I just adopted a new cat and I noticed that when I am petting her head, generally she will stop me (with her paw or turning her head toward my hand), lick my thumb or my index finger and let me continue petting her head. My friend told me that this could be because she expects me to bath her while I am petting her head (or somewhat near it).

So my questions is, is this true and why? Or is there another reason why she would randomly lick my finger when I am petting her?

2 Answers 2


It's hard to guess what a cat is actually thinking. But two possibilities occur to me:

1: Petting her is a grooming behavior, and she's returning the favor. My two will often wash each other simultaneously.

2: The cat essentially thinks of you as "mommy" and at some level is trying to nurse. Thst might explain the focus specifically on fingertips.

Other explanations are equally likely. Unless you can find a way to ask the cat you'll never be sure. And even then...

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    I'd think the former rather than the latter. Licking is not the same as nursing, not really close.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 23:03
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    it is definitly #1 and cats that have had little contact with people are more prone to do this(feral adult cats)i have had a feral cat and when i brushed him(to strighten out matted fur)he not only licked my hand but nibbled and pulled the skin on my hand to sort of help getting the fur untangeled :) i know it did hurt when i pulled the matted fur but he did purr the entire time so he understood i tried to help him. Commented Jul 4, 2019 at 9:03

I would definitely say it is mutual grooming behaviour, ours do it when we have petted them for a long time and they are getting quite "into it", then they won't let us pet them without them returning the favour. A good test is to present, say, your arm - and not the fingers you are grooming them with. I suspect they may groom that too, even though it is not being used to groom them.

Another thought that comes to mind is how cats clean their faces/heads, which is where we mostly pet them. They lick their paws to wash themselves, and yet we do not do this but just rub them, they might be adding their saliva to your fingers, so you can wash them and not just rub them. But that is a wild idea.

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