Why Do Cats lick But Don’t Eat? Click Here…

cat licking from a stainless bowl

This is a title that answers the question as to why do cats lick but don’t eat. It should be information on what the question means and why it’s an important question. A number of reasons exist for your cat’s behavior is usually related to satiation and self-stimulation behaviors.

As a result, cats often express their hedonistic tendencies through licking or other behaviors that are not considered true feeding behaviors like biting or chewing on food. Though there are many instances where the cat may be forced (often by children) to take part in actual eating, this behavior does not produce any actual substance for it to ingest.

Cats are idiosyncratic creatures. One of the strangest things about them is their refusal to eat when they lick. It makes sense that if cats lick something as a sign of affection or ownership, they wouldn’t want to ingest it, but does this physiological response have anything else to do with why we see so many cats go off their food?

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Why do cats lick but don’t eat?

Cats have a special taste bud in their tongues, which humans don’t have. These taste buds are called pheromone receptors and are responsible for helping to identify the chemical signature of other cats. Cats’ pheromone receptors can also be found in their cheeks and on their skin between the toes. When your cat licks these areas, it is actually stimulating the same receptor that makes cat urine smell so bad to us!

The reason your cat may be licking these areas is because they smell familiar, but doesn’t want to ingest any of the actual substance. The licking behavior is purely a sign of affection and a way to promote health in the body.

Cats are “picky” and don’t want to eat anything that is unfamiliar. They may also be acting out of fear. If the cat encounters a new smell or object, it will lick compulsively in an attempt to identify the danger. This can take the form of twirling its head around, licking its nose, or rearranging its fur in an attempt to steer away from whatever is causing the strange behavior.

This behavior may also be motivated by health issues like worms or a parasite infection. In this case, the cat, again, will lick excessively in an attempt to rid itself of the infection. If your cat suddenly stops eating, this behavior could be a symptom of more serious problems than just a nutritional deficiency.

Cats are territorial animals, and this may cause them to feel threatened by the food bowl itself. This can be compounded by the fact that we feed our cats from bowls on the floor. Many cats see their food bowl as a rival for territory and will use licking as a way to intimidate their meal into leaving them alone.

The cat’s behavior is not only instinctive but it also has an emotional component. Your cat may have experienced negative experiences at the hands of humans and is trying to avoid them by showing an obvious sign of affection.

white cat standing next to its bowl

Your cat may have been forced to eat food that gave it a stomachache or resulted in other negative feelings. It may be that your cat had its first taste of food at human hands, but ran screaming from the table in terror.

In addition to the natural responses that your cat may have, you may be forcing it to eat things that seem foreign or disgusting to it. Your cat is not a dog, and will not naturally take food in its mouth and swallow it.

Often times, this means that our cats have been fed human food exclusively from puppyhood on. It’s important to remember that cats are hunters and carnivores, which means that we should not offer wet foods as cat meals.

Cats will only eat if they’re hungry. They do not understand the reason for eating other than the fact that their body needs fuel. If your cat is on a lower calorie diet, it may be experiencing abnormal hunger signals.

Cats are natural hunters, and they get hungry and thirsty differently than humans. If you insist on a dry food diet for them, you may have to increase the amount that you give. Cats naturally eat small portions throughout the day in order to keep themselves full. This means that overfeeding your cat can actually cause it to stop eating altogether.

Your cat’s behavior might be a protest at the mealtime routine itself. Most cats prefer smaller portions of food scattered throughout the day as opposed to one large meal.

It turns out there may be some evolutionary reasons for why cats do lick but don’t eat.

Read on to find out more!

7 reasons why cats do lick but don’t eat

Here are several reasons why cats lick but don’t eat. Some of the reasons are simple, while others require a little more understanding of how cats behave and think.

Just as in humans, cats will often lick their paws after they come inside from a walk or if they happen to be grooming themselves throughout the day. This behavior can serve a number of purposes, but it’s not actually feeding behavior. Likewise, a cat that licks its favorite toy is simply doing so out of affection for the object.

