Our cats can take on strange, silly, and sometimes downright bizarre behaviors. In many cases, their weird behavior is one of the many things that makes them so darn cute!
But other times, the behaviors can seem so strange that we’re left trying to figure out what’s going and what’s motivating our cats. This is especially true when it comes to the weird things that cats lick. While dogs are well known for licking anything they can find, the feline lick is a little bit rarer.
Still, we’ve actually written a lot about cats that lick covering felines that lick windows, walls, shower curtains, people, and everything in between.
But today we’re going to tackle a big licky cat question.
Why do cats lick the floor? The exact answer will vary between each cat, but it’s likely that cats enjoy the taste, texture, or temperature of the floor. This is especially true if there’s water on the floor as cats love unique sources of water. While rare, in some cases it could be related to a condition called pica.
We’ll take a closer look at each explanation but first, let’s clear up a few things to make sure we’re all on the same page.
The Material of the Floor Matters
The floor licking question is a bit more difficult to answer compared to some of the more specific questions I get. That’s because there’s a huge variety of flooring types that cats may decide to lick. From vinyl and concrete to hardwood and marble there are just too many specific flooring scenarios to cover in one article.
But that doesn’t mean we’re going to giving up on explaining this strange licking behavior!
Instead, we’ll have to generalize a bit about the type of floor your cat is licking. I’ll still be mentioning some of the most common floor materials as they relate to each explanation but just keep this in mind as go!
Reason 1: The Floor Tastes Good
If your cat is especially food motivated, this could be one of the more likely reasons.
After all, everything that gets dropped falls to the floor. It’s just gravity in action and while your cat might not understand physics they’ll quickly figure out that the floor is full of interesting tastes from the world of humans!
But what if your cat is licking the floor outside of the kitchen where maybe there isn’t much food falling?
In those cases, it could be the actual material that the floor is made of- especially if it’s any kind of plastic-based material! Many types of plastics contain animal products like gelatin and beef tallow.
While he’s specifically referencing plastic bags, veterinarian Arnold Plotnik’s point still applies to other types of plastics too: “The most logical reason I’ve heard, however, is that cats like licking or eating plastic bags because rendered animal fat (also called “tallow”) is utilized during the manufacture of some plastic bags, and that some cats can detect the smell and enjoy the taste.”
This interest in plastic could explain why so many cats seem so darn interested in plastic bags. Whether that’s just wanting to hang out in sit on them or even peeing on them as a result of the unusual mix of animal and chemical smells!
But it doesn’t just have to be plastic. With so many types of flooring, there could be any number of animal-based compounds that our cats could be sniffing out. There’s also the chance that something was spilled long ago that our cat’s powerful nose is still detecting.
And with a sense of smell that’s 9-16 times stronger than our own, we’ve got no chance of figuring out exactly what it is that our feline friends are sniffing (and tasting)!
Reason 2: Cats Like The Texture and Temperature
It seems that many cats simply enjoy the specific texture and temperature of some material and surfaces. Most commonly, many cats seem to enjoy licking smooth surfaces…you know, like floors!
There’s also a strong argument to made that cats also enjoy the temperature of the floor as well. Tile flooring especially can retain a lot of coolness and may be a very different temperature from the rest of the house. This unique temperature could be interesting for our very curious feline friends.
Oftentimes, there can be a lot of gray areas between the different reasons. For example, a cat could have started licking the floor as a result of an interesting smell or taste but end up enjoying the interesting temperature and texture of the floor and keep licking long after that smell is gone.
Reason 3: It’s A Different Water Source (And Cats Like That)
While it won’t apply to every type of floor, it’s possible that your cat has discovered a unique water source on your kitchen or bathroom floor. This is especially true in the bathroom where a steamy shower can leave water almost everywhere- including the floor.
Cat’s love interesting and varied water sources and while we as cat parents have seen this first hand, it’s’ also been confirm by several studies including a very interesting one by Royal Canin. But this isn’t just because our cats are silly. Cats have an instinctual drive to find water sources that are more likely to be safe. This means moving water, that isn’t standing or stagnant is the preferred choice for our feline friends.
Okay, water on the floor isn’t exactly flowing like a babbling brook but it’s still easy for our cats to see that this water is fresh and it gets bonus points for being a unique location.
This is also a big factor for cats that love to lick shower curtains but just as in that scenario, it could be a combination of taste, texture, and an interesting water location.
Reason 4: It Could Be Pica Related
Pica is a condition where cats eat non-food items.
What does that have to do with licking?
In many cases, pica can start as licking and eventually make its way to eating. Or in the case of floors, it can be difficult or impossible for a cat to actually eat the floor so the pica manifests as licking instead.
The material is going to matter a lot here, and we discussed in a previous article how cats that lick concrete are more likely to have pica than other types of cat licking. It’s still possible, but if your cat is licking wood, tile, or plastic flooring then pica is a bit less likely.
What makes pica so difficult and confusing to understand is that there could be several underlying conditions causing the behavior. One of the most common causes is anemia (especially in the case of concrete) but that’s really the tip of the iceberg. In other cases, there could be a psychological reason that compels cats to eat, or lick, nonfood items.
