Pet Keen is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Home > Cats > Why Do Cats Lick Themselves After You Pet Them? 5 Vet Approved Reasons

Why Do Cats Lick Themselves After You Pet Them? 5 Vet Approved Reasons

cat licking paws

Vet approved

Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Paola Cuevas

Veterinarian, MVZ

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Learn more »

Cats partake in a lot of puzzling behaviors. Spend one night with a kitty, and you’ll know just how strange they can be when they start zipping around the house at 3 am like they’re being chased by gremlins. Thankfully, not all their behavior is completely unexplainable.

One strange behavior that we do have some explanations for is when your cat starts licking themselves after you’ve touched them. Why do cats lick your scent off (or seem to)? As offensive as it may seem at first, it’s not that simple.

Keep reading to find five potential reasons why your kitty is grooming themselves after you’ve petted them.


The 5 Reasons Cats Lick Themselves After You Pet Them

1. It’s Grooming Time

If he immediately launches into a grooming session after you’re done petting him, it may be that you’ve chosen to pet your cat during a time he would be grooming himself.

Cats spend up to 50% of their day grooming themselves. Not only do they groom themselves to stay clean, but they do so for other health reasons such as body temperature regulation, circulation stimulation, and displacement behavior if they’re feeling embarrassed or anxious.

Even if your petting session is comforting for your kitty, you may find him cleaning himself afterward because you interrupted his scheduled groom.

cat licking itself
Image Credit: Kittisak Chysree, Shutterstock

2. It’s a Soothing Social Behavior

Grooming isn’t just for hygiene or health purposes. It also provides a feel-good sensation to a cat by stimulating the release of endorphins. Cats participate in grooming as a social behavior, too. Social grooming is sometimes known as “allogrooming” and is a bonding behavior where cats lick each other.

Mama cats lick their babies from the moment they are born to clean them and stimulate them to breathe. So when your cat starts licking himself after you’ve petted him, he might be self-soothing, recreating that bonding experience from when he was a kitten.

3. He Just Doesn’t Care for Pets Right Now

As much as it pains every cat lover to hear, not every cat loves to be petted. Even cats who do usually like pets don’t always want your love and attention. Sometimes the sensation of petting can feel overstimulating. Some cats might let you know they’re not into your pets by trying to bite you, but others may react to this overstimulation by grooming.

grey shorthair cat lying
Image Credit: Anna Hoychuk, Shutterstock

4. He’s Itchy

Another possible reason your cat cleans himself after you pet him is that he has a sore or itchy spot on his skin. When you touch that area, the skin irritation might start tingling or itching, which your cat tries to soothe by grooming himself.

If you notice him licking at the same spot every time you pet him, you might want to have your vet give him a once-over to rule out any skin conditions. Fleas, mites, or allergies can cause itchy skin, so it’s best to make an appointment with your vet to ensure there’s nothing nefarious causing the itchiness.

5. He Might Have Hyperesthesia Syndrome

Feline hyperesthesia syndrome is a condition that causes a cat’s skin to become hypersensitive. It’s also sometimes known as twitchy cat disease, which should provide you with some insight as to what the symptoms of this condition are.

If your cat has hyperesthesia, your pets could be causing them discomfort and pain that they try to mitigate by grooming themselves.

tabby cat licking its paw
Image Credit: WiP-Studio, Shutterstock



It should be a relief to know that your kitty isn’t trying to wash your scent off them if they start grooming themselves after you’ve petted them. Pay close attention to how and where they’re licking themselves, and you should be able to determine the reason they’re doing it.

Featured Image Credit: Elya Vatel, Shutterstock

Our vets

Want to talk to a vet online?

Whether you have concerns about your dog, cat, or other pet, trained vets have the answers!

Our vets