The reasons why your cat might engage in this behavior could have something to do with their natural instincts and emotions. These reasons includes:

  1. Stress:
    If your cat is in a new environment, it might be nervous about being around other people and animals. If it is new to the household, it might not be used to being fed at certain times or from certain bowls. A cat that has been abused may lick excessively as a way of showing that it is stressed or uncomfortable.
  2. Territoriality:
    Cats are territorial by nature, but some cats give off more “personal space” vibes than others. The reason why they make their presence known to us by jumping on counters and knocking things over may have something to do with their desire to have control over their surroundings.
  3. Attention:
    Cats are affectionate animals, however they usually don’t ask for attention. When your cat licks you or a member of the family, it’s not necessarily asking for food. It may be that it wants more affection or is trying to tell you something.
  4. Fear:
    If your cat begins licking excessively after it has encountered an unfamiliar object or animal, it may be in fear and trying to identify the danger. In many cases, this means that a cat will lick its paw and then smell it in order to better understand what the new scent is.

Cats have very sensitive noses, so they will often smell things that we can’t normally smell. If something is new to your cat, it may be trying to avoid an unfamiliar scent.

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  1. The smell of food:
    If your cat has never tasted human food or is too old to be nursed by its mother, it may have been fed a dry food diet almost exclusively. This means that the cat may have developed an aversion to the taste of what it ate as a kitten.
  2. Hunger:
    Cats are naturally carnivorous, but it’s important to remember that they only eat when they’re hungry. If they’re not hungry, they won’t eat. If the cat has been consistently fed in a slow way, it’s possible that the stomach may be full. This means that the cat will not be in a position to eat anything but more of what it is given at mealtime.
  3. Littermates:
    When your cat licks its food, it may not be because of hunger at all. It may be trying to establish a pecking order within the family. It’s possible that the cat is simply trying to determine its place in the hierarchy of things in the household.

6 Ways to stop your cat from licking but not eating

There are several ways that you can stop your cat from licking but not eating. These techniques are aimed at ending both the cause and the symptoms of this common behavior.

  1. Position:
    Whenever possible, position the cat on a comfortable surface that offers it a view of the food bowl or other object that it is attracted to. If this means setting up a “command center” with extra treats and of course, food dishes, then so be it. This will make the job of stopping your cat from licking but not eating much easier.
  2. Distractions:
    Put a treat in front of your cat’s nose, and do something else for it for as long as you possibly can. What you’re doing is preventing your cat from being able to focus on its meal just yet by providing distraction before that moment arrives.
  3. Try a different bowl:
    Cats are particular about the dishes that they use. If your cat has stopped eating, it’s possible that it doesn’t like the dish that you’re using. Try a new one and watch the behavior to see if this is really the case.
  4. Exercise:
    Many cats will start licking immediately after they have been exercised, such as after they have come in from a walk or played with their favorite toy. If this is happening to your cat, try redirecting its attention with affectionate pets or play before you offer food so that its mind is already diverted from its old habits.
  5. Scents:
    Cats will often react to different scents by licking. This is why it’s better to use unscented or less aromatic cleaners and air fresheners in the house. If your cat is licked out of fear, try making its environment more comforting by adding a new cat tree or scratching post.
  6. Change the food:
    If your cat doesn’t seem to like what it’s eating, try switching it for something else that you know that you’re a fan of. If you have never tried a particular kind of cat food, give it a shot, but be sure to follow the instructions on the packaging.


Hopefully, this short article has given you a better idea of why cats do lick but don’t eat. Cats are truly amazing animals and it’s wonderful to see them in action. Although the licking itself isn’t always indicative of something being wrong, the frequency of the behavior can be concerning.

Your veterinarian can take a look at your cat and give it a thorough examination to see if something is off with its health. For some cats, when the time comes, it’s heart-wrenching. Others, it’s just something that they do.

If your cat is licking but not eating, please seek the help of a veterinarian. These professionals can help you to identify the cause of the licking and implement an appropriate treatment plan.

brown cat eating from a white bowl

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