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Why Do Cats Lick Each Other? 6 Reasons Kitties Allogroom

reviewed by a veterinary box

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 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, this conduct has many different reasons. And fortunately, if you have only one cat, it is a behavior you can replicate.

grey cat licks grey kitten


Why Do My 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, which is why you’ll often see cats licking each other. Keep reading to find out other reasons why cats lick each other. 

large grey cat licks ginger kitten

Allogrooming is a multifunctional behavior that has many advantages. Understanding it will help you decipher your own kitty that much better. Many people have been asking, “what does it mean when cats lick each other?” and you’re about to find out!

1. Mother Caring For Their Kittens

Kittens are born extremely vulnerable. They’re blind, deaf, covered in fluids, and relatively weak as they haven’t had time to develop their immune system and fat reserves. The mother cat compensates for this by allogrooming.

By licking her kitten, the mother removes the fetal fluids (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.

⇒ Thinking about getting a new member of the family? Find out everything you need to know about kittens.

grey tabby licks smaller tabby cat

Furthermore, allogrooming, in this case, stimulates the kitten’s urinary tract and bowel system. This helps the baby pass urine and their first stool (meconium).

What does it mean when a cat licks another cat? 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

If you’re wondering, “Why does my cat lick my other cat?” Because they’re family! 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.

black and white tabby kitten licks another

While you may think allogrooming only happens between related cats, this isn’t correct. Cats groom their family not because they are related by blood but because they have strong social relationships.

That relationship is likely to have been established from birth, meaning it is full of powerful instincts.

3. They Want To Bond

Sometimes, a cat licking another cat creates a 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.

white and tabby cat asleep on each other

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 social 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 probably wants to bond with you by making you smell like her.

⇒ Learn what smells cats hate.

4. It’s a Display of Dominance

Experienced cat owners know that things are never as innocent as they appear when it comes to their kitties. This is true of allogrooming, which is also a tool for establishing dominance.

two tabby kittens

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 as it has special spikes on their surface. If your cat has ever licked you, then it probably felt a bit scratchy as a result of these special structures.

black and white cat licks his paw

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 saliva 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 can’t reach. That’s where a helpful friend comes in.

Cats often lick each other on the head and the ears. This is where these animals like to be petted, but it’s also an area they can’t reach with their own tongues.

⇒ Find out why your cat may lick your nose.

Beautiful grey cat smiling while being brushed

6. There’s a Health Problem

When a cat licks another cat, it could be because there’s an underlying health problem. Cats also may lick each other if one of them 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 injury with their antimicrobial saliva.

Veterinarian listening to cat's heart

If the cat receiving the allogrooming looks unwell, it’s best to get a vet’s opinion. It could indicate something serious or just that they have fleas. The cats licking each other meaning could be for many different reasons, but if one is looking unwell, it’s best to receive professional help.

Cats who are stressed also tend to lick excessively, so it’s worth investigating if something may be causing anxiety.

grey cat licks its front paws

Excessive licking isn’t a great idea even if there isn’t a particular diagnosis because it can lead to hairballs and balding. If you notice something abnormal in your cat’s behavior, it’s best to contact your veterinarian.

Try alleviating this nervous energy with a play session or providing a scratch post.

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.

ginger cat being brushed

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. This way, you can fulfill your fur baby’s affection and bonding needs.

⇒ Find out how to pet a cat.

person strokes black and white cat sitting in lap

As for the genuine health benefits of allogrooming, you need to brush your cat! Short-haired cats must be combed thoroughly a few times a week, while long-haired kitties should ideally be brushed daily.

Persian cats require much more grooming than other breeds. You should brush your Persian every day.

white-persian-cat on side lying on ground

Final Thoughts on “Why Do Cats Lick Each Other?”

So, why do cats lick each other? It’s both 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 these relationships. This means it’s a regular part of your feline’s life (and yours).

Knowing why your cats behave this way means knowing their primal instincts. Now, you’ll be able to ensure that your cat gets all the benefits of allogrooming — from another cat or from you!

charlotte photo

Meet the Veterinary Expert

Charlotte recently became a doctor and studied at the University of Zagreb, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. She’s volunteered in her university’s obstetrical clinic, and equine clinic, and is dog mum to 14-year-old Chiki. Charlotte loves to travel and has completed externships in Austria, Spain, and Belgium.

Ginger cat licking its paw why do cats lick each other

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