Your cat licking themselves clean makes sense, given their fastidious nature. But then, why do cats lick each other? Is this because they just want everything to look spick and span (including your other pet cats) or is there more to it than meets the eye?
While it’s true that cats are total neat freaks, their habitual licking is not mainly for grooming purposes. If you’re a pet parent who wants to know what’s the real deal behind this feline behavior, why your cats are licking themselves, and why they like licking their fellow cats (and you), read on.
Feline Living is not only here to answer your pet food and pet care questions, but we’re also here to uncover the whys behind your furry (and not so furry) friend’s behavior, cat grooming and licking included.
Cat Grooming & How It Helps Your Pet
If you think that cats groom themselves endlessly each day only to clean their fur off loose hair and remove dirt, think again. Truth is, cat licking and grooming provide a couple more benefits other than just cleaning up and untangling your cat’s fur.
When cats lick and cats groom themselves, they’re also doing the following:
- Cooling itself down
- Protecting itself from predators
- Massaging itself to improve blood circulation
- Distributing the natural oils to keep their fur and skin healthy
What Is Allogrooming?
Besides self-grooming, cats also engage in social grooming. Also known as allogrooming, this refers to the act of grooming others of the same kind. This cat behavior is not exclusive to domestic cats, though. It is also seen in many species of animals including lions, birds, fish, and insects.
In the cat realm, cats grooming each other are often observed among feral or free-roaming cats. However, indoor cats may also engage in the same type of interaction.
Why Do Cats Lick Each Other?
Yes, cats groom themselves for other reasons other than grooming. Now, if you have more than one cat or several cats at home, you’re probably wondering why your cats lick and nibble each other when they can do all the licking and nibbling on their own.
Is it possible that they’re licking and grooming other cats (or even other animals) for other reasons as well? The short answer is yes.
Like other animals, cats do not only participate in allogrooming to help another cat clean spots that they can’t reach with their own tongues (like their head and neck). Instead, allogrooming occurs between cats for the following reasons:
To Strengthen The Social Bond
According to a study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior back in 2016, mutual grooming or allogrooming is just one of the ways cats express cohesion. Other ways include transmitting scent signals and allorubbing.
So, you can think of grooming as a way for cats to establish and maintain social bonds. This is why you’ll often see this act between family members or cats of the same litter. However, it’s not uncommon to see two cats that are not blood relatives engaging in this behavior.
It’s A Sign Of Affection
That’s right. When you see two cats licking each other, they most likely like each other. As such, it also makes sense to assume that adult cats or mother cats lick their new kittens or young cats to show their love and affection.
It’s A Sign Of Acceptance
If your once-aloof cat starts licking your new cat (or a cat that is not in any way related to your other cat), consider this a green flag. This means that your resident cat has finally accepted the new cat and now considers it as part of its pride.
They’re Marking Their Territory
When a mother cat licks its kittens, it isn’t only to show affection and acceptance, but also to leave their scent. Similar to spraying and rubbing, one cat licks another cat to leave its scent and tell others that “this kitten or cat is mine.”
Blame It On Maternal Instincts
The first thing that a female cat does after giving birth to a litter of kittens is to lick them clean and warm them up. It’s their nature. Their brains are just hard-wired that way.
But why does a male cat engage in allogrooming? Interestingly, whether male or female, cats learn this behavior from their mothers. As kittens, they get to enjoy mommy’s grooming. As they grow up and mature, they mimic their mommy’s gestures and do the same to some other cat.
To Show Who’s Boss
You read it right. Cats groom other cats to establish a social hierarchy. This would explain why the majority of these types of interactions are unidirectional.
While it is true that allogrooming usually involves two cats, in a colony of cats, there’s that one cat – often the dominant cat – that regularly grooms one other cat or a lower-ranking cat.
It’s Their Way Of Displacing Aggression
As mentioned, self-grooming is a cat’s way of de-stressing. When it comes to allogrooming, it may be your cat’s way of defusing aggression while showing dominance.
Lower-ranking cats often receive more grooming from higher-ranking cats (or those that are usually more aggressive). When this type of grooming occurs, the dominant cat would often lick the neck and head area – both are common targets of aggression when conflict arises
Why Do Some Cats Lick Each Other & Then Fight?
One moment your two cats are being all lovey-dovey, the next moment you see them play fighting… or are they fighting for real? Yes, we know how mind-boggling this can be, but it happens. So why do cats groom each other and then fight?
Whether it’s affection or aggression at play during a grooming session, there are times when one cat will lose its patience and reach its tipping point – probably because the grooming is becoming unbearable. When this happens, a fight between two cats is likely to happen.
There is, however, a difference between play fighting and an actual fight. When cats “play” fight, you’ll find them rolling around, pouncing, and kicking their opponent with their rear feet. You’ll even hear a little hissing.
Regardless of all the chasing and grabbing, cats that are engaged in a play fight will look relaxed with their ears pointed forward. While there’s a possibility of a play fight turning bad, most play fights end nicely – without casualties.
On the other hand, a true catfight often involves a lot of loud hissing and growling. Also, when cats fight for real, they will have puffed-up tails and flattened ears. Before matters get worse, it’s best to distract both cats right away using sudden movements or by making a loud noise. Stopping cats in the middle of a heated fight is not recommended.
Grooming is simply part of your pet’s life. In fact, most adult cats spend around 50% of their waking hours grooming. So if your pet is licking themselves and your other feline friends without causing any harm, consider it normal and a part of their daily routine.
As mentioned, cats engage in this type of social activity for various reasons. We’ve mentioned 7 reasons in this article. One thing to remember, though, is that cats are just being cats when they do this deed. Now, if your cat is licking your face, you can consider that a compliment. Your cat is most likely telling you that they love you to the moon and back.
Note, however, that grooming can also become excessive. If this happens, your best course of action is to get your cat checked by your local vet.
So how would you know when your cat’s grooming or licking is too much? If it starts to interfere with your cat’s quality of life, then you know for sure that there is something wrong.
Excessive licking or grooming can be a symptom of an underlying health condition or a sign of stress. Cats that are excessively grooming will often have bald spots and inflamed or irritated skin. So make sure to check your cat's fur regularly.
If you are a pet parent who makes it a point to regularly groom or brush your cat’s fur, then you will be able to notice anything negative and take necessary actions before matters become worse.
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