We all crave our cat’s attention, and they all have different ways of showing it to us. Some cats might curl up in your lap no matter where you’re sitting, while others might sniff and lick your toes.
If you’ve ever been licked by your cat, no matter how cute the gesture, you know it feels like sandpaper, and the last thing you want to feel on your toes is sandpaper!
So, why do cats lick your toes?
It could be a sign of affection, or they might be marking you with their scent. Since our feet have sweat glands, the taste and smell of your toes can comfort your anxious cat. A cat might also lick your toes to initiate play.
Let’s explore in-depth some of the possible reasons behind your kitty’s fascination with your feet, that they even end up licking them!
Why Do Cats Lick Your Toes?
We can all agree that receiving a foot licking session from your cat is nothing like a foot massage, it’s bound to be an uncomfortable experience no matter what.
And while I find this sensation unpleasant, this whole situation makes me wonder why my cat would lick my feet and toes in the first place. I mean it’s kind of yucky, isn’t it?
Reason 1: It’s A Sign Of Affection
Contrary to popular belief, when it comes to affection, most cats are no strangers to the concept. They certainly know how to display love and care as their mothers did when they were little.
This display of affection came of course in the form of feeding and teaching the litter how to hunt, but it was also through grooming. This tender behavior is oftentimes a sign of familiarity and relatedness which can be shown towards other cats, pets, and of course humans.
If you find your cat laying around your feet, licking your toes, and purring then they might be engaging in a behavior called “allogrooming” meaning “grooming another”, which is a type of social grooming. A cat might rub against your feet and even nibble at your toes as they lick, which most of us can admit can be quite ticklish.
Perhaps your kitty is also trying to recreate his mother’s behavior and by licking your toes or any other part of you they’re teaching you how to clean yourself. While licking your feet isn’t pleasant, it can be the greatest compliment your kitty could give to the one human they’ve chosen.
Reason 2: They’re Being Playful
Aside from the need for your kitty to keep your toes clean, feet can also be very entertaining. Whether you’ve tucked your toes behind a warm blanket or you’re walking around the house your cat might see the sudden movement as an invitation to unleash their hunting instincts.
Cats may see your feet as their prey because they move around so much, and just as they tend to lick their prey or lick their toys, they might do the same to your toes. When we find our cats suddenly lick our feet or toes, our reaction might also seem more inviting to cats.
We move our feet around to get away from the sandpapery feeling, we might hide them under the covers or simply run away. A cat and especially a kitten might see it as a further invitation to play, more so it could be their way to get your attention, to show you that they’re bored and that you need to play with them.
Reason 3: They’re Marking You
When it comes to ownership cats are masters at claiming the environment around them, which includes objects, pets, and humans. They can do that in different ways, usually, cats will rub their faces against one another to exchange scents, they will scratch a surface to let the scent glands on their feet, and the visual markings of their claws let others know that they should stay away.
Cats also do the same thing through grooming, so by licking your toes they’re basically getting their scent onto you. If you have more than one cat you might notice similar behaviors occurring way more often as each cat is trying to lay claim on you.
My cats will often sleep around my feet and knead and bite the blankets that cover me. But if they suddenly see a toe or a foot peeking out of the blanket they’ll move their attention towards it, sometimes kneading my socks, or licking them.
Reason 4: Your Toes Taste Interesting
Licking toes might seem a bit of a disturbing and nasty habit, but not to cats. On the contrary, while our feet are marinating in our socks throughout the day, they typically produce half a pint of perspiration, thanks to the 250,000 sweat glands concentrated there.
Sweat, of course, is mostly water but it does contain some salts, including sodium chloride and they leave a salty taste. A curious kitten or cat will most likely want to investigate this flavor. You see cats are unable to taste anything sweet, but according to recent studies cats have retained multiple functional bitter taste receptors.
That could explain how some cats lick non-food objects and even suffer from a condition called pica where they consume these non-edible objects. Of course, your kitty won’t eat your feet, but they might get a taste of you by licking each toe.
Reason 5: It’s A Sign of Anxiety and Stress
Cats groom and lick things out of curiosity, they do it because they want to show their nurturing side, but did you know that cats can also develop licking behaviors if they are stressed, anxious, or bored?
This isn’t common with all cats, however, it can still occur with cats that don’t feel safe in their environment, cannot relax, or don’t have any physical and mental outlets.
The things that can stress your kitty can be the result of a major change in their life, perhaps you’ve recently moved houses or you’re expecting a baby and your kitty is feeling jealous. Discomfort from physical pain caused by an injury or condition, as well as mental issues caused by boredom from lack of playing can also result in overgrooming, a condition also known as “Psychogenic Alopecia.”
Exessive licking can lead to bald patches, especially on their belly and hind legs, where they basically pull the hair out. Some cats will go as far as to create wounds as they bite the fur out. While some cats might seek comfort in excessively grooming their own fur others might feel comforted by the fact that you and your smell are close by. Since our feet carry a lot of our scent you might notice them licking your toes more often or do the same to your socks and clothes when you’re not around.
If this is the case, it’s important to deal with this issue as soon as you notice it, by consulting with a vet. This way you will be able to get to the root of the issue and manage it before it becomes a compulsive behavior.
Do Cats Like The Smell Of Feet?
Just by thinking about stinky shoes and smelly feet, my nose crinkles, but my cats seem fascinated by gross smells or strange odors, to say the least.
