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Cats are social animals that communicate with each other in various ways, and licking is one of their methods of social grooming. When cats lick each other, they are showing affection and strengthening social bonds.
Grooming helps cats to spread their scent, which helps them identify each other as part of the same social group. It’s also a way for cats to help each other maintain hygiene by removing dirt, loose fur, and parasites from their fur. Also, cats may lick each other’s wounds to promote healing and to help ease pain or discomfort.
Let’s see 12 reasons why cats lick each other detailed below…
1. Maintain clean fur through grooming.
Cats engage in a unique grooming process called allogrooming, which involves licking one another to maintain clean fur. Allogrooming serves a critical function in feline health by removing dead hair, dirt, and debris from the coat. Additionally, it helps to stimulate the production and distribution of sebum, an oil secreted by the cat’s skin that provides a natural protective barrier and imparts a healthy sheen to their fur.
Cats have specialized barbed tongues that are adept at reaching difficult-to-clean areas such as the head, neck, and ears, which enhances the overall grooming process. By partaking in allogrooming, cats can also reduce the risk of ingesting excessive amounts of fur, which may lead to the formation of hairballs in their digestive system. This intricate mutual grooming behavior showcases the practical and health-related aspects of allogrooming within feline social groups.
2. Strengthen social bonds.
When cats engage in allogrooming, they are not only grooming each other but also exchanging scents through their saliva. This scent exchange creates a shared group odor that fosters a sense of belonging and unity within the group. Cats that have positive relationships with one another are more likely to engage in allogrooming, as it serves as a form of social contact and trust-building.
In this context, allogrooming acts as a form of tactile communication, allowing cats to express their affiliative intentions and strengthen their bonds. Researchers have found that allogrooming often occurs between cats with similar social ranks, further highlighting its role in reinforcing and maintaining social bonds within a feline community.
3. Find stress relief.
During the process, cats often experience a release of endorphins, which are natural chemicals associated with pleasure and relaxation. These endorphins act as a natural stress reducer, helping to alleviate tension and anxiety within the cat’s body.
In addition, the repetitive motion of licking has a self-soothing effect, similar to humans engaging in relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation. The gentle pressure and rhythmic motion applied by the cat’s tongue during the grooming process also contribute to the sensation of relaxation and stress relief. This stress-reducing effect of allogrooming is particularly important in multi-cat households or feral cat colonies, where social dynamics and environmental factors can create stressful situations for the cats.
4. Display displacement behavior in anxious situations.
Displacement behaviors are actions that seem unrelated to the situation at hand and arise as a response to conflicting emotions or internal stress. In the context of cats, licking each other during moments of anxiety or unease can be seen as a displacement behavior, which allows them to redirect their focus and energy into a familiar and comforting activity.
This behavioral redirection helps cats to self-soothe and regain a sense of control in the face of an otherwise stressful event. Additionally, engaging in allogrooming with a trusted companion during these moments of anxiety can provide emotional support and reassurance, reinforcing the social bond between the cats and promoting a sense of safety and security.
5. Establish hierarchy in a social group.
Licking helps establish hierarchy in a cat’s social group, playing a crucial role in maintaining order and stability among its members. In multi-cat households or feral cat colonies, social hierarchy is of vital importance in reducing conflict and resource competition. When cats engage in allogrooming, the act of licking each other often reflects their social rank within the group.
Typically, the dominant or higher-ranking cat will be groomed by the submissive or lower-ranking cat, showcasing a form of respect and deference to authority. This mutual grooming ritual not only strengthens social bonds between cats but also reinforces their respective positions within the group. By engaging in this behavior, cats can communicate their social status, assert dominance, or display submission, depending on their role within the hierarchy.
6. Spread their scent.
Cats possess scent glands in various locations on their bodies, including their cheeks, lips, forehead, and chin. As they groom each other, they not only clean their fur but also deposit pheromones from these scent glands onto their companions. These pheromones contain chemical signals that convey various types of information, such as individual identity, reproductive status, and emotional state. By spreading their scent through allogrooming, cats create a shared olfactory signature that reinforces group identity and delineates communal territories.
