Behavior & Training

What Does It Mean When Cats Lick Each Other?

Feline interaction is an amusing sight to behold. But, to understand why cats interact a certain way is a different kettle of fish.

Today’s post will dive into the world of cat grooming, licking, or washing. More specifically, Allogrooming (social grooming) and mutual grooming.

In a nutshell, cats lick each other for hygiene and social bonding. However, licking is not always a positive experience for all cats involved. Tension may build up and fighting starts.

An awareness of the many different reasons why cats lick each other will help the cat guardian detect acceptance, hierarchy, and even illness among cats. Read on.

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What does it mean if a cat licks another cat?

Licking is first learned and experienced by cats at birth. The Queen will lick her kitten clean including its amniotic sac, fluids, and umbilical cord.

The reason is both for hygiene and transferring the “family scent” to her litter. The Queen should do this immediately with each kitten while in labor for the rest of her litter. This should provide the Queen with essential nutrients and prevent infections from her litter.

Eventually, sibling cats and felines that grow up together will mirror the Queen’s act and lick each other to help keep everyone clean. Mating cats may also bond through licking.

If you introduce a new cat to the household, the other cats may start licking the new cat. This means they welcome and accept the new cat.

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Why do cats lick each other’s private areas?

It is normal for cats to help each other keep their bums and privates clean by licking these hard to reach areas. With newborn kittens, it is essential.

At birth, you will notice the Queen will lick its kittens’ abdomen and private areas. This is necessary to encourage the kitten to poop and pee.

Newborn kittens will not excrete without stimulation. If the kitten is abandoned or its mum dies during birth, you need to stimulate its private areas with a warm, wet cloth.

If you adopt kittens, your existing cat may take on a motherly role and lick the other cat’s bum. Be careful as not all Queens will care for adopted kittens. Often, they will reject a cat that does not have its scent. This is why it is vital to leave the Queen with her instinct to lick her kittens clean. This way, she is less likely to abandon them.

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Why does my cat lick my other cat’s head?

You know when you have someone scratch your back, you won’t let just anyone scratch it for you. It has to be someone you trust.

Cats are like this, too. Your cat may approach a fellow feline to be groomed. They may stretch out and expose their head or neck.

When self-grooming, cats will lick their paws to wash their head and neck. It just feels cleaner when another cat can lick those hard to reach areas.

Why do cats bite each other’s necks while grooming?

Biting is as much a sign of affection as licking is. It is built on trust, familiarity, and feeling at ease.

But, the biter can also be showing its dominance. It is not necessarily aggression or bullying, rather showing who the alpha is in the household.

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Cats grooming each other show dominance

Research has revealed that dominant and confident cats are most likely to lick more submissive or shy cats. The alpha will stand or sit upright while licking the other cat (lying or sitting lower) often in the head-neck area only.

You see, even cats lay boundaries on where they can be licked. Some cats would allow their back or even their ears to be licked clean. Often cats would hit the other if it licks their paws.

Why do my cats lick each other and then start fighting?

Watch out for signs of tension especially from the cat being groomed. The same goes for when petting your cat. If the groomed cat stiffens up, stops purring, and twitches the tip of its tail this can result in aggression.

If a cat is not used to being licked, it can either resist or tolerate. This depends on the temperament of your cat and when they are fighting to establish a pecking order.

Allogrooming ends when the cat being licked will move away, fight or flee. This does not mean they don’t like being groomed. It means they had enough like when we move away after a hug that lingered too long.

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Cats licking each other and then fighting could be a sign of illness, too.

Cats are sensitive to physical and emotional unease, both from their own kind as well as from their human companions. Licking can be done to soothe a stressed or unwell cat.

Your cat can lick a family feline that is suffering from pain in a certain area. Lingering grooming in a certain spot could be a sign of illness, such as pain in the bones, muscles, ligaments, or organs.

However, instead of soothing a fellow cat, some cats would sound the alarm by showing aggression. It can hiss or start a fight. Check the groomed cat for signs of fleas or infection.

Why don’t my cats groom each other?

There is no reason to worry about cats that do not groom each other. As long as they self-groom, it is okay.

Cats show affection in different ways. They may sit or lie next to each other. They may play with, chase, protect, or even play-fight with each other.

Licking each other takes a whole new level of trust and intimacy. It is a matter of preference. Some are really cozy and like to snuggle.

Their temperament may change as they grow old, too. Sibling kittens may lick and snuggle while they are young and grow up and stop showing affection this way.

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How does a cat feel when being licked by another cat?

In general, cats will relax and feel reduced tension when licked by another cat. This is most evident with the Queen and her litter. You may notice kittens feel calmer after being licked by their mum. However, excessive licking can cause tension and stress, too resulting in fights.

It is quite amusing to see a feline simply tolerate a cat who likes to lick others clean. Even dominant cats will let younger cats lick them clean to reinforce social bonds. Among siblings, younger cats can try to establish a higher hierarchy than their older siblings by licking, too.

Sometimes, cats will get annoyed by licking and will walk away. Lickers may do this explicitly to get what they want such as a window perch the other feline was sitting on.

Why do cats groom other pets?

In a multi-pet household, you may find cats grooming your dog or other pets to show affection and bonding. A dominant cat may groom a younger or more submissive dog, too. Licking is also done to spread the communal scent within members of the household, including their human companions.

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What does it mean when cats lick you?

It is a privilege for a cat parent to be licked by family felines. It means they like you and branding you as their own. Again, your cat not licking you does not mean it cares less for you.

Your cat can lick and then bite you, or bite then lick you. In turn, when you pet it you have to keep within boundaries. You will notice when you have crossed the line because your cat will be tense, be aggressive, or move away.

How to stop a cat from licking you

Do you have a clingy cat, but you prefer not to have affection shown this way? After all, a cat’s tongue is rough. You may distract your cat with food or play, but do not scold or punish the little feline.

Avoid letting your cat lick you if it had been out hunting to avoid passing on infections. For your cat’s safety, you may want to keep it indoors. Discretion should be exercised.

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Wrap Up

Cats lick each other mean positive social interactions, helping each other groom, showing acceptance and dominance. Licking is an acquired trait from the mother cat. Felines can spot stress and illness in a fellow cat when they are licking.

Dominant cats often commence grooming on shy or submissive cats. Where the relationship between cats is more linear, they may participate in mutual grooming (licking each other simultaneously or taking turns). 

Licking between cats end when one cat moves away. Sometimes licking leads to fights. This means the cat has crossed personal boundaries or the one being groomed resisted the affection or dominance. 

Cats licking then fighting could also mean the licker found illness or an infection on the cat it groomed.

RELATED:  Can Cats Be Trained?

2 comments on “What Does It Mean When Cats Lick Each Other?

  1. Feral cats' videos

    My cat licks me constantly, my face and hand, while kneading, closing her eyes slowly, and purring. She’s a very loving feral cat that had lived on the streets. I had a cat that used to lick the other cat every once in a blue moon, but only when he slept, because he was kinda aggressive, although in a playful manner. She was a princess, and couldn’t tolerate it.

    One of my cats purrs when petted, and then, when she decides she’s had enough, starts biting.

    This post is very inspiring. I learned a lot from it. I’d love to understand my cats better. I’ve been feeding feral cats since I was seven years old, and I know a thing or two about cats, and still I want to know more. I know there’s a lot more to learn.

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