You’ve probably heard many stories over your lifetime about how cats and dogs do not get along. For this reason, it may appear quite alarming to see your dog licking your cat. You may even feel concerned that your dog is sizing your kitten up to be its next snack. Fortunately, that isn’t usually the case.

While there are some dog breeds with high “prey” drives that will never fully integrate cats into their packs, many dog breeds will. Once they’ve identified the cat as part of the pack, then the dog will determine the rank of the cat within the pack (this may take a few skirmishes between the two). Please note, that the larger animal isn’t always the more dominant. Quite often, cats come out on top of these skirmishes and have higher “pack order” than dogs, even if the dog is a much larger animal. It’s more about temperament than size in these matters.

Below, we will discuss possible reasons for your dog licking your cat and why they matter to you and your pets. Here’s what you need to know about dogs licking cats and if or when you may need to intervene.

Why Does My Dog Lick My Cat?

Understanding the motivation behind your dog licking your cat is important. Since all dogs, and dog breeds, are different, it is important to view your dog’s behavior through an individual lens. In other words, it won’t be a one size fits all issue. These are a few of the possible motivations that lead dogs to lock cats.

Displays of Affection

Dogs lick things they like. Things that interest them. People they like. They lick. A lot. It’s part of their charm. You may have even noticed that they lick their lips in anticipation of their favorite treats.

Once they’ve accepted your cat as part of the pack, the simple truth is, that your cat is part of the dog’s family. Your dog loves its family. Licking is just one your dog expresses that love.

Oddly enough, if the cat feels the same way about your dog, it is likely to return these signs of affection. However, if your cat is more aloof or not sure of your dog, it could find the constant licking to be annoying. It may even hiss or claw at your dog to warn it away. You may need to intervene at times to avoid escalating tensions between your cat and dog if this is the case.

Pack Politics

In the wild, cats and dogs travel in packs. Even after centuries of domestication, the pack structure remains for these pets. It may take a while for them to work out the pack hierarchy in your household. Hint, you want to make certain you’re the Alpha and let your pets sort out the rest amongst themselves.

Once they’ve worked out their place in the pack, though, the more submissive or less dominant pack members will often lick those who have a higher rank within the pack. This includes humans and other animals – even cats.

It isn’t the only reason a dog might lick your cat, but certainly one worth considering. Other indications that your cat is the dominant creature include these behaviors.

  • Sleeping on your dog’s head.
  • Hissing, growling, or clawing at your dog.
  • Taking over your dog’s bed.

You can help mitigate these behaviors by showering each animal with equal affection. Feeding them at the same time but in separate locations (this helps eliminate possible food aggression). Making sure they have plenty of water, and by stepping in when things get too heated between them. Sometimes our pets need time-outs too. You might also consider separating them when leaving the house, you can do this by crate training your pets when you’re away.

Grooming

Cats are consummate groomers. While most pet owners associate this as a solidly cat trait, dogs are groomers, too. Dogs will groom other dogs in the pack, and they will attempt to groom the humans in their pack as well. Once they begin making attempts to groom your cat, you can know that the dog considers the cat part of the family.

The unfortunate reality is that your dog is far more likely to accept your cat than it is for your cat to accept your dog – at least not immediately. Cats take a little more time to make their final judgments and are quite often less submissive and accepting than dogs.

However, once your cat relents and begins grooming your dog in return, you can feel greater confidence that they’ve all accepted each other as part of the family. That doesn’t mean there will never be a conflict between them. Anyone with children knows this all too well.

Interesting Smells

Dogs love smells. That’s why they love sticking their noses out of windows when riding in a car or truck. They can’t get enough of the endless smells they experience. Cats smell different from humans and other dogs. So your dog wants to learn more. The logical progression for many dogs from smelling is tasting. Not to take a bite out of your cat, but to lick your cat instead.

Once your dog has developed a true affection for your cat, you may notice that it is licking more than your cat. It may lick the places where your cat likes to lay, a favorite pillow of the cat, the cat’s bed, or the cat’s blanket. These are all things that smell like the cat and provide positive feedback and feelings for your dog.

What to Do About My Dog Licking My Cat?

Unless it bothers your cat, there isn’t anything you have to do about your dog licking your cat. Even then, it is often best to let them sort things out themselves. After all, if it bothers your cat too much, there are ways cats can escape the dog in your home if the licking is truly annoying. Plus, most cats are not at all shy about telling the dog it’s had enough.

However, if your dog is struggling to get the message (most dogs are slow to pick up on subtle messages) or you feel your cat is somehow at risk, you can intervene and separate the two. Also, if your dog happens to be one with a high prey drive, such as a Siberian Husky or German Shepherd and is a breed that is known for killing cats, the safest thing to do would be to keep them separated especially when you are not around.

It would also help to make sure that your cat has access to a safe space that it can go to when it does not want to be around your dog. A safe spot could include somewhere high-up such as on a window ledge where your dog cannot reach.

Why Does My Dog Groom My Cat?

When your dog grooms your cat it is likely either a display of submission to your cat or a sign of affection toward your cat. It is rarely an act of aggression, whether your cat views it the same way or not.

In some instances, dogs grooming cats can be a sign that your cat has gotten into something sticky or that smells interesting to your dog. Remember that a dog’s sense of smell has so many more layers than the average human. Plus, some breeds have an even stronger sense of smell than other dog breeds. If your cat goes outside or is famous for getting into things you’d rather it didn’t, this can lead to increased grooming from your dog.

Why Does My Dog Lick My Cat’s Bottom?

When your dog licks your cat’s bottom, it is usually about one thing and one thing only. Protein. Cats are carnivores and most cat foods on the market today offer heavy helpings of protein. This protein doesn’t always get broken down in the body. When it comes out as waste, it has a high-protein smell that dogs love.

If your cat has recently used the litter box or for some reason is unable to groom itself adequately after using the litter box, your dog will be perfectly happy to take one for the team.

As disgusting as it sounds, it isn’t necessarily unhealthy for your dog, and it is something your cat may actually appreciate if it is, for some reason, unable to properly groom itself.

One word of caution, though, is that if you have a puppy that is at risk for growing too quickly or developing a condition like hip dysplasia, you may want to limit access to excess protein in the form of treats and such if your puppy is obsessive about licking your cat’s bottom.

Why Does My Dog Lick My Cat’s Back?

Your dog may lick your cat’s back for many reasons. One of the most common is genuine affection. It’s a manner of grooming that is a little less, shall we say, personal, than licking the cat’s bottom, but one that indicates that the dog truly enjoys the cat and views your cat as part of its pack or family.

Why Does My Dog Lick My Cat’s Head?

When your dog licks your cat’s head, it is another instance of grooming. This can either be viewed as a sign of submission or affection, depending on the animal hierarchy within your home. Since both dogs and cats are pack creatures, they understand the need for clearly defined hierarchies. Of course, they speak different languages, and often have different body languages to overcome in the transition.

For instance, dogs wag their tales when they are happy or feeling particularly playful. Cats do so as an indicator of aggression. When your cat sees your dog wagging its tail, it is likely to view this as a prelude to attack and your cat may last out first (especially if your cat is the dominant animal of the two).

However, it is not at all uncommon to have a cat enjoy the affections of a dog that is licking its head, especially if the dog is cleaning out its ears.

Author

I created and currently manage Pet Dog Owner, the website you can go to when you have questions about your dog's behavior. It is my hope that you find Pet Dog Owner to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your dog. You can read more about me and my website here.