7. Offer comfort to unwell or stressed cats.
Cats offer comfort by licking unwell or stressed companions, demonstrating empathy and providing emotional support during challenging times. When a cat senses that a fellow feline is experiencing distress, pain, or illness, they may engage in allogrooming as a nurturing behavior to provide solace and reassurance. This act of licking can serve to strengthen their social bond and create a sense of safety and security for the distressed cat. The gentle pressure and rhythmic motion of grooming can have a calming effect, helping to alleviate the companion’s anxiety or discomfort. Additionally, the release of endorphins during allogrooming may contribute to pain relief and relaxation for the unwell or stressed cat.
8. Engage in playful social interaction.
Licking is a playful social interaction among cats, serving as an essential component of their bonding, learning, and communication. They often display a gentle and relaxed demeanor, taking turns in grooming one another. This playful interaction allows them to establish and maintain strong social bonds, while also providing an opportunity to practice and refine their grooming skills.
Playful grooming sessions can also serve as an essential outlet for the cats’ energy, curiosity, and natural hunting instincts, as they engage in a form of tactile exploration with their companions. Through these playful interactions, young cats can learn valuable social skills and boundaries from their older counterparts, such as how to interpret and respond to various forms of feline body language.
9. Check each other’s health.
Cats can detect abnormalities in their fellow felines’ fur, such as wounds, infections, or parasites. The rough texture of a cat’s tongue, featuring backward-facing papillae, is well-suited for inspecting the condition of fur and skin. This careful examination helps to identify and address potential health issues early on, which can be crucial for maintaining the overall health of the group. Furthermore, during the grooming process, cats may also detect changes in their companion’s scent or body temperature, providing additional clues about their health status.
10. Display motherly instincts towards younger cats.
Adult cats display motherly instincts by licking younger cats, demonstrating nurturing and protective behaviors that contribute to the healthy development of kittens. Often, these adult cats, particularly females, will assume a caregiving role for kittens that are not their own offspring. By engaging in allogrooming, adult cats help maintain the cleanliness and hygiene of the younger felines, ensuring their fur is free of dirt, debris, and parasites.
This grooming process also stimulates blood circulation, which is essential for the kitten’s overall health and well-being. Furthermore, the act of licking serves as a means of socialization, teaching the kittens important life skills, such as grooming techniques, proper feline etiquette, and boundaries. The adult cat’s attention and care create a sense of safety and security for the kittens, fostering a nurturing environment that is crucial for their growth and development.
11. Indicate trust and friendship through mutual grooming.
They expose sensitive areas of their bodies to one another, such as their head, neck, and ears. This mutual vulnerability requires a significant level of trust between the cats, as they rely on each other to handle these delicate areas with care. The willingness to engage in such a close and intimate interaction serves as a strong indicator of the quality of their relationship.
Cats that share a strong bond are more likely to groom one another, further solidifying their friendship and social connection. Allogrooming also facilitates the exchange of scents, which contributes to a shared group identity and reinforces the cats’ affiliative ties.
12. Cool down on warm days by spreading saliva.
Cats utilize the evaporative properties of their saliva as a natural temperature-regulating mechanism. Unlike humans and some other mammals, cats have a limited ability to sweat, with sweat glands primarily located in their paw pads. Consequently, they have developed alternative methods to dissipate heat and maintain their body temperature. Licking their fur and spreading a thin layer of saliva over it allows cats to take advantage of the cooling effect produced by the evaporation of the moisture. In addition to self-grooming, cats may also groom each other on hot days, helping to cool down their companions by spreading saliva on their fur.
Becca The Crazy Cats Lady is an experienced and knoweldgeable cat owner with years of experience caring for a multi-cat household. She curates, writes and shares cat content at https://CrazyCatsLady.com.