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Why Do Cats Lick Dogs? (5 Possible Reasons)

Chelsie Fraser

By Chelsie Fraser

cat licking dog ear

Cats and dogs don’t always make best friends. If you introduce a new cat or dog to a multi-pet household, it’s normal to have some tension at first. But when you walk in on your cat licking your dog, you might be wondering if it’s a sign of affection or something else entirely.

Good news! There are a few reasons cats might lick dogs, but they’re generally positive. Cats lick other cats frequently, and sometimes they extend this behavior to humans or other pets in the household. Here are four reasons why your cat might be licking your dog.

1. Grooming

Cats use their tongues to groom, and they’re pretty good at it. Cats’ tongues have small hooks that act like teeth on a comb. Cats are built to handle the dirt, bacteria, and other things in their fur—that way, cleaning themselves doesn’t make them sick.

Grooming is also a social activity for cats. Cats who live together often groom each other. That way, they can help each other stay clean and share affection. Your cat might groom dogs the same way, recognizing that your dog’s fur needs brushing out.

bengal cats licking eachother
Image Credit: Ilona Koeleman, Shutterstock

2. Affection

Cats can also lick dogs as a sign of pure affection. Grooming isn’t purely practical for cats—it’s also a way to show love. Cats often lick each other or their humans to build stronger social connections. Licking can also be a sign of trust, as the grooming helps your cat relax. If your cat is grooming your dog, she probably trusts him enough to get close and let down her guard around him.

dog and cat cuddling
Image Credit: Chendongshan, Shutterstock

3. Attractive Scents

This reason isn’t quite as lovey-dovey as the others, but it isn’t a bad sign either. Sometimes, cats lick dogs because they are curious about the smell and taste. Your cat might smell the oils in your dog’s fur and want to taste them, or your dog might have traces of food in its fur that your cat wants to get at. If your cat is just curious about the taste, it might not be a sign of affection—but it does mean that your cat feels pretty safe and secure!

cat scratches black dog
Image Credit: Irina Kozorog, Shutterstock

4. Scent Marking

Licking is also a way to transfer scent onto a new animal. Cats have a much stronger sense of smell than humans, and they love things that smell familiar. That’s one reason why cats rub up against things, and it’s also a reason cats lick dogs. They’re putting their saliva on the dog so that they can smell it later and recognize the dog.

If your dog is new to the house, this is probably the biggest reason your cat is licking it. A new dog will bring new scents to the household, and your cat is trying to incorporate the scents. It can even be a form of pack-bonding for your cat.

a dog chasing a cat under the table
Image Credit: SabineGeringer, Pixabay

5. Mothering

A final reason why cats might lick dogs is because of mothering instincts. Cats lick newborn kittens to dry them, keep them warm, and clean them. If you have a puppy, your cat might decide to adopt it, so to speak. And even if your dog is a little older, your cat might decide he needs mothering if he seems helpless to her. This grooming is a sign that your cat thinks the dog needs taking care of—which is better than enmity for sure.

ginger kitten licking mother cats head
Image Credit: David D Pixabay

Why Do Cats Lick Dog’s Ears?

If your cat licks your dog often, you might notice a few favorite spots. Lots of cats love to lick their dogs’ ears! The reason why cats focus on the ears is because of the earwax. Earwax is composed of dead skin cells and oils or fatty acids from the skin, and many cats are curious about the scent. They might also be trying to clean out dirty ears. Most dogs don’t like having their ears cleaned, so if you see your cat trying to go after the ears, you might want to separate them or distract your cat with something else to keep the peace.

cat and dog together on sofa
Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

The Lick-Then-Bite Game

Another strange thing that cats do is pause licking to bite something and then go back to licking. This can happen for a few reasons. Sometimes, cats get a tough spot—like a clump of dirt or a burr—by biting it. You usually see a kind of burrowing movement as your cat works out whatever is stuck. But other times, it seems like your cat has gone from friendly to fierce and back again in a blink.

We don’t know all the reasons, but it’s clear that cats are trying to communicate different things at different times when they bite. Sometimes, the bites are a way of telling your dog to hold still because the grooming isn’t done yet—like a mother cat scolding a kitten. Other times, it might show some frustration or need for space. You can gently discourage your cat from biting, but most of the time, these bites will be fairly gentle and harmless.

a german shepherd dog teasing and playing with gray cat at home
Image Credit: Alex Zotov, Shutterstock

Fostering Friendship Between Cats and Dogs

It can be hard to help cats and dogs get along. Often, cats will arouse prey instincts in dogs—this means that dogs can see cats as something to hunt. And cats are often scared of or aggressive to dogs, making it hard to get a friendly relationship off the ground.

When you get a new pet, it’s often smart to put it in a room of its own for the first few days so that it can adjust to being in a new place and so that other animals can become familiar with its scent. You can also exchange bedding to help the scents become even more normal. After that, expose them to your other pets in supervised situations at first. Training can help your dog control aggressive impulses towards cats, as can regular exercise and play. Cats do best when they have some safe spaces out of reach of your dog since they often need more space and alone time.

Final Thoughts

Navigating multi-pet life can be tough. Cats and dogs have some similarities, but they also have different needs and wants, and it can be hard to get them to see each other as friends. If your cat starts licking your dog, you might be a little scared it will escalate. If your dog becomes uncomfortable, you can always separate them, but don’t get worried too fast. Grooming behaviors are a good sign on the cat’s end. Before long, you’ll have a happy, well-integrated pet family.

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Featured Image Credit:  Ermolaev Alexander, Shutterstock

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