Why Do Dogs & Cats Lick People?

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Does your dog or cat lick you? Do you know why they do it? It turns out, there is way more than just one reason. Use this lesson to help you figure out why your dog or cat is licking you.

Why Do Animals Lick People?

Everyone loves a nice kiss from a dog, no? Ok, maybe not. A lot of people love it when their dog kisses them and others can't stand the thought. And, as you may already know, dogs lick people way more often than cats. Maybe that's a good thing, because in the rare instance a cat will lick a person, it will feel like sandpaper.

So why do dogs and cats lick people? There are actually many possible reasons for this.

Why Do Dogs Lick People?

Let's start with some obvious reasons for why dogs lick people. Remember, most of these are just theories, as we can't talk to a dog and actually figure out why they're doing the licking.

Oftentimes, licking is just a way to show you that they like you. It's a sign of affection. They may be happy that you're finally home from work! They were waiting for so long, and in their own doggie way, love and miss you. They're just glad they're not alone anymore and their best friend is with them.

Other times when dogs lick, especially around your mouth, it's to get and receive biochemical information; like what you had for lunch today. They may even slobber all over you as a way to ask you to feed or to walk them. Sometimes they might kiss you after you've already fed them and just came back from a walk as a way to thank you. They may not want anything in return for the kiss.

Dogs may also lick people as a way to show submission to a superior 'pack member', their owner. They might also do this to simply get your attention; maybe they want you to pet them because they like the feeling of being pet or because they want reassurance that everything is okay. They may lick you when playing too. Better than being bitten, right? They substitute the kiss for the bite because they know you'll appreciate it more.

If a dog does bite you a bit too hard during play and you vocalize your discontent, they might actually lick the area they accidentally bit too hard as a way to try and relieve your pain. Dogs lick their wounds or areas of their body that hurt, like arthritic joints, in order to soothe these areas. Since it helps them a little bit, they think that licking your wound will help you the way it would help them. That's their way of playing doctor. If it helps them, why not help you in the same way?

Let's not forget grooming too! Dogs lick each other as a way to groom. Have you showered recently? It may be that your dog is trying to clean you, or they may simply like the taste of your salty skin.

But there are other reasons for dogs licking people. These are rare compared to the aforementioned possibilities but may include:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorders. Although licking in these instances usually involves their own body or objects, it may include people as well. In such cases it's best to visit a board-certified veterinary behavioral specialist. Think of them as psychiatrists for dogs.
  • Non-mental medical disorders. Some dogs who are in pain or have a digestive disorder may lick people. It's hard to say for sure why dogs lick in these instances. One reason could be to simply get your attention to tell you something is wrong. Another reasons may be that the dog is re-directing licking their own body to soothe themselves to licking you instead in order to soothe themselves. A further reason could be that they are trying to get nutrients from your skin, like salts left over from sweat, salts they may be deficient in.

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