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Why Does My Cat Lick My Face When I Sleep? (Risky?)

If your cat is licking your face when you sleep you may be wondering why and what you can do about it.

Why does my cat lick my face when I sleep?

In most cases, your cat may be licking your face when you sleep simply for showing affection. Cats groom each other quite often and for them it’s a form of affectionate socialization. They like each other and trust each other enough to share grooming and sometimes they’ll bring a favorite human into that circle.

So, now you know. But, is this a good sign? How can you prevent it if you dislike it? Should you even be letting your cat into your bed? Keep reading for these answers, and so much more…

Could your cat be licking your face out of anxiety?

Cat licking it's nose.

Cat licking it’s nose.

While licking is generally just ‘social grooming’, it can also be a sign of anxiety in some cases, so it’s important to consider if anything recently has changed when you are determining why your cat is licking your face when you sleep.

So, your cat may simply be showing you affection, but we should mention that it’s important to note any behavior preceding this. If the licking seems completely new, think about what has changed in the house or your routine recently to put it into proper context.

Is it a good sign if your cat licks your face?

Generally, yes. In most cases it’s a sign of trust and affection. There are exceptions, of course, such as if you’ve recently been exercising and you’re sweaty. In that case, your cat might just enjoy the salt on your face!

Your cat might even be ‘teaching’ you to groom yourself or if you’ve recently had a yummy lunch, your cat might simply be hoping that you’ve left a taste for them on your face.

How can you prevent your cat licking your face when you sleep?

This can be tricky. Some recommend that you try to distract them with food, but this can backfire and teach your cat that licking you awake means that they get a treat! Aside from shutting your bedroom door at night, there is one simple technique that you can try which might pay off with a little patience.

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When your cat licks you, try gently nudging them into a sitting or laying position next to you. If your cat just wants to feel close, then persisting in doing this may teach them to simply snuggle up to you at night when they want to be closer.

If your cat just wants you to wake up and play, however, then you might be better off getting a ‘kitty condo’ that you can put close to the bed which has some toys built in on it. You can add some strings and catnip inside and then instead of licking you when they are bored, your cat might just be content to play nearby on their own.

Should you let your cat sleep with you?

Cat under a blanket.

Cat under a blanket.

If you are a heavy sleeper and not prone to rolling over then it’s fine to let your cat climb into bed with you. It helps to destress your cat and it’s also quite comforting for you at the same time. That said, if you are a light sleeper, then letting your cat sleep in bed might not be ideal.

This is because cats are nocturnal and their little comings and goings during the night might wake you and disturb your sleep cycle enough to make you feel tired in the morning.

Give it a try and see if it is a good fit for both you and your cat, but if you find yourself waking up less-than-refreshed then it might be better to shut your bedroom door at night.

Alternately, you can get a cat bed or a kitty condo and encourage them to use this. That way you can both be close at night without disturbing your normal sleep patterns.

What does it mean when a cat licks your face?

When you’re not sleeping and your cat just comes up and starts licking your face, this is generally considered to be a form of affectionate bonding. Have you ever seen a momma kitty with her kittens? One thing you can’t help but notice is the excessive grooming.

Aside from keeping the kitten clean and teaching them to potty on their own, this licking also serves to show affection and your cat may simply be carrying on this behavior by licking you affectionately just like their mom did for them.

Finally, sometimes cats just lick you as a form of ‘marking you’ as their own. Familiar scents make them feel comfortable and rubbing and licking you is just a way to tell other animals that you ‘belong to the car’ and are ‘off-limits’ for everyone else.

Is it bad for your cat to lick your face?

While it’s cute and your cat certainly means well, it’s actually a good idea to go ahead and discourage your cat from licking you directly in the face (especially around the mouth). The reasoning behind this is bacteria and also the occasional fecal matter that comes from when your cat is grooming their privates.

This can be especially risky if someone in the house has a compromised immune system due to specific health issues or advanced age. Bacterial infections like Pasteurella Multocida can be easily passed in these cases, but even with a healthy immune system it’s a good idea to discourage face licking from your cat.

Do cats protect you when you sleep?

That is one possible interpretation of why a cat is choosing to sleep on top of you at night. Unlike humans, cats sleep lightly and are ready to leap up and go into action at the slightest disturbance if necessary. 

This doesn’t necessarily mean your cat is protecting you, however, as a second interpretation is that they may just feel safer sleeping close to you.  

Why does my cat lick me every night?

In most cases this is completely safe and normal, just indicating trust and affection for you on the part of your cat. That said, if you notice that your cat is licking you and themselves excessively then it might actually be a sign of stress and a warning sign of psychogenic alopecia.

Psychogenic alopecia is a condition where your cat is licking too much in reaction to stress and if you notice that your cat is licking their skin to the point of rashes or bald-patches then you should schedule a visit with the vet as soon as possible.

This will help you to determine if there is something physical going on or it’s a behavioral issue so that you can take the steps that you need to help your kitty.  

Why do cats bite then lick?

Sometimes cats do this just because that’s the type of grooming that they received when they were kittens. In other cases it can be indicative of stress or boredom.  With biting followed by licking, the most important thing to notice is the context and the strength of the bite.

 A light bite might just be a ‘love bite’ to show affection or your cat might just be trying to get your attention. A harder bite is more likely to be a warning and if your cat breaks the skin, then they are either very upset with you or they may be in pain from something that is not readily visible.

If you’ve ruled out something that you might have done to irritate them, then a vet visit is a good idea to see what’s got your cat so upset.

How can I get my cat to sleep through the night?

Cats are nocturnal so getting them to sleep through the night is largely going to depend on them. They may or may not change their schedule for you. That said, you can ‘cover your bases’ with a few strategies to help ensure that your cat is less tempted to wake you up for playtime or other reasons.

First off, your cat might be getting hungry in the middle of the night, so get in the habit of checking the food bowl before you go to sleep. Secondly, to reduce the chances of your cat getting bored, investing in a few toys that aren’t on the noisy side might be a good idea.

That way if your cat wants to play a little and then go back to bed, they won’t need you to do that. Finally, when your cat DOES wake you, don’t overreact, just gently nudge them to a spot next to you and pet them a little so that they will relax.

With a little luck and persistence, the security that comes from sleeping close to you – and the bonus body heat– might just convince your cat that going back to sleep is a good idea.

Lindsey Browlingdon