Why Does My Dog Lick My Cat? (We Asked A Veterinarian)

mixed breed dog licking a small black and white kitten on the nose
Picture of <a href="https://notabully.org/author/dr-nita-patel" target="_blank" rel="noopener">     <span style="font-size: 21px; color: black;">Fact Checked & Reviewed By: </span>     <strong style="font-size: 20px; color: black;">Dr. Nita Vasudevan Patel, DVM, MS</strong> </a>

Dr. Patel is a Florida-based veterinarian with over half a decade of experience.

Picture of <a href="https://notabully.org/author/dr-nita-patel" target="_blank" rel="noopener">     <span style="font-size: 19px; color: black;">Fact Checked & Reviewed By: </span>     <strong style="font-size: 19px; color: black;">Dr. Nita Vasudevan Patel, DVM, MS</strong> </a>
Fact Checked & Reviewed By: Dr. Nita Vasudevan Patel, DVM, MS

Dr. Patel is a Florida-based veterinarian with over half a decade of experience.

The old adage “fighting like cats and dogs” is no longer an accurate way of looking at the relationship between our feline friends and our feisty fidos.

For dogs and cats that live within the same household, it’s actually more common to see them getting along than fighting! One of the most common things we may see with our furry companions is when our dogs lick or groom our cats.

Most of the time, dogs lick cats as part of a mutual grooming experience or as part of a bonding experience. However, aside from affection, medical issues, or a dirty cat could also explain the licking. As long as the cat is okay with it, there’s usually nothing to worry about. 

In this article, we will go over the possible reasons as to why your dog may be licking your cat, as well as what the licking probably isn’t. We’ll also discuss whether it’s even safe for your dog to lick your cat, tips for how to get your dog to stop licking your cat, and information about how to ensure your dog and cat have a good relationship with each other.

Reason #1: Your Dog Is Grooming Your Cat

Both dogs and cats engage in what is called mutual grooming among their own species, and both species are some of the few animal species that also engage in mutual grooming outside of their own species.

Dogs may lick cats (and vice versa) to help clean them up and remove any debris from the cat’s body. Grooming like this is also an act of bonding, and many dogs and cats will frequently engage in licking and grooming each other whenever they are stressed and need comfort, or if they are just getting to know each other and want to work on building a peaceful relationship with each other.

Reason #2: It’s A Sign Of Affection

Since grooming is also part of the bonding process in both dogs and cats, your dog may lick the cat to show that it means the cat no harm and that it is interested in establishing a relationship with the cat.

Adult female dogs (especially those who have previously had experience with puppies) may also lick cats and kittens more frequently as a sign of affection and interest in getting their scent onto the cat’s body.

Reason #3: There Is Something On Your Cat’s Fur That Smells Or Tastes Good To Your Dog

If your cat recently got into something that smells or tastes good to your dog, then you may see your dog attempt to lick whatever it is off of the cat.

A dog may also lick your cat if your cat has just returned from being outside, from the vet, or from the groomer. All of those locations have a lot of different smells wafting around and it’s inevitable that some of those scents cling to your cat’s fur.

When she gets home, your dog may take an interest in the smell and lick at the cat to explore the taste of whatever they are smelling.

Reason #4: Your Dog Is Trying To Relieve Stress

Occasionally, dogs can suffer from behavioral conditions similar to an anxiety disorder in humans, skin conditions, or other internal organ disorders that cause an increased urge to lick excessively to help alleviate the irritation.

The symptoms of some of these disorders and illnesses can show up as excessive licking in dogs, however not all of them explain why your dog is excessively licking your cat.

If your dog begins to lick your cat and is unable (or unwilling) to stop, or you notice that the licking of any object or body part becomes excessive and frequent, then your dog may be suffering from some kind of anxiety disorder.

If you are concerned about excessive licking in your dog, you should reach out to your veterinarian to rule out anything more serious as well as speak to a local dog trainer or veterinary behaviorist if the cause of the licking is anxiety related and ways to help reduce your dog’s anxiety and curb the excessive licking behaviors.

Reason #5: Your Cat Has An Underlying Health Condition

While rare it’s possible your dog is licking and grooming your cat because your cat has an underlying health condition.

