharp tip may help with tissue deformation and penetration into meat.”
Even when we might not see food particles lying on the floor, their tongue can easily scrape it off the surface. Their tongue can be rough and tear through soft meat, but it can also defy gravity. Unlike most animals, cats use the tip of their tongue to pull water upward, closing its jaws before gravity pulls the column of liquid back toward earth.
Roman Stocker, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, states that, “by lapping at the right time, [cats] take optimal advantage of this balance between inertia and gravity.” These two eating and drinking functions are important to remember because they can give us clues when looking into the behavior in which cats lick everything.
To Explore Their Environment
Cats depend on all their senses in order to understand their environment and in many ways to claim it. Territory is really important to a cat and by exploring it through sight, sound, and scent they can make sense of it and claim it as their own.
But how does taste helps a cat navigate through the world, especially since they don’t really have good taste receptors? While cats are unable to taste anything sweet, recent studies have uncovered that cats have retained multiple functional bitter taste receptors.
Some believe that this ability helps cats to detect poison if they try to consume it, and instead of eating it, they’ll spit it out. Scientists believe that this discovery can explain why some of our feline overlords are picky with their food. But their poor tasting capabilities could also explain why they lick non-food objects.
For Comfort And Relaxation
Cats usually try to lead a chill life and grooming can be a cat’s equivalent of a bath before or after having a long nap. A healthy and clean coat is reason enough to believe that our fluffy feline familiars are happy and content. But sometimes grooming is a useful relaxation technique when things are a bit stressful.
As we’ve often talked about, cats can become stressed and anxious about many things in their lives. It might be a simple reason like missing us when we’re away on a holiday or something more traumatic, like losing their cat-friend. Whatever the stressor might be, there are cats that will try and soothe themselves, by grooming.
This behavior can come and go, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s bad for your kitty. Over-grooming or also known as “psychogenic alopecia,” on the other hand can be a sign of an underlying medical condition. Your cat might be overstressed, or allergic to food, fleas, or to something in their environment.
It’s important to deal with this issue as soon as you notice it and a trip to the vet will help you find what’s causing this stress-relief behavior.
Okay, So Why Does My Cat Lick Everything?
Once you’ve understood how your cat’s tongue works you might start wondering if some of your cat’s licking behaviors are normal. Perhaps your cat is a professional licker that goes around the house tongue-inspecting all the surfaces. Some of you might find your cat to be a little pickier, but still feel that licking your leather bag or the carpet might be an unusual endeavor.
So, what does licking everything really mean?
Well, it depends on what your cat is licking! Obviously, “everything” is pretty expansive but let’s look at a few of the commons items that cats lick and see how it might connect to normal licking behaviors.
1. My Cat Is Licking Me
The sensation of your cat slowly licking your hands, face or hair might not be the most pleasant since their tongues are made to slowly take apart soft meat, but it can be the sweetest sign of affection. After all, cats won’t just lick anyone!
This behavior comes from their kittenhood when their mothers will lick them to keep them clean, stimulate breathing and circulation as well as help them go to the toilet. Of course, our cats are not trying to help us get to the toilet in time, but they are caring just like their mothers.
This is a nurturing behavior that shows us that they love us. Licking is part of a cat’s social behavior and this way they exchange scents that help them recognize you and in turn strengthen your bond!
Some cats might lick you and then bite you, which can be a common behavior during playtime, or it could be a love nibble. Dr. Karen Becker explains this behavior saying that, “this show of love from your kitty can be a bit painful, but your cat really doesn’t understand her love bite isn’t always pleasant to you.”
2. My Cat Is Licking the Carpets or The Floors
As much as we might try to keep our house clean, there are always things that can go amiss. Perhaps you’ve spilled a bit of cat food. I know I drop cat food all the time since both of my cats keep trying to knock me off my feet before I manage to place the food bowl on the ground.
Then again it might be a leaking grocery bag or a trash bag (I know gross!) you didn’t notice. Cats rely on their sense of smell more than their taste receptors, so a strange smell of a forgotten and shriveled piece of cheese might be what they’re licking of the floor and carpet.
Wooden floors can absorb smells, while cool tiles can have a small amount of condensation on the surface, which means that your kitty might be drawn to this wetness. If you see your kitty lick the floor or carpet, make sure they have water and food, and try cleaning that spot with a pet-friendly cleaner.
