Why is my cat licking the floor?

Why is my cat licking the floor?

Cats are eccentric and highly individual characters. They all have different personalities and their own little quirks — including licking the wood floor and other surfaces. While it’s not necessarily bad for cats to lick the floor, there are a few potential issues with this kind of behaviour.

Why is my cat licking the floor? It may be that food or drink was spilled on the floor. Some cleaning agents may be palatable to the cat. A few cats enjoy the flavour and odour of certain floor coverings or treatments. The texture of the surface may produce a pleasant sensation on your cat’s tongue. Rarely, a cat may lick floors due to a nutritional deficiency.

You’ve arrived on this page because your cat is licking the wood floor or another surface and you’re concerned about this behaviour. You probably have a lot of questions:

  • Why my cat is licking the wooden & concrete floor?
  • Why my cat is licking walls and furniture?
  • Is there some kind of health problem?
  • Could licking the floor make my cat sick?

Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place. We have the answers you’re looking for. Just read on to find out more about licking and other odd behaviours.

Why is my cat licking the floor?

There are a lot of possible answers to this question. The most obvious one is that something tasty was spilled there recently and your cat can still smell or taste it. Even if the odour is undetectable to a human, a cat’s highly sensitive olfactory equipment might still be able to pick it up.

Thus, if you dripped a little milk from your morning tea or slopped the juice from a tin of tuna onto the floor, your cat may still be able to detect the intriguing aroma. She may even taste the substance when she licks the floor. This is especially likely to be the case with porous surfaces, such as wooden floorboards or unsealed concrete or quarry tiles. If there are gaps between the tiles or boards, the cat may be able to detect food or drink residue that’s found its way into the interstices.

The solution for this kind of temporary behaviour is to scrub the spot the cat is licking more thoroughly. Even if you’ve already cleaned up, it might take one or two more passes before the cat can no longer smell the substance she’s trying to lick up. A cat’s senses are very different from ours.

Substances in plastic flooring

While you and I might not find the idea of sniffing and licking the wood floor particularly appealing, a cat’s taste and smell are very different from our own. They can taste and smell all sorts of things we can’t and they have a very different response to certain compounds than we do.

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In particular, cats can pick up on volatile compounds used in plastics. This is one reason you might catch your cat chewing a plastic bag or trying to climb inside it. Plastics can taste or smell like food to cats. This including the plastics that are used to make floor-coverings. Varnishes and paints also contain compounds that cats may find appealing.

As well as tasting and smelling pleasant, some compounds in plastics are intoxicating for cats. Have you ever seen a cat burrow inside a plastic bag and sit there purring? It’s very likely that the animal is enjoying the intoxicating effect of the compounds exuded by the plastic bag. They are, not to put too fine a point on it, “huffing” the fumes from the plastic. Something similar may happen when the cat is licking the floor: she’s ingesting small quantities of a compound that makes her feel good. This is most likely to be the case if the floor is painted or varnished. That said, plastic and vinyl floor coverings can also exude these fumes, especially if they were put down recently and the material is still new. I once lived with a cat who would climb inside a plastic bag whenever you left one where he could see it; he was also obsessed with licking the vinyl floor-covering in the kitchen and a specific plastic chew toy. There was something in those plastics he couldn’t leave alone.

Substances in concrete and cement

Concrete and cement floors don’t have the same volatile compounds that plastics have. They do, however, contain minerals and other compounds that are tasty or otherwise interesting to cats. Indoors, or inside garages and sheds, the concrete floor may exude salts and minerals that the cat finds pleasant to lick. External paths and patios may also contain these substances; in addition, they’re likely to have growths of algae, moss or weeds that a cat may find attractive. Although cats don’t need vegetable matter in their diets, they may enjoy the flavour or derive some supplemental nutritional benefit. A friend’s cat appeared to be licking the concrete in her driveway but turned out to be nibbling the grass in the cracks.

The cat may not be licking the concrete itself but actually, be eating small insects that live on the surface. Clover mites, spider mites and similar tiny insects can be plentiful on concrete surfaces and it seems that cats enjoy eating them. It never ceases to amuse me that a cat who turns up her nose at every single cat food except a single flavour of the most expensive high-end recipe will happily spend hours chasing spiders to nibble on.

Another feature of cement and concrete flooring is the texture. It’s slightly rough and may be interesting for your cat to lick.