These health conditions could include a fungal or other dermatitis issue on the cat’s skin, or in some very rare cases, your dog may actually smell an internal illness the cat may be suffering from and lick at the areas in which the smell is the strongest (such as what you can sometimes see dogs do with cancerous tumors in people).

Dogs may also lick senior cats more frequently, more likely because very old cats can sometimes struggle to keep themselves clean.

If you suspect that your cat has something going on health-wise, you should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.

What About Licking Specific Parts Of My Cat?

Sometimes the reason depends on where your dog is licking the cat and it’s always my first follow-up question when a client asks about their dog’s licking habit.

Ears

Ears are one of the most common areas for a dog to lick a cat and while dogs may lick the ears of other dogs for a variety reasons, the most likely reason a dog may be licking a cat’s ears is due to the fact that a cat’s ears can contain a lot of salty ear wax, yeast, parasites such as ear mites, and other fungal or bacterial issues that smell and taste interesting to the dog.

Yeast infections tends to be one of the more common reasons for a dog to continuously licks at a cat’s ears, and the licking may be quite obsessive because the yeast does taste good to the dog. Besides the licking, signs of a yeast infection in a cat’s ears may also include itching and scratching, hair loss, a pungent cheese- or corn chip-like smell, and dark earwax.

If your dog seems to have an abnormal interest in licking your cat’s ears, a trip to the vet is necessary so that your vet can run tests to determine whether or not your cat has a yeast or other ear infection.

Bottom

If you have a senior cat, young kitten, or a cat with a medical issue, your dog may frequently lick and groom their bottom area due to the cat not being able to clean themselves properly after using the bathroom.

While cats are known for being very fastidious groomers, some cats are definitely less hygienic than others and your dog may take it upon themselves to help clean them up!

Dr. Nita Patel urges owners to “monitor their dogs for any signs of gastrointestinal issues development as some parasites have a fecal-oral transmission which can be spread by licking this region.”

Back

Your dog may lick your cat’s back more frequently because it might be the easiest body part for them to reach, as well as the fact that cats like to arch and rub their backs against other things so there is probably a lot of scent lingering on their back.

When cats roll in things, their backs and sides also become covered in whatever they rolled in, so your dog may take more interest in those parts of the body than others.

Head

Cats sometimes show their affection with “head butts” and many will head butt a dog to show they are friendly and seeking attention. In response, the dog may begin licking the cats head to assure the cat that they, too, mean no harm and are friendly.

Cats also have scent glands covering their heads and faces, so a dog may lick more frequently around those areas of the head and face due to the presence of the pheromones.

What Your Dog Licking Your Cat Probably Isn’t

We’ve gone over the most likely explanation for dogs that are interested in licking cats but let’s clarify some of the common misconceptions too.

1) It Probably Isn’t Because Your Dog Is Trying To Eat The Cat

Cats are not part of the domestic dog’s regular diet, and it is unlikely your dog has any interest in eating your cat provided he is not starving or suffering from a kind of extreme medical disorder causing a change in his demeanor.

While dogs do have the capability to injure a cat, you probably don’t have to worry that Fido is about to eat Kitty if you see him sneak a lick of her fur!

Most breeds of dogs, including larger “tough” breeds such as the Rottweiler, get along well with cats provided they are introduced properly and there probably is little risk that your dog is trying to eat your cat.

2) It’s Probably Not Because Your Dog Is Trying To Make Your Cat Use The Bathroom

The exception to this is if you have a newborn kitten and an adult female dog who has previously had puppies or has very strong maternal instincts.

Adult female cats will lick at a newborn kitten’s bum area to try and encourage the kitten to pee and poop. Adult female dogs also do this with newborn puppies, so if you have a newborn kitten around a female dog who has experience with this, she may attempt to lick at the newborn kitten’s bum area to try and stimulate them to use the bathroom.

3) It Probably Isn’t Because Your Dog Thinks He Is A Cat

While cats and dogs may imitate each other’s mannerisms and certain behaviors if they spend a lot of time together (especially if they’ve grown up together), it is unlikely that your dog thinks he is a cat when you catch him licking or grooming your cat.