You might also find your fluffy companion licking your walls. It could be drawn by the texture or the humidity which can build upon them. Some of you might have the same experience with shower curtains! I on the other hand have seen my cats lick my windows during winter and when I tried to figure out why I saw droplets of moisture trickling from them.
I think this kitty has also found another source of hydration!
Now when it comes to carpets more food particles can get lost between their fabric, but there are also cats that are drawn to the material itself. Some cats love fluffy textures that they can knead and bite and in some cases digest.
Next time you notice your kitty licking and sucking your carpet, pay closer attention to see if they’re doing more than that. You might find your cat digesting parts of the carpet, in which case you might have to remove the carpet and of course consult your vet.
3. My Cat Is Licking My Furniture
This behavior can actually become frustrating to many cat owners, because of the damage a cat can make. Of course, we all know that having cats also means accepting this “destructive” behavior to some degree, especially if they’ve taken a liking to a specific piece of furniture.
Try not to blame your kitty for this behavior but try to see what might be causing it. There might be a food stain or the scent of catnip from a toy that was left on it. Washing the cushions on your couch or putting a cover on top might help you keep their rough tongues away.
If your kitty is not in heat or they’re threatened by a strange pet or guest, they might be marking their territory by rubbing against that spot and also licking it. This way they leave their scent some of their scent on it, in an effort to secure their ownership. Studies suggest that, “the odor may provide reassurance to the resident cat.”
4. My Cat Is Licking My Bed Sheets And Blankets
All the above explanations to your cat’s licking can be applied to your sheets, blankets, and even your own clothes. You might notice that your cat is more persistent at marking them after you washed them, in an effort to reclaim them as their own. If you have a new cat or guest staying over, they might be doing it for the same reason.
Then again, if you’ve been enjoying breakfast in bed, then there might be a few tasty crumbles left on your blanket. You might also notice your kitty knead and bite your blanket and even lick the fabric if it’s made of wool or a similar texture.
Studies have shown that this behavior can be linked to abnormally intense appetite, medical problems, or environmental factors. For example, “early weaning and small litter size were associated with an increased risk of wool-sucking in Birman cats.” But since all cats can adopt this behavior it’s advisable to visit your vet for further information.
5. My Cat Is Licking The Litterbox
This one might make your nose wrinkle and make us think that cats aren’t so clean after all, but this has nothing to do with cleanliness, at least not in their eyes. If you already have a cat and decided to adopt another kitten or even an older cat, you might find them sniffing and even licking the litter.
If you’ve recently changed the litter to a different variety, brand, or even to one that’s scented then your cat might lick it to understand the purpose of it. There are some cat owners who use pellets as cat litter and some cats might find the texture interesting to lick and chew on.
Then again it could have nothing to do with the litter itself, but with the plastic of the box. Some cats enjoy the chewiness of plastic, as well as the taste and texture of it. Dodman, author of Pets On The Couch suggests that licking plastic is a “texture-specific eating disorder,” and while simply licking plastic isn’t dangerous digesting can lead to intestinal blockages.
Eating the litter itself can also be unhealthy so, changing the brand or type of litter can be the first step. As always, it’s advisable to visit your vet, because digesting litter or a piece of plastic can be dangerous and the habit itself might be related to some medical condition.
Why Is My Cat Licking Everything Compulsively?
Finding out that your cat likes licking most things in your house, including you, can make you question their sanity. Of course, it could be a barely noticeable odd quirk, but what if it’s not. Cats are capable of developing compulsive behaviors that can become dangerous. That’s why it’s important to explore the reasons behind your cat’s non-stop licking routine.
Cats spend a big part of their day grooming themselves, “because cats groom frequently, owners usually don’t notice a problem until they observe significant hair loss or skin lesions,” says Pamela Perry, DVM, animal behavior resident of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
Overgrooming is usually caused by a dermatological problem, which causes itchiness or pain. William Miller, Jr., VMD a certified specialist in dermatology, explains that excessive licking can be caused by, “anything from parasites in kittens to neurological diseases in older cats.
What’s important to also notice when you observe your kitty grooming are the spots, they choose to excessively lick. William Miller suggests that licking the tail head may be caused by fleas, while cats that have food or pollen allergies might go for their backs, abdomens, or other areas of the body.
