“My cat keeps licking her lips and shaking her head! Why does she keep doing that? What’s wrong with her?”. You’re trying not to let your emotions get the best of you but you’re only human. You’re thinking of every pawsible reason why she keeps doing what she’s doing but you can’t think of a good one.
“Maybe she’s hurting and that’s her way of begging for help? Maybe she heard something strange and that’s her way of warning me?!”, you keep thinking to yourself. And, maybe you are overreacting because you watched enough horror films to predict what happens after the licking and the shaking.
“Oh no, a zombie apocalypse?!”, you mumble under your breath as you watch your fluffy friend lick and shake her day away. You’re pretty sure you wouldn’t be the only one to notice the start of a freakin’ zombie apocalypse. But, your fluffy friend’s odd movements are stressing you out, and you don’t really know what you’re doing anymore.
You might be overthinking and overanalyzing the situation a little bit. But, that’s nothing strange for a pet parent that’s trying to protect a precious purrincess. Take a deep breath and consider the fact that cats display such attention-seeking behavior all the time.
That’s right, cats lick their lips after they’ve scoffed down an entire thing of Fancy Feast. And, they don’t only lick their lips! They lick themselves clean after every meal, every snuggle session, and every attempt you make to squish and squeeze them because they’re so, so adorable.
Oh, and the shaking of the head? Come on, cats shake their heads whenever they’re munching on something that hasn’t cooled down. Or whenever they’re playing with the prey – butterflies, bugs, and other crawling creatures. But, we’re here to give you the entire scoop.
Cat communication and cat body language
“My cat keeps being weird! Why?”
Honey, your fluffy friend has been communicating with you this entire time! She might not speak English and she might not have the same body language as humans. But, that’s not to say that she doesn’t have her own way of communicating with you.
And, cats have been regarded as mysterious, withdrawn, and capricious for centuries. ONLY because humans couldn’t deal with the fact that these curious creatures don’t bark the moment that they catch a glimpse of the mailman.
We’re kidding, but cats have been wrongfully accused of being recluses because humans couldn’t understand them.
Trust me, your four-legged friend can (and does) communicate with you even though you might not understand her. She sends you different messages through body language, carefully thought-out vocalizations, and even scent cues. Oh, you thought those meows and purrs meant nothing?!
As a matter of fact, every movement and change of behavior sends a message of some sort. She might perk up her ears when she’s curious about something you’re doing. She might narrow her eyes to appear like little slits when she’s getting ready to attack your foot that’s been wiggling for a minute or two.
And, she might even hold her tail tall and straight when she wants you to approach her and play with her. You have a lot of different ways to correspond when you’re a cat. You’re not reduced to sounds and words that might mean something but never mean as much as a “bottle brush” tail or “headbutting.”
Cats aren’t cold and reserved because humans don’t understand them. Cats are expressive and talkative, and they literally possess the largest number of vocalizations out of the domestic bunch. And, there’s no reason for you to not take the time of the day to learn them.
Understanding your cat’s communication cues – “My cat keeps licking lips and shaking head! Why?”
“I know that she might be trying to communicate something, but I don’t know what! What’s going on?”. Well, clearly you know something because you came knocking on the right door!
We’ve done the digging and the gathering. And we’re bringing you a list of reasons why your precious purrincess might be licking her lips and shaking her head. Maybe she’s messing with you on purpose or maybe she’s dealing with a serious health problem. You won’t know unless you do some digging yourself!
1. Ear infection alert!
“My cat keeps licking her lips and shaking her head! I’m not really sure what’s the reason behind that, but she sometimes appears uncomfortable or unhappy when doing that. What should I do?!” Contact your vet, for starters, because your fluffy friend might have some ear problems.
Ear infections are as common among cats as they are among dogs. As a matter of fact, when you take your cat to the vet because she’s shaking her head, your vet’s probably going to check her ears with an otoscope before anything else. And, ear infections are easily dealt with.
Actually, some of the symptoms might make your skin crawl – shaking of the head, scratching and pawing at the skin, yellowish or greenish discharge, mucus, and a gut-wrenching, disgusting scent coming from her ears. That’s right, that’s a telltale sign of an infection and you better rush your fluff to the vet’s office.
But, with the right creams and medications (and a lot of patience and love) your fluffy friend should be as good as new before you can utter “Keep those ears clean, kitty!”