Dogs are fully aware that they are dogs, and because both dogs and cats engage in mutual grooming the dog would probably lick at the cat anyway as an act of bonding, rather than doing it out of mistaken identity.

What About Kittens? 

Dogs of both genders may be more prone to licking kittens and younger cats because they pose less of a threat to the dog.

Kittens are less likely to react towards the dog in an aggressive manner, and while they may hiss and lightly swat at the dog, it is unlikely they would cause any damage due to being so much smaller than an adult cat.

Kittens, particularly orphan kittens, may be licked more by dogs due to poor grooming habits. Female dogs with puppies or strong maternal instincts may also be more prone to licking kittens as they often recognize that they are babies.

Is It Safe For My Dog To Lick My Cat?

In general, it is safe for your dog to lick and groom your cat, but you still want to be cautious about allowing your dog to lick your cat if your cat takes any issue with it, as a good swat at the dog by a clawed cat can cause some serious injuries to the dog’s eyes.

If your cat gets upset with your dog and swats, your dog may in turn get upset and accidentally injure the cat in response. I find that it’s best to be observant of their interactions and if the dog prevents the cat from leaving at any point, then you should step in and help the cat get some space from the dog.

If you have any kind of flea treatment or other topical medication on your cat, you should also prevent your dog from licking your cat. Not only will this remove whatever treatment you have on the cat, but it could potentially be toxic to the dog if she ingests it.

How Do I Stop My Dog From Licking My Cat?

Even though the behavior isn’t a problem (as long as the feline doesn’t mind) you still might want to change it. Let’s talk about how.

Training

I always encourage my clients to teach their dogs the “Leave It” cue to help encourage them to either leave the cat alone completely or help them understand when the cat has had enough, and they need to stop licking.

“Leave It” is a simple behavior to teach your dog, but it has many uses and should be considered a “must learn” when training your dog. Telling the dog “Leave It” if he attempts to lick the cat is a great way to teach him that it’s inappropriate to be doing that.

Management

An easy and quick way to keep your dog from licking your cat is to prevent access to the cat in the first place. You can do this by placing baby gates around the areas where the cat may frequently sleep or eat.

Ensuring that the cat has a lot of high places out of reach of the dog is another good way to help keep your dog away from your cat and allows your cat to escape from the dog if they are uninterested in a grooming session.

You may be tempted to use a taste deterrent along your cat’s back to stop your dog from licking them, but it’s not the best option. I would advise using another method because your cat may also find the taste unappealing and stop grooming themselves.

Groom The Cat

If your dog is licking your cat due to your cat’s less than stellar hygiene, then you might need to take it upon yourself to groom your cat.

Using cat-specific shampoo, grooming wipes, or waterless shampoo can help keep your cat clean and keep your dog from wanting to help him with the grooming process.

Don’t Let The Cat Teach The Dog

I found letting your cat teach your dog to be the riskiest method for teaching your dog not to lick the cat, and would suggest using one of the above methods instead.

While dogs can learn from mistakes, if you have a cat who is prone to using their claws first without a warning swat, then it’s best not to give your cat the opportunity to teach your dog a lesson.

Only if you have a more patient cat or one who gives gentler warnings first, it may help to have them teach the dog when enough is enough and it’s time for a break from the grooming session, but it should only happen under your supervision, so you can step in if something goes wrong!

Tips For A Peaceful Relationship Between Your Cat And Dog

I’ve found that cats and dogs can have a great relationship with each other if both animals are introduced to each other slowly and at their own pace.

Providing them with plenty of space and “safe spaces” where they can get away from each other is important to help keep the peace within the household. Making sure all of their needs are met is also necessary to avoid any conflicts between the two.

Closing Thoughts

If you catch your dog and cat engaging in a grooming session or even just a quick head lick, that’s usually a sign of a good relationship between your two furry friends! Problems between dogs and cats in the same household are on of the most common problems that clients hire me when it comes to training so count yourself lucky that your furry companions are happy with each other!

There may be times when something more serious is occurring or the licking needs to be stopped for the well-being of both animals, but in general, it’s completely safe and even encouraging to see your dog licking your cat.

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