When they’re not grooming themselves, cats tend to lick a lot of other things. This might include furniture, blankets, toys, or even you!
While it might be easy to ignore most of your cat’s licking habits, you’re likely left scratching your head when your cat takes to licking the walls of your house or apartment.
Whether it’s an indoor or outdoor wall, the appeal isn’t exactly obvious to us. You might be wondering if your cat’s new habit is normal or a sign of something to be concerned about.
So why do cats lick walls?
Although there are several reasons why cats lick anything, your cat is most likely to lick the wall because they like the taste, the texture, or any moisture on the wall’s surface. This strange habit could also be a sign of certain medical conditions or stress so it’s important to identify the cause.
We’ll dive into all of the common reasons why cats lick walls, but we’ll also cover some of the more concerning issues you might want to be aware of.
Let’s get started!
Reason 1: Cats Love the Smell or the Taste…Of The Wall!
Your cat may lick the wall because of something on it that appeals to the cat’s senses. Taste is a powerful sense, but one that works a bit differently in cats since they don’t have nearly as many taste buds as humans.
For instance, cats can’t taste sweet foods at all, but may instead be attracted to walls for the fat content. What cats can taste well is bitterness, and this helps them avoid things that could be poisonous to them.
It’s more likely that a cat licking the wall may be picking up an appealing scent. Cats have a powerful sense of smell that’s up to 14 times more powerful than our own!
Not only is their sense of smell strong, but cats also have an additional scent receptor, called the vomeronasal organ, on the roof of their mouth that allows them to appreciate even more subtle smells.
Cats use their enhanced sense of smell to gather information about their environment, including what things are good to eat. If your wall smells like something pleasing, your cat might lick it because they like the taste and smell.
So why might your wall smell or taste nice to your cat?
First, realize that cats are smelling all kinds of things that we can’t.
Then, consider all of the things that happen in your home. Have you spilled something near that wall recently? Even if you dropped something on the floor, liquids can splash and food crumbs can scatter. If you haven’t fully cleaned up after a mess, something tasty might be leftover on the wall itself, and your cat will see that as an opportunity for an early snack!
You might also think about what you spray around your home. If you use any cleaning products, there’s always a chance that you’ve sprayed your wall by mistake or on purpose. While we might not think chemicals are appetizing, your cat will lick the wall if the taste or smell seems like something good.
A sign that your cat licks the wall because of something you’ve sprayed or cleaned with is that it only licks the wall after you’ve done the cleaning. Pay attention to the products you’re using and where you’re using them. If you stop working with a certain cleaner and the behavior ends, you’ve probably found the culprit.
Reason 2: Your Cat Loves the Texture
Cats don’t just rely on smell and taste to decide if they want to eat something. They also rely on texture. Different kinds of prey have different textures, and the textures that cats prefer eating are the ones similar to the food they learned to eat as kittens. Just like their dinner, textured items in your home, like walls, may also appeal to them if they like the feel of it on their tongue.
Reason 3: Your Cat Is Licking Moisture Off The Wall
It sounds a little weird, but some homes have wet walls.
Are they supposed to?
Absolutely not, but it’s a problem that might be connected to a cat’s interest in licking the walls.
Walls can get wet when excess moisture can’t escape the home. This might be due to bad airflow, moisture coming in through poorly sealed windows, or condensation buildup from vents or plumbing devices.
While there’s a chance that your cat is dehydrated, it’s also common for cats to seek out a variety of novel water sources even if they already have plenty available to them. The search for varied water sources is one of several reasons that we suggest offering cats multiple water bowl locations.
That means dehydrated or not, even a mildly damp wall, like one in the bathroom right after a shower, may appeal to a cat. If you suspect that your cat is licking to get more water, there are a few questions you should ask.
Is kitty dehydrated?
Hydration is important to a cat’s health. For every 5 pounds that your cat weighs, they should drink around 3.5 to 4.5 ounces of water daily. Cats who eat wet food won’t need to drink as much water because of the water in the food, but cats who only eat dry food will need to rely on drinking.
But as former desert creatures, cats are notorious for their poor drinking habits. If you’re ever concerned that your cat is dehydrated, try offering more water sources and consult your veterinarian.
Is the water bowl clean?
Water bowls should be kept clean and refreshed every day. If a cat decides that the water isn’t fresh, it’s not going to drink from it.
When keeping the water fresh is a concern, many pet owners choose to buy a pet fountain with replaceable water filters that keep the water cleaner and fresher for much longer. These fountains still need to be cleaned regularly to prevent bacteria growth, but you won’t need to change the water as often.
Cats also prefer running water because they can’t see water well at all. A fountain allows a cat to use its powerful sense of hearing to locate the water, which might make it easier for your cat to stay hydrated throughout the day without needing to search for a wet wall.
Is the water bowl in a safe place?
Keeping the bowl in an area that is out of the way and safe from larger animals can help your cat feel safer while drinking.
If you have large dogs, or other animals who might take up a lot of space, it can be difficult for a cat to peacefully drink. Cats may also seek out moisture from a wall or dripping sink if their water bowl or fountain is being used by a cat they don’t get along with.