2. What about ear mites?
Oh, and we can’t forget about another ear problem – ear mites! As a matter of fact, ear mites can make your fluff’s life miserable even though they aren’t necessarily life-threatening. But, that’s not to say that ear mites won’t lead to a bunch of other (more serious) health problems.
First things first, ear mites are parasites that live inside of your cat’s ear canal and feed off of your cat’s ear wax and ear oils. “Umm, ewww!?” Ear mites latch their eggs inside of your cat’s ears where they hatch, develop, and reproduce once more. An endless cycle of grossness and raunch, right?
And, when left untreated, ear mites can cause inflammation inside of your cat’s ear. This, in turn, leads to an ear infection (which we already touched upon). But, ear mites can also lead to horrible accidents from excessive pawing, clawing, and scratching of the ears – such as a blood vessel rupture.
So, make sure you check your cat’s ears regularly and schedule an appointment with your vet when you have any reason to believe that the licking and the shaking stem from ear mites. Check her ears, you can actually see them with your eyes!
3. Keep an eye out for lice!
Are we the only ones getting the heebie-jeebies? When your cat keeps licking her lips and shaking her head, you might want to check for another parasite – lice. Writing that word’s giving me shivers, and you can only imagine what the real thing’s doing to your fluffy friend.
What even are lice? Lice are wingless, six-legged bugs that latch onto your precious pet’s fur and feed off of her blood. Some of the most common symptoms you might notice (other than the licking and the shaking) are itching, scratching, falling out of the fur, skin irritations, and inflammations.
Not to mention that you might be able to see the little bugs crawling over your poor, little friend. And, here’s the worst part of getting lice. She might be shaking or pawing and clawing at her skin which might cause tears, cuts, and severe bleeding.
Luckily, lice are treatable and can be eradicated. Contact your vet the moment that you notice the symptoms or spot the crawling creatures on your cat.
4. Allergy symptoms, perhaps?
That’s right, there’s a chance your cat might keep licking her lips and shaking her head because she’s experiencing an allergic reaction. Maybe you’ve given her a cat treat she hasn’t eaten before. Maybe she’s been sneaking off to your neighbor’s house and playing with something.
Or, maybe she’s been sniffing around your herb garden every time you forget to lock the door. Whatever the case might be, you shouldn’t rule out an allergic reaction simply because you’ve never heard of licking and shaking as common symptoms.
As a matter of fact, she might be licking her lips as a response to eating something she’s allergic to. More often than not, an allergen might cause swelling and itchiness that can lead to licking of the lips to ease the discomfort. And, she might be shaking her head because of the itchiness around her eyes, ears, or fur.
Depending on the severity of your cat’s allergic reactions, she might have to spend a couple of days at the vet’s office to do some tests and make sure she’s not allergic to something she eats or sniffs every day. Good luck (if that’s what’s causing the licking and the shaking, of course)!
5. Polyps could be the answer!
Oh, another ear thing! Makes sense that ear problems would be the number one culprit for making your fluffy friend shake her head, right? And, makes sense that you wouldn’t notice a polyp since polyps aren’t necessarily visible from the outside. But, what exactly are polyps?
Polyps are growths that start from your fluff’s middle ear, outer ear, or even nasal cavity. And, there are a couple of symptoms that might help you determine whether your cat’s dealing with polyps.
Some of the most common symptoms are head tilting and shaking, ear-scratching, sneezing, wheezing, drooling, dripping out of the nose, drooping eyelids, and even abnormal eye movements and twitching. She might not be licking her lips, but her entire face because of that much mucus!
But, you don’t have much to worry about since polyps are easily treated and removed surgically. Contact your vet and schedule an appointment ASAP – better safe than sorry, right?
6. Have you ever heard about “pillow ear?”
Oh, but “pillow ear” sounds sweet and snuggly! But, the correct term “aural hematoma” might not sound as appealing. Especially when you remember your cat’s excessive head shaking and lip licking.
Now, we might freak you out a bit with this one because “pillow ear” isn’t the cause for head shaking, but rather the result. And, that might be the reason why you should take your cat’s “odd behavior” seriously regardless of the fact that you’re scared of coming across as one of those pet parents.
Here’s the thing with “pillow ear.“ The blood vessels that are found within the pinna of the ear can burst to cause the pinna to fill out with blood.
