Why Your Cat Licks the Air When You Pet Them

cats licking

If there is a species that keeps surprising us with how it behaves, it has to be cats. Sometimes they love you and want to shower you with their love; other times, they can’t wait to be away from you and will ignore even when you call them. Still, we can’t do without these furry friends, and one way we have learned to show them affection is by petting them. However, have you ever wondered why your cats lick the air when you pet them? We have researched for you, and here is what we know it means.

It Could Be Out of Pleasure

Some people compare cats licking their air and even vocalizing through purrs and snorts as an equivalent to how humans react during orgasms. However, petting comes nowhere close to sexual satisfaction, but maybe the intense pleasure is comparable to the relief we get from a massage. According to Quora, one person said that cats lick the air because they are telling us in their own way that we have found the itchy spot and we should keep scratching. Another person added that licking could signify that our cat is enjoying the petting, reasoning that if your cat does not like the feeling, it would most likely walk away.

A Reminder of Their Nursing Days

According to a discussion in Ask Metafilter, cats have a lick spot which their mothers use to entice kittens to nurse. Mothers, therefore, usually lick the kittens at a specific place above the tail, and the kittens know it is feeding time. Perhaps this could be why when you touch a cat above the tail, it will start licking the air, and some will go a step further to start nibbling whatever is near them as the action is reminiscent of when they used to nurse.

Desire to Groom

Cats are clean animals, but some felines are overweight and fail to reach certain spots. Others could have conditions that prevent them from grooming certain areas. Therefore, if you pet them and happen to touch those hard-to-reach areas, your cat will instantly feel the need to lick that specific spot, and since it is unreachable, your kitty will settle for licking the air instead.

Some Cats Lick You Instead

While some cats will lick the air, others will lick you instead, and there are usually a few reasons for this. They include:

Mutual Grooming

Cats, as well as other species, groom each other as a way to reinforce the social bond; it develops affection and trust towards each other. Even when you see them biting each other, it could be because they have found something that is stuck in the fur, and since they do not have thumbs to pick it out, biting is usually the best alternative. For this reason, if your cat licks you when you pet it, it is returning the favor and showing that it trusts you and already considers you worthy of its affection.

Marking Their Territory

According to Purrcraze, cats have a keen olfactory sense which is how they differentiate foe from friend. By licking you, they are transferring their unique smell to you, which is a means of bonding and marking you as their own. By leaving their scent on you through a few licks, your cat is ensuring that if another cat approaches you, it will know that you are already taken and leave you alone.

Keeping You Safe

Your cat loves in more ways than you can imagine, even if it barely seems so from the indifferent attitude. Cats lick themselves excessively to clean away any odor-causing agents and food remnants that predators can detect. Your cat thinks that you are also in danger if a predator smells any odor on you; therefore, it will lick you clean to protect you. However, sometimes the licks could be just because the cat likes the food residues with a pleasant taste that the cat enjoys.

Mood to Play

Let’s face it; cats are the most unpredictable animals, so when your cat is in the mood to play, it is best to take the offer because you never know when it will come again. Therefore when you pet it, and it licks you, it could be communication that it wants to play. It might even nibble on you a little before it resumes licking, which is a sign that it has too much energy that needs to be released.


Some cats bite or scratch when they are not interested in whatever bits of affection you are trying to give through petting. On the other hand, others will lick your hand as if to tell you that you need to stop whatever it is you are doing with that hand because it is not yielding the best feeling. All the same, the reaction to your petting will depend on the particular spot you are scratching, so it is best to study your cat’s responses.

Some Cats Lick Themselves When You Pet Them

Licking the air is usually the most common response, but in some other instances, your cat could lick you or itself. Here are the reasons why your cat prefers to lick itself when you pet it, as published by Excited Cats.

Skin Conditions

A cat with an underlying skin condition will lick itself. Also, if it has a flea infestation, the parasites will cause the cat to have itchy skin, and the best way for your feline to get relief is by licking. In this instance, if you pet it, your cat will be uncomfortable, and instead of licking you, it will most likely react negatively by scratching or biting to tell you that it is uncomfortable with you petting it.

General Dislike for Petting

We assume that cats like to be petted, but this is not always the case. Some cats do not appreciate the human touch, and others do not want to be touched in certain places; hence, they will prefer to lick themselves. However, you cannot be sure of the cat’s reaction until you observe the behavior when you pet it in different areas. If a cat positively responds to you petting some areas and dislikes being petted in others, it could be because it is more sensitive in some areas than others.

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