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Why Do Cats Lick and Groom Each Other? Science-Based Facts & FAQ

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By Nicole Cosgrove

bengal cats licking eachother

If you have a multi-cat household, you’ve likely seen your cats licking and grooming each other at some point. Also referred to as “allogrooming” (social grooming amongst members of the same species), cat owners generally chalk this behavior up as affectionate gestures or lending a helping hand in the pursuit of cleanliness. But it seems there are actually several other possibilities as to why cats lick and groom other cats. While friendliness and hygiene are amongst those, other reasons your cats may lick each other include asserting dominance, maternal instincts, and comforting the ill.

Do Cats Lick and Groom Each Other for Cleanliness?

Cats are well-known for their fastidious ways. They like being clean, and they spend a lot of time trying to get that way. But as flexible and twisty as cats may be, they can’t always reach all parts of their bodies for cleaning. Sometimes they need a little help (particularly when it comes to the neck and head area) which is when you’ll find another cat lending a hand.

Image Credit: Pixabay

Do Cats Lick and Groom Each Other as a Sign of Affection?

Sometimes your cats may lick each other as a way of simply saying, “Hey, you’re okay.” Much like dogs and their penchant for friendly licks, one cat licking and grooming another can be seen as a signal that they enjoy the other’s company. However, cats also have other ways of showing they like each other, such as rubbing against one another or headbutting. So, if your cats aren’t licking each other, it doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t pals.

Do Cats Lick and Groom Each Other to Bond?

Similar to licking and grooming as a sign of affection is doing the same to enhance social bonds. Social grooming often occurs amongst cats who are related or ones who are quite familiar with one another (which means you won’t find your cats grooming a cat they don’t know). In fact, cats related by blood and cats who aren’t related but grew up together will encourage a familial bond via social grooming. By licking and grooming one another, your cats are also showing confidence in each other.

If one of your cats comes up to another to request grooming, they’re showing a certain level of vulnerability which indicates trust. Finally, grooming each other allows your cats to exchange scents. Scenting, displaying trust, and encouraging familial bonds all help to bring your cats closer together. And if your cat licks you? It’s showing you that you’re family!

Do Cats Lick and Groom Each Other Because of Maternal Instincts?

If you have a female cat who’s had kittens, you’ll know that the mother cat will groom the babies until they can do so on their own. This isn’t done just for the purpose of keeping the kittens clean; it also serves as the mother offering protection and love. Sometimes these instincts will hang around, so if your female cat has been a mother, she might lick and groom other cats as a way to offer a comforting or protective touch.

cat family
Image Credit: Franz W, Pixabay

Do Cats Lick and Groom Each Other to Comfort the Sick?

Occasionally, you might see one of your cats licking another but only in one spot. If that’s the case, you might consider taking the cat being licked to the vet. Cats have a strong sense of smell and can often tell when another is ill by sniffing out chemical changes the body is going through as a result of disease or injury. While all cats will have a different reaction to an ill companion, some may lick the sick cat to offer comfort.

Do Cats Lick and Groom Each Other as a Show of Dominance?

According to scientific studies such as this one from 1998, a prominent reason cats lick and groom each other may be as a sign of dominance. Cats have a social hierarchy all their own, where some cats are more dominant with a higher social ranking than others.

The 1998 study found that cats with higher rankings were most often the ones who did the grooming. Plus, they usually did so from a position of standing or sitting, while the lower-ranked cats were more often in a laying position of some kind. The study also found that cats who tended to be more on the aggressive side were often the ones doing the grooming. This led the scientists to believe that this grooming behavior might be a way to release pent-up aggression in a manner other than fighting or other violent behaviors.

two white cats on the grass
Image Credit: Piqsels

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are several reasons cats lick and groom each other. Your cats may be telling each other that they like one another, asserting dominance over one another, strengthening bonds, displaying maternal instincts, comforting a sick companion, or simply helping each other stay clean. Whatever the reason, rest assured, it’s all a part of normal cat behavior.

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Featured Image Credit: Ilona Koeleman, Shutterstock

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