If you’re a cat owner, chances are you’ve experienced your cat chomping down your feet and probably wondering why does my cat lick my toes?
The truth is cats have many peculiar behaviors that mystify us, and if you’re troubled by the cat’s fixation with your feet, our guide will help.
Here, I share everything you need to know about your cat’s obsession with your feet.
READ MORE: Why do pets sleep at the foot of the bed?
5 Reasons Why Do Cats Lick Toes
1) Show of affection
If you had to think of ways your cat expresses love to you, I’m probably guessing purring would come right off the bat.
But that’s not the only way cats show affection.
Other subtle signs of affection from the cat include staring at you adoringly and then squinting, rubbing their head on you, flopping on the ground in front of you, and strangely, licking you.
While licking isn’t the most pleasing experience, understand it comes from a place of affection; it’s the greatest compliment your feline could give you.
This display of affection traces back to a cat’s childhood. Remember when the felines were still in their developmental stages? Their moms showed affection by feeding, teaching the litter to hunt, and licking.
The cats recreate this tender habit of appreciation as they grow. And so, when your cat licks you, it’s often a sign of familiarity, affection, and love.
Of course, they engage in the same social behavior (grooming) with other cats and pets.
But what’s the obsession with the toes?
The answer is quite logical; our toes are the closest body parts, making them more accessible for licking. It’s especially true when you’re walking or standing still.
2) Marking territory
Even after years of domestication, cats aren’t that far removed from their roots.
Like most felines and wild cats, your cat has the instinctive urge to mark its territory by leaving a scent.
Cats have scent glands (1) on their cheeks, face, tail, and urine to mark their territory.
However, the two primary techniques cats use to lay down their scent is spraying and head rubbing.
Toe-licking is also another form of territory marking. Depositing odor from the salivary glands communicates that you’re out of bounds to other cats and pets. It may also signal “ownership.”
Usually, toe-licking as a form of territory marking happens when they’re other cats in the vicinity, and there’s a possibility of conflict or insecurity.
While the territory marking is endearing, it can result in a conflict where multiple cats are vying for the owner’s attention. The trick is to ensure all cats receive equal attention.
3) Signals an illness or distress
Some of the apparent signs of a cat in distress are shedding of fur, less energy level, throwing up, runny nose and eyes, and excessive weight loss.
However, some other signs are silent & subtle such as the excessive licking of your toes.
Your cat’s obsession with licking your toes may signal a medical issue such as a digestive disorder, nausea, or oral issue.
At the same time, however, it can also signal a behavioral issue rather than a medical one.
See, licking makes cats feel better and even calms them, much like a pacifier for a baby.
According to PetMD (2), when cats lick your toes, they release endorphins, which help to calm them down. So, if they’re feeling a bit anxious, they turn to your feet to feel reassured and connected.
Secondly, the smell of your feet may also bring comfort. It’s one reason one of our cats sleeps by my feet.
Of course, it’s not easy to distinguish whether it’s a medical or behavioral issue. But if the licking is compulsive and out of the ordinary, consider taking your pet to the vet.
4) Teaching you how to groom
Cats learn grooming by watching their mothers clean them when they are kittens.
And so, by licking your toes, they’re trying to impart a valuable life skill-grooming and keeping clean.
It may not mean a lot to you, but passing this ability is usually a huge compliment. In my opinion, passing this skill displays a remarkable level of trust.
5) Being Playful
Cats, especially kittens, are quite playful and will jump on every opportunity that draws their attention.
Feet, whether tucked inside a blanket or just moving around, looks like great play toys. The constant wiggling and sudden movement of your toes are pretty entertaining.
Even better, when we move our feet away from the sandpapery feel of the cat’s tongue, a cat may see this as a further invitation for play.
Plus, the constant movement of your feet may also resemble prey, making the cat unleash their hunting instincts. So, they lick your toes as much as they lick their prey.
Therefore, in a way, a cat licking your toes might signal they’re bored to get your attention or simply invite you for playtime.
Here’s a funny reaction that all of us could relate to at one time!
Should I Let My Cat Lick My Toes?
Licking is one of the significant ways cats express themselves and usually has no ill-intent.
In fact, it comes from a place of affection, and in some cases, it may even signal distress, making it easier to know whether your cat is ill or something.
However, we agree that toe licking isn’t the most pleasant experience. Sometimes, it even hurts, especially if the cat licks excessively and in one spot.
Usually, the pain comes from the back-facing barbs on your cat’s tongue, known as “papillae (3).” Papillae consist of the same material as your cat’s claws, hence the sandpapery feeling.
The barbs are crucial for grooming, as they remove the dirt and debris from your cat’s coat.
How Do I Discourage my Cat from Licking my Toes?
Most cat owners enjoy the occasional lick, but too much of it is a bother.
But you don’t want to discourage the licking by pushing them away or making them feel unwanted.
Instead, find a distraction to make the cat stop licking you. For example, you can start by playing and interacting with him. Also, consider play toys to keep him busy.
Tasty food is also an excellent distractor, but I wouldn’t recommend much of this because too many treats may be harmful to their health.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it normal for my cat to lick my toes?
Yes, licking, in general, is normal behavior for cats. In any case, most cats spend most of their time grooming and napping (4).
Why does my cat sit at my feet and stare at me?
A: If you’re wondering why, a cat sleeps by my feet, and stares at you, it’s simply a way of communication. Staring, in particular, shows a close pairing or bond between you and your feline.
A cat is unlikely to stare or hold eye contact with a stranger or person they don’t trust.
As a cat owner, you probably have asked yourself, why does my cat lick my toes? It’s nothing to worry about as cats are naturally affectionate animals.
Cats lick your toes because it’s mainly a form of communication for them, and you will need to watch your cat and learn what they are trying to say.
- 1. Grzyb, DVM K. Why Do Cats Rub Against You? [Internet]. www.petmd.com. 2022 [cited 2022 May 4]. Available from: https://www.petmd.com/cat/behavior/why-do-cats-rub-against-you
- 2. Too Much Licking [Internet]. www.academyanimal.com. 2018 [cited 2022 May 4]. Available from: https://www.academyanimal.com/news/too-much-licking
- 3. Arnold C. How cat tongues work—and can inspire human tech [Internet]. Animals. 2018. Available from: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/understanding-cat-tongues-papillae
- 4. 24 hours in the life of a cat [Internet]. meyou-paris.com. Available from: https://meyou-paris.com/en/blog/24-hours-in-the-life-of-a-cat-n29
I’ve grown up surrounded by animals – dogs, cats, cows, goats, sheep, and horses and that has shaped me into what I am today – a crazy cat lady who always has a place for one more cat (or a dog). I’ve got two female cats – Kitty and Roni, and two tomcats – Blacky and Shaggy, but I also feed my neighbors’ cats when they come for a visit. I just can’t say no to them.
I discovered that writing is my vocation early in my school years. Since then I’ve taken part in several literature contests – writing horror and fantasy short stories and novellas.
For the past three years, I’ve been an ELS teacher, pouring my heart into showing children and teenagers how important English is for their future and trying to educate them how to treat their pets with care.
Learn more about Grigorina here