Cats and pica

Cats are extremely prone to pica. This is the medical term given to regularly eating non-food items. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a cat who did not exhibit this to a degree, from cats who chewed clothing and carpets to one who insisted on eating the handles from plastic carrier bags. I fostered a young tom for a while who had the habit of sucking on textiles, especially yarn; I learned that this is called “wool-sucking” and is common in cats who were removed from their mother too early. There are almost as many forms of (and reasons for) pica as there are cats.

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Licking walls and floors can also be a form of pica, as the cat is probably ingesting at least a small amount of material. While this is often harmless and doesn’t indicate any underlying problems, in other cases it can suggest that your cat is struggling with a health issue. One of the more serious problems that could be behind your cat’s odd habit is a nutritional deficiency.

Anaemia is a very common issue with cats and is often the underlying cause of pica. Think about your cat’s behaviour: does she have any odd habits outside of licking the floor? If your cat eats dirt or chews granules of kitty litter, you may well be looking at an anaemic cat. Anaemia — a deficiency in the red blood cells — can drive cats to eat all kinds of strange things.

If your cat spends a lot of time obsessively licking floors, especially if you often catch her eating other things she shouldn’t, you may need to take her to the vet to have her examined. Sometimes the treatment is as simple as changing her food or supplementing her diet with iron-rich foods. In other cases, the anaemia may be caused by a more serious health issue that may need to be addressed. There are multiple diseased and medical problems that can make your cat anaemic or cause other deficiencies, and none of them is good news.

Moisture and dehydration

If your cat licks smooth or cool surfaces, the behaviour may be motivated by dehydration. Your cat may be licking a concrete or tiled surface to get at the condensation collecting on the surface. This can be perplexing to a caring owner who provides fresh, clean water every day. Why would the cat prefer to lick condensation off the floor than drink clean water from a bowl?

The reasons a cat might struggle to drink from a bowl are complicated. Some cats do not have great depth perception and may not be able to see the water in their bowl properly. You may find that a cat with this problem insists on slopping the water out of her bowl and then licking it up.

There’s a strong evolutionary imperative in cats to avoid water that might be contaminated in some way. Even a trace of grime or dust on the rim of the bowl can put a cat off drinking out of it. Another very common problem is that the water dish is too close to the food bowl: in a wild setting, food (in the shape of dead animals) that is too near a water source can contaminate that source when it begins to spoil. Your cat may therefore instinctively avoid water that’s been too near her food, even though there’s no possibility of contamination. (This, incidentally, is why some cats have the irritating habit of dragging their bowl across the kitchen before drinking.)

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You can help here by making sure that your cat’s water dish is emptied and filled with clean water regularly. Clean it very thoroughly in between refills. You might also leave the tap running a little from time to time so your cat can drink. The best solution is a pet drinking fountain, situated some distance from the food dish so that your cat won’t be put off. This may stop her from licking the floor because she has a better alternative.

Stopping your cat from licking the floor

Even after having her checked out by your vet, correcting her diet and providing an alternative to condensation on the floor, you may find that your cat persists in licking your kitchen linoleum. While licking the floor isn’t necessarily dangerous, it may be a good idea to discourage this behaviour as the cat might ingest things that aren’t good for her.

As well as the flooring itself, your cat may also be enticed by your cleaning products. Natural waxes, certain essential oils and other constituents in the cleaning materials you use on your floors may taste pleasant to some cats. They may also be unhealthy if ingested. Try using a different product — a pet-safe one — and see if this resolves the issue. A product that tastes bitter or unpleasant to cats may stop her from licking the floor.

If your cat is licking the floor out of boredom or a lack of stimulation, try making her space more cat-friendly. Provide interactive toys, particularly treat toys that she can chase around for a small reward of kibble. If your cat is nibbling or sucking the carpet, provide chew toys that won’t shed fibres and potentially upset her digestion.

If the motivation for licking the floor appears to be the texture rather than the taste or smell, you might persuade your cat to stop licking it if you put down mats or alternative floor coverings that have a different texture. A cheap alternative is to place foil or cling film over the floor where the licking takes place; many cats dislike the sensation this produce and may be deterred from licking it any more. Once they get out of the habit, you can remove the film or foil; the cat will often avoid the area even when the coverings are gone.

Article by Barbara Read
Barbara read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.