Cat

Why Do Cats Lick Each Other? Surprising Reasons.

Why Do Cats Lick Each OtherPhoto by Shubhankar Sharma on Unsplash

Our cats like to do two things the most, napping, and licking themselves and others. In fact, cats can spend up to fifty percent of their waking time licking itself or another cat. While some may say that this is an obsession (and in some cases, it is), it is just normal for cats to lick themselves. For those that might be contemplating, “Why do cats lick each other?” this article is for you. There are a few quite surprising reasons why cats lick themselves and other cats. Let’s dive right into them!

Hygiene

Some people prefer cats to dogs because cats are naturally cleaner. That is true. The first reason cats lick themselves is to maintain cleanliness.

Cats are afraid of being submerged in water, and they have good reason to be. They do not need water to clean themselves. Their licking can do the job of baths, and much more!

If you look closely at your cat’s tongue, though it is highly improbable that she will let you, you will notice barbs sticking out of them. These barbs are called papillae.

Papillae are scooped, hollow barbs on cats’ tongues. They serve as the comb of the cat. When a cat licks herself, her papillae scoops out the debris in her fur and untangle it down to the fur near their skins.

Another purpose of the papillae is to cool the cat down. Cats don’t sweat, and neither do they pant to release body heat like dogs do. So how could they cool themselves down?

A cat’s papillae can store significant amounts of saliva in them. The saliva is then transferred to the cat’s skin when the cat licks itself. This method allows moisture to permeate a cat’s thick fur down to the skin to cool down.

The two uses of a cat’s tongue – combing and bathing – are exactly why they don’t need, nor want, bathtimes. They have everything they need – or do they?

Cats Can’t Do Everything Alone

Cats are known to have a sense of independence. But they themselves know that they can’t do everything alone.

For example, cats are highly flexible and can reach every part of themselves that requires licking (or grooming), except the top of their heads and necks. This is where other cats come into the picture.

Cats need other cats to groom for them what they can not groom for themselves. That is why a cat will approach another and initiate a process called allogrooming.

Allogrooming is the feline process of licking each other, for various reasons. Sure, one of those reasons is to help a fellow cat to maintain her cleanliness, but there are social and psychological reasons too.

Building Connections with cats

Though it is common for non-cat persons to assume that cats are unsociable. The exact opposite is true. Cats are sociable, however, they like to choose their friends carefully.

A cat would only let another cat lick her IF she likes and trusts that cat. For one cat to receive a cordial treatment from a group of cats, she must first be integrated into the group by associating herself to the group gradually through social interactions.

This means that cats need the company of other cats in order to truly maintain herself.

Diverting Aggression

Studies have shown that more aggressive and more dominant cats do more of the allogrooming than the rest of the group. This is because the leader of the groom will show his dominance by serving the rest instead of picking fights with them.

That behavior displays licking as a way to divert aggression. If a cat’s aggressiveness will negatively affect the group’s well-being, it is better to just start licking themselves.

Self Relaxation

Your feline friend will feel more comfortable when grooming or licking herself. So when she feels threats or causes of uncomfortableness around, she starts to lick herself.

In some cases, though, licking herself may not be enough to allay her discomfort. She needs another cat to groom. This is another instance where allogrooming comes in.

Why Do Cats Lick Each Other? To Show Affection

The first thing that a mother cat does to her fur babies is to lick them. This serves two purposes: cleaning and protection.

Upon birth, a kitten is covered in birth fluids. Mama Cat, being the loving mum that she is, will clean her baby from the fluid.

The birth fluids smell. They can attract predators. That is another reason why Mama Cat will clean her baby, to prevent predators from smelling her defenseless newborn.

Mama Cat’s licking also serves as a  way to teach her kittens how to clean herself. The mother will not only lick her litter to clean them, but she will lick their abdominal and anal areas to encourage waste elimination. 

As the kitten grows, Mama Cat will continue to lick her until she is about four weeks old. By which time, the kitten should be able to clean herself.

Because she began the first few weeks of her life seeing licking as a way to show affection, the kitten will continue to live her life licking her friends to show her affection to them.

Answer to: Why Do Cats Lick Each Other

There are a few reasons why: hygiene, building social connections, diverting aggression, self-relaxation and to display affection.

There may be more reasons why cats allogroom that science did not yet discover, but so far these are the ones known.

It should also be mentioned that cats can be over-licking. And that is a red flag. Over-licking is commonly a habit done when a cat is suffering from an illness that may not be easily seen.

In fact, some distressed cats will lick themselves to baldness. Before such a severe case occurs, it is advisable to take your cat to the vet if you notice that she licks herself more than usual.

But if her licking is normal, just let her be. It is good for her. And frankly, it is just so cute to watch!

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