Cats lick people for relaxation, sharing scents, grooming, as a means of affection and showing territory. These actions are either innate or learned from their mothers as a means of trust and belonging.
A licking sensation is the first memory a cat has. Immediately after birth, a mother cat licks her kittens to clean them and stimulate breathing. She later continues this ritual after their meals to stimulate their release of urine and feces. Kittens grow to understand that any form of licking coincides with care and affection. They translate this type of bonding later with owners who care for them. When a person affectionately pets a cat, it reminds the animal of the mother cat's loving licks. The cat often reciprocates this gesture by licking the person.
However, cats that excessively lick their human companions may be exhibiting signs of anxiety or pain. In this case, the feline is seeking comfort in the only way he knows how. Excessive licking may also indicate that the cat was detached from his mother too early. Cats groom and soothe themselves by licking their own fur. Too much licking may signal irritation to the skin. Owners should contact a veterinarian when excessive licking occurs to diagnose a possible underlying problem.