If you’re seeing a sudden obsession with licking the floor then it’s worth scheduling an exam with your veterinarina. Especially if you’re seeing other behavior changes in addition to the new licking habits.
Reason 5: They Like Your Attention
While your attention may not explain why cats start licking the floor, it can help explain why some cats continue the behavior.
Consider what you do when your cat starts licking the floor?
Do you laugh, talk to them or even pet them? Maybe you take a quick video?
For our cats, that’s all attention and they enjoy it!
Our feline friends will very quickly learn that when they lick the floor, they get attention from you! So what might have started as a chance to scoop up some water from a unique place, could continue as a way to get your attention. Again, this doesn’t explain why cats start in the first place, but it can certainly be enough to keep some cats motivated (and licking).
Reason 6: Your Cat Is Bored and Licking Is Fun
It really could be that simple.
While it can be easy to see licking as a weird behavior, cats typically spend 30-40% of a day on grooming themselves which means they’re licking for a huge portion of their waking hours! Even though licking is usually reserved for our cats, it’s not that crazy to imagine them doing it to other objects like the floor.
But not only do some cats just enjoy the experience of licking it can also be a calming behavior.
You may have actually seen this before if your cat has ever been in some kind of minor conflict- especially with another cat. As Cats International explains, “During a social conflict, for example, a harassed cat may be undecided about whether to run from its attacker or to stand and fight. Instead, the cat displays a third, unrelated behavior, such as grooming. This is a normal activity that cats find calming and reassuring.”
They go on to explain that eventually, this displacement behavior can become a habit that they use in any kind of stressful situation. But your cat doesn’t have to be completely stressed out to pick up the habit, instead, they simply need to associate it with feelings of relaxation.
While this is one of the more unlikely explanations, it’s certainly a possibility!
It’s Probably Not Pruritus
If you’ve been hitting Google to solve the floor licking mystery, you’ve probably seen a few folks or forums suggest that pruritus could be at play. Pruritus is the medical term for extreme itching and can be caused by a range of conditions from fleas and parasites to allergies and skin infections. When pruritus is bad enough, it can cause cats to scratch or lick themselves excessively.
After a decade working in the veterinary field, one of the most common causes of pruritus that I saw was ear mites. With a bad enough infection, just touching the ear would cause the cat to react by scratching the back of their ear over and over again.
But what does this have to do with licking the floor?
The idea is that cats with bad pruritus might not only lick themselves but also the floor in an attempt to get relief. While this is possible, it’s probably not likely and if your cat is that itchy you’ve probably already noticed!
So don’t completely rule out pruritus but it shouldn’t be at the top of the list of explanations.
Should You Worry About Your Cat Licking the Floor?
In most cases, there’s likely not much to worry about but if you’re ever unsure it’s always worth a trip to the veterinarian.
If your cat seems obsessed with licking the floor or the behavior is taking up a major part of their day then it’s definitely worth a trip to the veterinarian. Even more so if the behavior started suddenly.
If you can pin down a specific explanation then it will be much easier to stop the behavior. You know, if your cat is obsessed with licking up the taste of turkey broth then it’s time to stop spilling turkey broth on the floor!
But it’s not always that easy so if you’re ever unsure or worried, it’s always worth talking to your veterinarian!
How To Stop Your Feline Friend From Licking The Floor?
While licking the floor usually isn’t a problem, unless there’s an underlying medical condition at play, you still may want to discourage this behavior. If you know the reason why your cat is licking the floor that will obviously make things easier.
But even if you don’t, there are a few things you can try.
Spend More Time Playing
Many of the explanations for licking the floor could fall under the category of boredom or restlessness. Even things like enjoying the taste and texture of the floor suggest some level of boredom and while some cat parents may be a little skeptical about the connection between playing and licking the floor, cats that aren’t getting enough mental and physical stimulation are more likely to turn to strange behaviors.
So consider working in 15 minutes of interactive play a day and see if your cat continues to lick the floor!
Keep the Floor Clean and Redirect the Behavior
If your cat has discovered the there are tasty treats and smells on the floor (usually the kitchen) then they’re going to be much more likely to repeatedly check out those areas. Keeping these areas clean and food-free will discourage your cat over time but some cats may still keep up their floor licking patrol even with low chances of finding something good.
That’s why redirection is a great addition to any behavior modification! In this case, consider placing catnip or treats in a more appropriate area and encourage cats to explore there instead!
Making the Floor Taste Bad Probably Won’t Work Well
Of course, making the floor taste foul could be a good way to stop the behavior but it’s not going to be easy to cover an entire floor in something that tastes bad. You also don’t want to expose your cat to household cleaners that could be toxic to them. Instead, focus on figuring out the motivation and redirecting the behavior.
Some cats lick weird things.
While cat licking might seem unusual when you consider that cats are grooming (and licking) 5 hours a day it doesn’t seem so surprising that they may turn their tongue to something other than their fur.
Especially if there’s an interesting taste or a novel water source available! Then there are cats that find licking soothing, especially when it comes to smooth surfaces.
However, in rare cases, licking the floor is more than just a silly cat behavior and could actually be a cause for concern. This is especially true in the case of licking concrete which is most often connected to pica.
While I hope there are no medical issues at play, I’d love to hear what reason best explains why your cat is licking the floor!