Cats are territorial, and if your cat knows that it may get into a fight if it tries to drink while another cat is nearby, it might stop using the bowl entirely. Your wall might just look like the safer option, even if it’s a little unconventional.
Reason 4: Your Cat is Just…Bored
Do you ever get bored?
Cats do too! If your cat doesn’t get enough playtime, they might lick your wall repeatedly because it needs something to do. Boredom in cats can cause all sorts of repetitive behaviors, so bringing new toys or scratching posts into your home can provide the entertainment that your cat needs.
Reason 5: Your Cat May Have a Medical or Psychological Condition
While your cat is likely to lick the wall because of some of the simpler reasons already mentioned, there is a chance that the problem is something else entirely. There are a few medical and psychological reasons that might be the cause of your cat’s behavior, and these might be less obvious and harder to fix.
The disorder known as feline pica is one of the first conditions that come to mind when a cat appears to frequently lick or eat non-food items. In some cats, this might mean eating or licking plastic, wires, furniture, blankets, or other household objects. Walls are certainly no exception. Certain wall types, like concrete, are more likely to be related to pica than others.
Even though pica is considered its own syndrome, the suspected causes are often wrapped up in other problems with the cat’s health or living space.
Nutritional deficiencies can also cause problems that lead to pica.
Just like people, cats can get pretty stressed out!
This could be caused by a new addition to the family like another pet or a new baby. It could also be caused by a recent move or a new noisy appliance. If you’re worried that your cat is licking the wall because of a change at home, it’s important to identify the problem and figure out a way to make your cat more comfortable.
If the wall licking happens a lot, your cat’s habit may become compulsive, which can be harder to deal with in the long run.
Cats are known to develop compulsive behaviors in response to stress. A compulsive behavior is anything your cat does repeatedly even though it’s bad for them or unnecessary. While compulsive grooming is a common way that cats deal with their anxiety, it’s possible that your cat might lick the walls excessively if the action is something that feels familiar or soothing.
Figuring out why the wall licking has become your cat’s way to handle stress is another story. Compulsive behaviors, while concerning, are usually just a symptom. They don’t reveal the cause of your cat’s stress, and people may wonder if they even need to be concerned about the licking.
This begs the question: can licking the wall make your cat sick?
The answer really comes down to whatever covers the surface of the wall, and that’s most commonly paint.
Is Wall Paint Toxic to Cats?
It really depends on the type of paint. It goes without question that cats shouldn’t be left unsupervised in a room that has just been painted, but even dry paint has its risks.
Water-based paints, like acrylics, can cause stomach upset if ingested, but are unlikely to cause severe problems, especially if your cat is just licking the wall and not chewing on it.
Latex paints can also cause stomach upset, but are more dangerous because some of them can contain ethylene-glycol, a compound commonly known as the antifreeze used in cars. Ingesting even small amounts of these paints can also cause damage to the brain and kidneys and make your cat feel really awful.
Then there are oil based paints which are commonly used on walls. These are more toxic to cats because they contain more volatile organic compounds than many other types of paint.
Although lead-based paint hasn’t been legal in the United States for decades, it may cover the walls of some older buildings. Paint made with lead is poisonous to animals, and even a small amount is toxic. A small chip of lead-based paint the size of a fingernail can reportedly cause poisoning in dogs up to 20lbs, so house cats are also at risk.
Regardless of the type of paint, the common signs of poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, and a loss of appetite.
Although ingesting enough ethylene-glycol through licking is rare, cats who consume enough to be poisoned can become lethargic, clumsy, urinate less, and change their eating and drinking habits. Cats who ingest lead-based paint can experience all of the above as well as seizures, tremors, weakness, blindness, and difficulty breathing.
But to be clear, if your cat isn’t licking the wall all the time, it is very unlikely that your cat will develop paint poisoning. If your cat has begun licking the wall compulsively, there is a greater chance that chemicals in the wall paint may have a negative effect on your feline friend.
If you suspect your cat has developed paint poisoning from licking the walls of your house or apartment, you should contact your veterinarian or emergency vet clinic immediately. Just note that there is a difference between licking and ingesting.
Should You Worry?
If your cat doesn’t seem to be sick and is only licking the wall on occasion, you’re probably fine to let them be. However, it’s always a good idea to rule out any of the health conditions mentioned above before you assume your cat is just a bit of a weirdo. When in doubt, check with your veterinarian to see if there’s something you’ve missed.
If your cat is just licking one wall and not every wall in the house, you can always block the wall with something that can’t be pushed aside or knocked over easily. You can also find pet-safe sprays that will make the wall smell or taste unappealing. Your cat will probably lose interest over time and put the wall licking to rest.
Cats do things that we find really strange, so it isn’t surprising that some cats might lick the wall.
As long as you’ve ruled out any issues with nutrition or water and the licking hasn’t caused other health concerns for your furry friend, you might consider it another quirk that makes your cat unique.
Which reason do you think best explains why your feline friends licks the wall?