Cats are some of the most complicated animals on this planet. Cat-loving humans adore the mystery and marvel that is the household feline.
And yet, so much about what cats do and why they are the way they are doesn’t seem to make logical sense to people.
For example, why do cats lick each other? What is the motivation for behavior that, to humans, seems unpleasant at best?
In this article, we dig deep to uncover the reason that felines will lick each other.
Why Do Cats Lick Each Other
Cats lick one another to bond socially, groom each other, exchange scent pheromones, establish social order, and clean each other.
Learn More About Why Cats Lick One Another
This YouTube video goes into more detail about why cats lick each other and what purpose this behavior serves.
As you will learn, the behavior is a lot more complex than most cat lovers realize!
The Key Reasons Why Felines Lick Each Other
As Trumann Animal Clinic points out, any time two cats lick one another, there is a good reason.
But since cats typically do not see any need to explain to their humans why they are licking each other or what purpose this behavior serves, it is up to human feline behaviorists to decode the behavior.
These are the leading explanations that researchers have come up with to explain why two cats might lick one another.
It strengthens family or colony ties
A cat’s first experience of being licked happens on its very first day of life when the mom cat licks the newborn kitten to clean off the placenta and after birth.
From then on, the mother cat will lick the kitten to stimulate them to pee and poop, encourage them to nurse, clean them after nursing, bond with them and keep them cool.
Here, it makes sense that being licked would get coded into the cat’s health and self-care routine to continue throughout life.
As kittens grow and develop, they also begin to do this with the mother cat and with each other.
Mutual licking, especially among cats that are from the same litter or same colony, is a tangible way to develop or strengthen social bonds that can be quite valuable to both cats.
It is a form of feline allogrooming
International Cat Care explains that allogrooming, or two cats licking each other, is a form of communication.
Specifically, allogrooming is tactile communication.
Typically, allogrooming tends to be limited to the hard-to-reach head and neck areas. One cat might allogrooming or lick the other cat all over the face, ears, and neck region and then the other cat would return the favor.
Both cats stay cleaner and healthier this way. And since allogrooming is also more common in cats from the same family or colony, it is likely also away the two cats let each other know they are friends.
It helps cats stay cool in hot weather
The Washington Post highlights one unusual fact about the feline body that many people don’t know.
Cats are not as able to sweat through their skin as people can. They only sweat through their paws. So when the weather gets really hot out, there is a danger that cats might physically overheat.
Licking one another spreads on a thin layer of cooling saliva. And as the saliva evaporates it helps carry some of the heat away with it.
It helps both cats stay clean and healthy
Eating, drinking, and just daily living can sometimes be messy work.
While most domestic pet cats aren’t at risk of getting too dirty while eating kibble or drinking freshwater, cats in the wild are constantly exposed to dirt, grim, parasites, pests, and more.
Underneath your pet cat’s refined exterior, those wild instincts to constantly self-groom and allo-groom are still very strong.
It can be dangerous to let your fur get matted or dirty because then your coat can’t do its job of protecting you.
When two cats lick one another, each helps the other to stay clean, healthy, and safe.
Why Does Your Cat Lick You
So now it is probably starting to make more sense why you might see two cats licking each other.
When you just stop for a moment and think like a feral stray or wild cat, you might appreciate having another cat help you groom hard-to-reach areas, stay cool, keep clean or just say hello.
But what about when your cat starts to lick you? Why do cats lick people? Does your cat just see you as a big cat?
Cats lick people to establish social bonds
As BBC Science Focus Magazine points out, it isn’t necessarily that your cat sees you as another cat.
But your pet cat likely does see you as a member of their colony, like family, or at least as a friend and ally.
In this way, licking you is potentially a way that cats can communicate to their people a sense of community, family, or friendship.
Cats lick people to deposit scent markers
Your cat may also be licking you to deposit some of their scent pheromones onto you. These scent pheromones linger and serve to remind your cat that you are part of their safe zone.
The scent of pheromones may also serve another purpose. feline researchers hypothesize that licking you and depositing their scent on you, lets other felines in the area know that you have been “claimed” and that you belong to your cat.
Cats lick people to get attention
While you might never expect to see a cat in the wild walk up to a person and start licking them, a pet cat might see this is the easiest way to get what they want.
Whether your cat wants your attention, petting, food, treats, playtime, or something else, getting their needs met starts with getting you to notice them.
Your cat will easily learn that walking up to you and licking you is a great way to get your attention, which starts the process of getting them whatever they want.
Cats lick people to explore
A Cat Clinic highlights that cats in general have very keen senses.
However, a cat’s sense of smell is probably its keenest sense. This means that if you smell interesting, your cat may want to lick you to figure out why.
When to Worry About Cats Licking Each Other
As the Cornell Feline Health Center highlights, cats licking each other isn’t always a good thing.
While this is more common with self-grooming than with allogrooming, any cat that licks too much could potentially have a health problem at the root of it.
But it can be hard to tell the difference between the regular long daily hours cats spend grooming themselves and others and obsessive grooming and licking that is becoming a problem.
Cats that lick too much may be itchy or in pain. They may also be experiencing environmental, physical, or systemic stress. With time, cats can actually lick away the fur and cause bare spots to form on the skin that may become infected or painful.
It is possible that cats that lick each other too much may be experiencing inter-cat bullying. The best choice is always to talk to a feline veterinarian.