Carlo Siracusa, a veterinarian, explains that animals are usually attracted to smelly surfaces and by licking or rubbing these surfaces they are adding their own signature.
It’s also possible that you were walking barefoot around the house and stepped into something edible, or you were wearing sandals outside and brought with you a new smell. The smell and sweat still lingering between your toes might be something that most kitties want to explore!
Their strong sense of smell and ability to detect odorless scents also affect this behavior. Cats have a special organ located in the roof of the mouth, called the Jacobson’s organ, and while we might simply think our feet stink, a cat will discover a plethora of information through pheromones and other scents.
Of course, not all cats enjoy the smell of feet or certain feet. This cat for example seems extra offended by his owner’s feet after using his Jacobson’s organ to get a good whiff!
Apart from licking and smelling your toes, your kitty might also spend their time sniffing your shoes every time you come back from outside. This behavior happens to exist because of our cat’s exploratory personality.
Why Does My Cat Lick And Then Bite My Feet?
While playing and licking our feet can be uncomfortable, even annoying at times, when teeth and claws are at play it’s a definite deal-breaker. This type of biting could be a gentle nibble that resembles a love bite, or it could be a type of aggression.
After all, our feet can be intriguing since we move them away the moment our cats try to catch them, but by licking and biting our toes they also know they’ll get our attention most likely because they’re bored and need something to stimulate their inner hunting instincts.
This kind of play aggression is most common in kittens and young cats, but even adult cats can display it. Sharon L. Crowell-Davis, DVM, says that it could be the result of our own encouragement. When kittens are still young their teeth and claws are mostly harmless, so we might allow a more aggressive type of play.
As the cat grows up, stalking, chasing, biting, and clawing that’s directed at us can become harmful or at the very least unpleasant. Bored cats that feel neglected can also exhibit similar behavior. Sharon states that “if you do not provide a cat with an acceptable way to play, it will find an unacceptable way to play.”
A cat that’s licking and then biting your toes might be reacting this way to being over petted. If you’re playing with your kitty while you’re in bed or you decided to rub them with your feet this can cause built-up frustration that looks like a sudden attack to you, but in reality, your cat tried to warn you with their body language. Look for signs of restlessness, a twitching tail, and ears that are pulled back and stop the interaction until your cat is once again relaxed.
Oftentimes, when cats bite or retaliate because they are frustrated with us they most likely regret attacking you so they might proceed to lick you, but if you continue to pet them, they might bite your toe or feet again.
Should You Discourage Your Cat From Licking Your Toes?
While it may not be the most pleasant activity for you, there’s nothing wrong with your cat occasionally licking your toes. The question here is how you feel about it and how this kind of interaction affects your relationship.
If your cat sees your toes and feet as playthings then you might want to stop this behavior to protect yourself. Condoning an aggressive style of play can make you feel weary of your cat, the interactions might become unpredictable, and this negativity could damage your bond and trust.
While it could be a sign of affection for some as they feel safe in your presence this behavior could also be a coping mechanism. Such stress-induced behavior definitely shouldn’t be looked over. Perhaps your toes aren’t the only thing your cat enjoys licking, the list can go from something as random as concrete to literally everything in your house.
This could be a sign of plain boredom that could be easily solved with regular play, or something more serious like pica, some nutrient deficiency, or a medical condition.
How To Stop Your Cat From Licking Your Toes?
If you feel the need to discourage your cat from biting your toes, there are some things you could do. One of the easiest ways to keep your cat from licking your toes is to simply wear socks more often. The saying “out of sight, out of mind” really comes into play here.
While it may seem silly, it can be effective. If your cat can not see your toes, they may not feel their instinctual need to hunt or groom you. If that doesn’t seem to work try rubbing essential oils on those areas, or creams that smell of citrus, lemon, or lavender, basically anything that will dissuade your kitty from licking your toes.
While we’ve been taught that cats are nothing like dogs and they can’t be trained the truth is that cats are being trained every minute they spend in our company. The important thing to remember is the fact that cats don’t understand shouting and punishment. Even something seemingly innocent like spraying them with water shouldn’t be used to change their behavior.
Instead, positive reinforcement is the way to go if you want to manage your cat’s licking obsession. If your cat is around your feet don’t move them around, instead, keep still, and if your cat still attacks then use a toy to distract them. This will allow them to still be active and utilize some of their instincts without you having to sacrificing your precious toes.
You can firmly and sternly say no each time your cat attacks your feet. Even picking them up, moving them away, and then ignoring them will discourage this behavior. Shouting in this scenario would be just another form of attention and your cat will feel like they’ve won, and they might keep on trying to lick your toes.
As always, when you notice your cat acting out all of a sudden, and showing problematic behaviors, whether it’s compulsive or aggressive, my advice is to take your cat to the vet. Sudden changes in your cat’s behavior could be connected to a medical problem, and even if it’s a behavioral issue your vet should be able to help you find the right solution!
Licking toes is a strange habit indeed but having lived with two cats for almost a decade I’ve come to realize that strange is normal for most of them!
Of course, we still need to be vigilant when behaviors become problematic or end up harming our cats or ourselves, which could include toe licking and biting. So, if it’s something that you can discourage, and you feel the need to do so, I’m sure your kitty will understand.
Now it’s your turn to tell us all about your cat and their toe licking habits, do you find it disturbing, problematic, or simply ticklish?