With over-grooming, you might find your cat producing excessive numbers of hairballs which could become dangerous on its own. A hairball can grow “too large to pass through the narrow sphincters leading either from the esophagus to the stomach or from the stomach to the intestinal tract,” explains Dr. Goldstein, DVM, an associate professor of small animal medicine at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
Because of all this, it’s always best to consult your veterinarian when you see signs of overgrooming.
Stress or Boredom
If you’ve ruled out all possible medical problems, then it’s time to look into your cat’s psychological wellbeing. I’m sure we all try to keep our kitties happy, but there are a few things you might not be aware of, and with shy cats, it can be quite tricky.
As we mentioned before, cats might use grooming or kneading and sucking on blankets to relax and soothe themselves. It’s quite possible that your cat might be doing it with other fabrics and objects or even on you.
This behavior is often rooted in kittenhood and Rachel Barrack, a veterinarian of Animal Acupuncture says that, “many cats carry this behavior into adulthood and may knead their owners, other furry siblings or bedding.”
Major changes, like moving houses or bringing another human or pet into the family can make your cat feel neglected. That’s why it’s important to keep their environment filled with familiar scents, places they can hide, toys, scratching posts, and of course the necessary amount of litter boxes, food, and water bowls.
If you also find your kitty constantly licking you, then they probably miss you and it’s the owner’s responsibility to reassure their fur baby. Dr. Perry says that spending time with your kitty is very important, “finding what your cat likes whether it’s cuddle time with you or a favorite toy that is like a security blanket can relieve stress.”
Creating a steady routine and indulging our cats can help them feel secure and trust us more. You can also work in some fun activities that will relieve stress for you and your cat!
Excessive licking and biting of non-food materials, especially plastic or synthetic fabrics, could be a sign of an underlying medical condition called “pica”.
There are also cats that prefer fluffy and fuzzy fabrics, mostly made of wool. Unfortunately, unless it’s your favorite wooly jumper that they’re consuming, this behavior might go unnoticed. That’s why once you notice your cat licking something excessively then check if they’re actually consuming parts from it.
Cats with unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms and a history of eating unusual objects should be examined right away, says Arnold Plotnick, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the ACVIM. That’s why it’s important that you visit your local vet and see what can be done to manage your cat’s unusual love for artificial substances.
There are some breeds that might be more prone to “pica”, and specifically to wool sucking. Studies show that Maine Coon and Norwegian Forest cats can develop this behavior. But even if your kitty isn’t a purebred cat it could still show signs of pica which should not go unchecked.
Finally, excessive licking can be an obsessive-compulsive disorder. According to studies compulsive disorders in animals can occur without them suffering from dermatologic, neurologic, or other medical conditions.
You might notice your cat having repetitive, exaggerated behaviors that seem to have no purpose. It can be compulsive pacing, repetitive vocalization, as well as licking, eating, and chewing on fabrics, random objects, and their own fur.
There are a few factors that can cause this kind of compulsive behavior and usually, it’s stress related. It could be a change in your cat’s routine or life altogether, as well as our own intervention. Some owners might end up reinforcing this behavior or cause it by punishing their cats.
Mental disorders that could be unique to each cat or can develop with age are also possible causes for OCD. That’s why it’s important for your vet as well as an animal behaviorist to examine your cat and help you find what is causing this excessive licking and if OCD is to blame.
How To Treat Your Cat’s Excessive Licking?
Having a cat that’s licking everything can alarm you, especially if you notice them digest non-food materials. That’s why it’s important to deal with this behavior before it escalates, and your cat ends up being hurt.
Limit Your Cat’s Opportunities
Luckily, cats usually have a type of material that they prefer over others, even if it does feel like they’re liking pretty much everything.
If you notice your cat licking different surfaces, fabrics, and objects more than normal then one of the first steps you could take is removing them from your home or making them inaccessible. Try to hide the woolen blankets when you’re not there to observe your cat. Get rid of any plastics they enjoy licking or chewing on.
Some cats can become obsessed with plants, so make sure that they’re cat friendly because a lot of plants can be very dangerous and toxic. I’ve got a growing collection in my house and even though they’re all safe I still keep them out of my cats’ reach.
You could also buy some cat grass to divert their interest. While cats don’t need grass if their diet is balanced, Dr. Lori Teller, a clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, suggests that it can be a source of environmental enrichment. It’s also pretty easy to grow and if you’re looking for a budget-friendly way to see if your cat likes cat grass you can check out this kit on Amazon.