Why Do My Cats Lick Each Other?

Awww 😻

Cats licking each other

You’re probably feeling smitten when you watch one of your cats lick your other cat. And while it’s definitely the cutest thing ever, you may be wondering why she’s doing it.

It turns out cats lick each other for a few reasons. It could be because they’re bonding and actually love each other — or it could be something more complex.

The Dodo reached out to Amy Shojai, a certified animal behaviorist, to find out more.

To show affection

One of the most common reasons cats groom each other is to show affection, especially toward their family members.

“Mutual grooming [aka grooming between two individuals] helps connect cats with [a] ‘safe’ familiar family scent,” Shojai told The Dodo.

According to Shojai, you won’t really see two cats who are strangers start to lick each other right away. “Cats typically only groom other cats with whom they share a friendly relationship.”

According to a study, cats are more likely to groom other cats they know and will groom their family members even more often.

So if you see two cats grooming each other, there’s a good chance they’re family — or at least really good friends!

It’s also been shown that cats groom each other more often (and have less conflicts) when they’re adopted as a small family at the same time, rather than adopted at different times as adult cats — something to think about when adopting a new cat (or two or three)!

To clean her loved ones

Just like how your cat will lick herself to keep herself clean, she’ll lick cats she’s close to keep them clean, too.

Cats can’t reach every part of their own body, so they might enlist another cat they trust for help.

If your cat wants to be groomed by another cat (or you!), she might approach with her neck outstretched, which is her way of asking the other cat to start grooming her.

And if you ever think your cat wants you to groom her, grab a brush and get going!

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To groom her kittens

Besides keeping her kittens clean, a mother cat will lick her kittens for several reasons.

Right after birth, a mother cat will lick her newborns to clean off birth fluids and materials (like the amniotic sac — the pouch the fetus develops in) and to make sure they’re breathing all right on their own.

During the first few weeks, a mother cat will lick her kittens’ bottoms often, which helps stimulate the kitten to use the bathroom. Once the kittens can move around on their own, they can usually use the bathroom without any help from mom.

From then on, the mother cat will continue to lick her kittens to groom them. After the kittens are about 4 weeks old, they take what they learned about grooming from their mother and start licking themselves (and each other) clean.

To show rank

Social grooming isn’t only used as a way to show affection — it can also be used to reinforce social structures.

In a study on social grooming in cats, researchers found that cats who were higher up in “rank” were more likely to groom cats who were lower in rank. These groomer cats were also more likely to engage in offensive behaviors after the grooming sessions, like growling and chasing other cats.

“Some pushy cats can use licking and grooming behavior as almost a passive-aggressive technique,” Shojai said. This is especially common when they’re trying to establish territory.

For example, a cat at the top of the social structure might lick another cat “to prompt the targeted cat to leave a favored resting spot,” Shojai said. “The licking cat may approach and ‘power groom’ a second feline to the point of becoming obnoxious, until the cat vacates a cat bed. Then the licking cat gets to take possession of the vacated bed.”

In the same study mentioned above, researchers say that cats use grooming as a way to redirect potential aggression in situations where “overt aggression is too costly.” This basically means that cats will act passive aggressively as a first choice because acting violently might cause bigger problems in the group.

So, you might notice your cats fighting after a grooming session, which means the licking was actually more of a power play than of an act of affection. Who knew?!

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