Why Do Cats Lick Each Other?

Cats licking each other while laying down in green grass

Understanding why our family and loved ones do what they do is a natural curiosity. When it comes to our pets, it’s no different. That said, if you have at least two cats as pets, related or not, you’ve likely noticed them licking each other. To help shed some light on this interesting behaviour, I’m sharing with you the most common reasons why cats lick each other

Cats most commonly lick each other to clean one another, when they’re bored, as a sign of affection, to bond, because of a sense of family responsibility, to establish dominance over one another, when the other cat is ill or unable to lick itself.

In this guide, I’ll go through each of the reasons above about why cats lick each other so you can make sense of this behavior in your own feline friends. Since two cats licking each other isn’t always benign, be sure to check out the info ahead. 

What Does It Mean When Two Cats Lick Each Other?

The Cats are Cleaning Each Other

Let’s begin with what is by far the most obvious explanation for why two cats will lick each other. That is, they’re cleaning one another.

If you’ve watched your cats for long enough, then I’m sure you can agree when I say they’re incredibly agile creatures who have a great degree of flexibility. 

Even so, a cat cannot possibly groom every area of its body. Maybe your cat is close to doing it, but there are some spots that are impossible for them to reach alone.

If yours was a single cat, then okay, it would go without grooming these areas.

With two or more cats in the household, none of your feline friends have to go ungroomed anywhere.

Now they can have the tops of their heads licked, their backs, and other tough-to-reach places that a lone kitty can’t access. 

Once one cat is groomed, it’s only right to turn around and groom the other cat in those spots as well. 

Your cats will be cleaner overall when you have more than one in the family, which is great!  

One of Them (At Least) Is Bored

Let me know if this sounds familiar to you.

One of your cats walks up to the other and begins grooming them. You have an aww moment watching your feline friends bond, especially if they’re not related and had a tough relationship together to start.

Then, after a few blissful minutes of licking away, the licking turns into biting. Before you know it, your cats are tumbling and wrestling on the couch. 

If this is a frequent sight in your household, it’s no coincidence. 

Cat grooming very often transitions into play-fighting. Thus, if one cat is bored or wants to release some pent-up energy, the kitty might go groom its brother, sister, or friend.

They’re not really in it for the grooming, but for the playing, of course.

Keep in mind that a playful cat keeps its ears pointing forward and has a relaxed stance. If your feline friends have puffy tails, rigid postures, and flat ears, then they’re not in a playful mood. 

Don’t let the fighting persist, as one of your cats could get hurt. Clap your hands and shout at the cats or throw a toy their way until they separate. 

One Cat is Showing Love to Another Cat

Cats only have so many options for showing affection, and licking one another is certainly one of them.

When two cats love one another, they enjoy keeping their heads and bodies close. Grooming each other allows for that.

The reason your cats are like two birds of a feather is that they’re sharing their scent with one another. 

Of course, do expect to see plenty of licking as well. In this affectionate state, licking is your cat’s way of kissing. 

It’s sort of like when your cat licks your fingers or maybe even your face. It’s a sign of love.

This love can be familial or between two cats who later grew to be friends or mates. 

They’re Creating or Strengthening a Bond

Just as it’s important that we visit with our families and hang out with our friends to keep those relationships healthy, cats like to do the same. 

How? By licking, of course.

It’s no secret that not all kitty relationships start off nice. If you have two unrelated cats in the household, they can butt heads a lot until they learn to enmesh their personalities a little better, as mentioned. 

Once you see these two cats grooming each other, it’s a sign that the animals have started to bond. 

Grooming isn’t only how cats build relationships but maintain them as well. If your cat licks you, that too is a good sign. 

If you decide to expand your kitty family, do watch what happens. The established cats will more than likely lick the new one. It’s the feline’s way of saying, “welcome to the family!” 

The Cats are Related

Cats can groom by the time they’re four weeks old, and who is around at that early point of a cat’s life? Its mother and possibly its siblings as well.

Thus, the first instances of cat grooming are familial. Mothers groom their young to keep them clean and healthy. Siblings groom each other, even if they don’t quite know what it means. 

These instincts carry on throughout a cat’s life, and so if a cat gets to grow up with its sibling, the grooming habits from early life will persist into adulthood. 

Now, please don’t assume that a cat will only groom its blood relative with so much fervor. As you already know, if a cat feels a close bond with another feline, it will groom that feline as well. 

One Wants to Establish Dominance

Grooming isn’t always as innocent as it seems on the surface. Earlier, I already talked about how cats will groom to initiate play fighting, but there can be more to it than that.

Have you noticed that among two of your cats, one is always quick to start grooming the other? 

The recipient of the grooming sort of just grins and bears it while the cat who’s licking does all the work. 

This unidirectional grooming isn’t something the recipient seemed into. They’re fine with it, but they weren’t necessarily in the mood to be groomed before it happened. 

That’s because the cat doing all the grooming was using the licking as an opportunity to show dominance. 

In any animal dynamic, there will always be a dominant animal.

If you have two cat siblings, the bigger one is likely dominant. In a household with male and female cats, the males will often dominate.

If these shows of dominance are limited to mostly grooming and play fighting, then you needn’t worry. 

That said, if the dominant cat uses grooming as a springboard for being aggressive or acts aggressively towards the less dominant cats at any other time, then you’re going to have to monitor the dominant kitty.

Separating the cats is best and reducing situations that can make the dominant cat aggressive can help too. 

Even clicker training can be effective if the dominant cat takes swipes or bites at other cats in the house. 

If you haven’t already, it’s very much worth getting the dominant cat spayed or neutered. Their rate of aggression should seriously drop after the procedure. 

One Cat Can’t Care for Itself 

I saved by far the most serious reason for last. 

If you notice that the grooming is less reciprocal but it’s not a sign of dominance, then it could be that your other cat physically cannot groom their mate or even themselves.

Thus, the other cat is taking care of it. 

Now, this doesn’t always mean a major health malady for your feline friend. Sometimes, one cat will take over the grooming if the other cat has a flea infestation. 

That said, this kind of feline behavior can also sometimes indicate kidney disease. 

Since your cat can’t verbally tell you what’s wrong, if you’ve witnessed one cat doing all the grooming and the other cat looks unwell, then it’s best to take that cat to the vet immediately.

For more information on taking your cat to the vet I recommend reading my related article, Can I Take My Cat to the Vet Without a Carrier?

I hope you’ve learned something from this article on why cats lick each other.

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