It’s one of the sweetest sights…one kitten leans into another and begins to lick its fur. As cute as we think this behavior is, there is actually practical logic behind it.
So, why do cats lick each other? For our finicky felines, licking is key to grooming, which, as any kitty owner knows, cats are obsessed with. They’re not just randomly flinging their tongues across each other but engaging in an elaborate communication system.
Many people think that cats who lick each other are showing their affection. While this is often true, there are many different reasons behind this conduct. And fortunately, if you have only one cat, it is a behavior you can replicate.
Why Do Cats Lick Each Other – Allogrooming
Allogrooming refers to animals grooming each other. This is a social activity that also provides health benefits. It’s common in many species. Among domestic animals, we see it most often in our felines.
Grooming themselves and each other is a behavior that cats learn from kittenhood and continue to practice throughout their lives.
Allogrooming is a multifunctional behavior that has many advantages. Understanding it will help you decipher your own kitty that much better.
1. Mothers Care for Their Kittens
Kittens are born extremely vulnerable. They’re blind and deaf, covered in blood, and generally relatively weak. The mother cat compensates for this by allogrooming.
By licking her kitten, the mother removes the blood (the scent of which could attract predators) from the newborn’s coat. In doing this, she also ensures that the young cat smells like its mother. This way, the mother can quickly find her baby by sniffing it out.
Furthermore, allogrooming, in this case, stimulates the kitten’s urinary tract and bowel system. This helps the baby pass urine and stool.
Finally, licking her kitten establishes a powerful bond between the mom and baby. This is crucial for a baby cat who is totally dependent on its mother.
2. They’re Family
Because cat litters generally contain three to five kittens – and as many as 19 – these animals grow up very socially. Kittens learn to groom after about four weeks, and, naturally, they begin to practice on each other.
While you may think allogrooming only happens between cats who are related, this isn’t correct. Cats groom their family not because they are related by blood but because they have a strong social relationship.
That relationship is likely to have been established from birth, meaning it is full of powerful instincts.
3. They Want to Bond
Felines groom other felines when they want to bond. So, if you have more than one cat and they’re not related, they may lick each other’s coats.
This is most likely to happen once the animals have known each other for a while or if they’re both still very young. You may also notice it when you welcome a new cat into the home: the established cats may be quick to include it with a lick on the head.
Forming a social relationship is an essential evolutionary strategy for many species. Cats are friendly animals who live in loose groups in the wild. Social cohesion allows them to share resources. Our domestic cats retain this instinctual pull towards bonding.
This is the same logic your kitty uses when she decides to give you a lick or two. She wants to bond with you by making you smell like her.
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4. It’s a Display of Dominance
Experienced cat owners know that when it comes to their kitties, things are never as innocent as they appear. This is true of allogrooming, too, which is also a tool for establishing dominance.
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If you watch your cats when they lick each other, you’ll probably notice that there’s generally one cat who does most of the grooming. That is likely to be the dominant cat. Yep, even domestic cats maintain a hierarchy.
Research confirms this. Most grooming is unidirectional (only one cat is licking), occurs without invitation, and is most often initiated by the male/dominant cat.
5. Cats Need Help Grooming
Most people associate grooming with maintaining hygiene, and this is very true. Cats have a tongue designed for grooming. Their tongue can detangle knots and remove dirt from their coats.
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Thanks to their tongue’s design, they can also move a lot of saliva from their mouths right to their skin. This is important because spit has antibacterial properties and helps to regulate body temperature.
Because grooming has so many health benefits, our kitties need to do it. But like you and me, who struggle to rub the suntan lotion on our backs, there are some spots our cats just can’t reach. That’s where a helpful friend comes in.
Cats often lick each other on the head and the ears. True, this is where these animals like to be petted, but it’s also an area they can’t reach with their own tongues.
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6. There’s a Health Problem
Cats also lick each other if the other is ill. In such a case, the one feline will concentrate on a particular spot with an injury or wound. This is how they try to comfort each other and heal any scratch with their antimicrobial saliva.
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If the cat receiving the allogrooming is looking unwell, it’s best to get a vet’s opinion. It could indicate something serious, such as kidney disease.
However, it could also be something more treatable, like a flea infestation. Cats who are stressed also tend to lick excessively, so it’s worth investigating if something may be causing anxiety.
Even if there isn’t a particular diagnosis, excessive licking isn’t a great idea because it can lead to hairballs and balding.
Try to alleviate this nervous energy with a play session or provide a scratch post.
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How Can You Simulate Allogrooming?
If you have just one kitty at home, don’t worry about him missing out. You can easily substitute another cat’s licks with some petting and brushing.
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Cats like it when you stroke them because it’s similar to how they show affection for each other. They tend to nudge each other with their scent glands, which is why they often rub against your hand.
Stroking also reminds animals of their mother’s tongue licking them when they were young. This is a positive memory that makes them feel safe and cared for. In this way, you can fulfill your fur baby’s need for affection and bonding.
As for the genuine health benefits of allogrooming, well, you need to brush your cat! Short-haired cats need to be combed through a few times a week, while long-haired kitties should ideally be brushed every day.
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Persian cats require much more grooming than other breeds. You should brush your Persian every day.
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Final Thoughts on “Why Do Cats Lick Each Other?”
So, why do cats lick each other? It’s a communication tool and a form of healthcare.
Between family members, alphas and subordinates, newcomers and old kitties, cats and owners…allogrooming is practiced in all of these relationships. This means it’s a regular part of your feline’s life (and yours).
Knowing why your cats behave this way means getting to know their most primal instincts. Now you’ll be able to ensure that your cat gets all the benefits of allogrooming — from another cat or from you!
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