Oh and, that’s where the name comes from. When the pinna fills out with blood, the whole area starts looking like a puffy pillow. While the name might be cute, the condition certainly isn’t. After the diagnosis, the pillow may be drained of the blood or surgically removed.
7. Have you checked her teeth?
“My cat keeps licking her lips and shaking her head! What on Earth could cause such odd behavior considering she hasn’t had health problems for a while?”. Your furry friend might be healthy, but that’s not to say that her teeth are. As a matter of fact, a cat’s teeth are typically the most neglected part of the body.
One of the reasons why your furry friend keeps licking her lips and shaking her head could be the onset of dental disease. Symptoms to keep an eye out for are bad breath, munching on food with discomfort, reduced appetite, growling and clawing when touched around the mouth area, drooling, licking, and shaking.
And, we can’t forget that poor oral hygiene and dental disease can cause a bunch of other health problems. So, contact your vet the moment that you notice any of the symptoms and make sure you keep your vet up-to-date with the licking and shaking.
8. Ew, something tastes gross!
Now we’re moving on to something A LOT more light-hearted! Who’s to say your fluffy friend’s suffering from terrible ear problems or dental disease when she could simply be reacting to the not-so-paw-licking food you’ve been trying to shove down her throat? Why would she want to nibble on Marmite?!
That’s right, your kitty might be doing the licking and the shaking because she doesn’t like the taste of whatever she’s been munching on. Think about that, what has she been eating for the past couple of days that could have caused such an attention-seeking behavior?
Maybe you’ve shared some of your dinners with her. But, she didn’t enjoy the fancy food (that cauliflower puree doesn’t seem to tick ANY boxes for her). Or, maybe she licked the window right after you were done with the cleaning. And, she certainly didn’t like the taste of Windex!
While there isn’t a reason for you to freak out over that, you might want to contact the vet to ease your mind. Other than that, your kitty should be as good as new as long as you don’t feed her anything she doesn’t like.
9. Stress, stress, and more stress
“My cat keeps licking her lips and shaking her head! She seems overwhelmed, but who’s to say? What does she mean by that?” Have you considered stress as the reason why she’s been acting a certain way? Stress can have debilitating effects on our fluffy friend’s health and we shouldn’t overlook that.
First things first, you might want to try to figure out why your cat’s been stressed out. As a matter of fact, that should be difficult because cats consider every change a negative one, as well as one to cause stress and anxiety (they’re exactly like us!).
So, a veterinary visit, a kitten you brought home from work, moving from one place to another, new friends, neighbors, or other visitors, or even something they’ve witnessed when they were watching through the window might send them into an endless cycle of lip licking and head shaking.
And, we’re not even kidding – movements are often one of the first symptoms cats display when they’re dealing with stress. But, the two of you can work on decreasing her anxiety by removing the stress factors, giving natural remedies a chance, or trying pheromone sprays.
10. OCD, maybe?
Last but not least, we can’t forget about OCD! And, before you say anything, cats can have OCD the same way you can. They have their own little rituals that they repeat for no apparent reason. From an outside perspective, these rituals might not seem like they serve a purpose. And, that’s why we label them as OCD.
The licking of the lips and the shaking of the head that come and go without a cause seem like they fit the whole OCD thing to a tee. And, that’s nothing to freak out over. Your fluffy friend can live a great life with or without this diagnosis.
Some other symptoms you might want to keep an eye out for are overgrooming, licking of the blanket, repetitive movements, and different sorts of twitching (similar to Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome). Contact your vet the moment that you notice any of the symptoms IF your cat hasn’t been diagnosed beforehand.
When do lip licking and head shaking become a “contact the vet” problem?
“My cat keeps licking her lips and shaking her head! When does such behavior become a problem? When should I contact the vet and ask for an evaluation!?”. Actually, the licking of the lips and the shaking of the head that occur at the same time might ALWAYS be a cause to contact the vet.
More times than not, cats that display such behavior are dealing with a health problem. Whether that’s a problem with ear mites, dental disease, or OCD, you might need to take your cat to the vet’s office the moment that you notice the symptoms. Trust me; you’d rather be safe than sorry.
Make sure you keep the vet up-to-date with your cat’s behavior and he should be able to make sense of the whole situation. Even when you find out that your cat’s not dealing with a serious health scare (bless her little heart), you’re better off knowing you’ve done the right thing and consulted with a professional.