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Why does my cat lick my new kitten?

Bringing a new kitten into the house can be a blessing and a curse. Some cats instantly love a new kitten, while others can take some time to adapt. Your older cat licking the new addition is a positive sign. It shows that they care for the new kitten. 

Why does my cat lick my new kitten?

There are many reasons your cat may lick your new kitten. In fact, cats of all ages groom each other as part of their social structure. When it comes to an older cat and a kitten, there are a variety of potential factors at play. 

Maternal Instinct

If your older cat is a female, maternal instinct may play a role. This is more likely if your cat has had her own kittens, but females who have never been mothers can also display maternal behavior. 

Mothers lick their kittens to groom them, and to bond with them. In fact, it’s the first thing she does once she brings a baby kitten into the world. Even though the kitten is not hers, it can trigger the same instinct to care for a kitten. 

Social Grooming

Grooming each other is one of the three ways cats express unity within a colony. The other two methods are rubbing against each other, and scenting. Grooming within a colony is sometimes reciprocated, but not always. 

Cats of a higher rank tend to receive more grooming, but the behavior is observed with cats of all ranks. Researchers have also noted that cats outside the colony are not groomed by members of the colony. When your older cat grooms the new one, this means they have accepted them as a part of their colony. 

Researchers also say that the closer the bond between the cats, the more likely they are to groom each other.  

Familiar Smell

Smell is very important to cats. You may notice that your cat loves to curl up on the sweater that you’ve worn, or will take your seat the moment you get up. This is because they find your familiar scent comforting. 

When a kitten enters the home, it has a different scent. The cat will have its own smell, as well as smells from its environment. This can be off putting to your cat. They may lick the newcomer to remove the smells of its former environment, and mark the kitten with their own smell. 

Compulsive Licking

Cats can develop obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, just as people can. Licking is a source of comfort for cats. Humans may hug themselves, rock back and forth, or touch their face to self soothe. Cats will lick themselves, or other cats, for the same purpose. 

This is a natural soothing behavior, but a cat with OCD will become obsessed with licking. They may lick so much they cause skin problems.

If your cat seems to be licking constantly, OCD might be to blame. A normal cat will spend an amazing 30-50% of their waking hours grooming, so don’t worry if your cat grooms themselves frequently. However, if they do little else, or develop skin lesions, they may have compulsive disorder. 


Cats lick as a way to show affection. No one is sure how deep a cats emotions go at this point. It’s unknown if they can feel emotions as complex as love, but they certainly feel affection and fondness. 

You may notice your cat licking you when they are feeling affectionate. This is a reason cats lick their owners, as well as other cats. It’s their way of showing their fondness for you. Think of it as the cat version of a warm hug. 


Kittens begin grooming themselves at 3 weeks of age. By 4 to 5 weeks, they also begin grooming their mom and littermates. Most kittens are proficient at grooming by 6 weeks of age. However, they may still miss a spot or two. 

Even adult cats benefit from another cat willing to groom the hard to reach parts. Your cat may be licking the kitten as a way to clean or bathe them, particularly if the kitten isn’t fastidious enough for your cat’s liking. 

How long does it take for a cat to get used to a new kitten?

How long it takes for your resident cat to accept a new kitten can vary greatly based on your cat’s personality and temperament. Some cats will accept a new kitten within days, while it can take others months. The good news is that how you introduce your kitten can help the cat accept them more quickly. 


Younger cats will accept a new addition much quicker than an older cat. They may develop a friendship with a new cat within a few weeks or months. Older cats can take up to a year to truly accept a new cat. 

Previous Experience

Your cat’s previous experience also plays a role. If your cat has lived with other cats before, or had kittens, they are more likely to accept a new kitten. 

If your cat has been an only cat for their entire adult life, it will take them longer to get used to a new cat. 

Safe Introduction

When introducing a new kitten, it’s important to do so carefully. First, your kitten will need a safe space. This should be an area that can be closed off, so the older cat can’t get to the kitten. Provide food, water, a litter box, and a few places to hide in the area. 

Most owners want to immediately introduce the new kitten, but this isn’t the best idea. Instead of an immediate introduction, wait a day for things to settle down. Then take an object from each cat with their scent on it, and place it in the other cats’ area. This allows them to get accustomed to the other’s smell. 

Once they are used to each other’s smell, it’s time to perform a formal introduction. There are two ways to do this. If you have someone to help, one of you can hold the cat while the other holds the kitten. 

You can put them down so they can get to know each other, but grab them at the first sign of trouble. If they begin to hiss or swish their tail, they should be taken to separate areas before things escalate. Try again in a few hours or the next day. 

The other method is to use a baby gate or other barrier. A cat on each side of the gate allows them to meet without harming each other. It also allows either to make a retreat if needed. Once they seem to be comfortable with each other, remove the gate. 

Manage Expectations

It’s fine to hope that your two felines become instant best friends, but expecting this sets you up for failure. You should expect the two to take some time to warm up to each other. 

Some older cats will learn to tolerate a kitten, but no more. It’s simply their personality, and not a failing of you or the cat. As long as the two are getting along, consider it a success, even if they aren’t besties. 

Don’t expect your older cat to share, either. Be sure that the new cat has their own food bowls, sleeping area, litter box, and toys. This can cut down on the tension between the two. 

Allow Your Cat to Maintain Status

Cats are typically hierarchical. This means that one cat will be expected to defer to the other.. The resident cat will likely expect to have its choice of toys and the best sleeping areas. As long as the older cat isn’t harming the kitten, it’s often best to let them work things out amongst themselves. 

Allowing the older cat to maintain their status can go a long way towards them accepting your new kitten. 

Will my older cat hurt my new kitten?

Some cats will easily take to a kitten. These cats will form an almost instant bond with the youngster, and be quick to show affection. However, some cats are territorial or mercurial. These cats may not appreciate competition. 

It’s difficult to know how your cat will react to a kitten ahead of time. It’s best to avoid leaving them alone unsupervised, unless you are certain the kitten is safe with the older cat. 

Why Cats Can Harm Kittens

Kittens under 16 weeks old are still small and developing. They can be easily harmed by an older, larger cat. In the wild, kittens often stay with their mother until they are 4-6 months old. This gives them time to develop, while the mother protects them. When an older cat sees a kitten, they may fear that the mother is not far behind. A kitten might not be a physical threat, but an angry mother certainly would be. 

Kittens can also be scary to an older cat, particularly if they have no experience with kittens. Kittens haven’t completely learned cat etiquette. They are bold and rambunctious. This can scare your older cat, who has never seen a cat behave in such a way before. 

Cats are Territorial

Cats are territorial, but not necessarily in the way we think of the word. In the wild, each cat has a home base and a home range. The home base is where the cat sleeps and eats. The home range is where the cat hunts and mates. 

The cat will use pee, poop, scratching, and scent marking to mark their territorial boundaries. They will also defend their territory, fighting if necessary. 

However, cats will often share territory as well. One cat may hunt from a certain tree in the morning, while the same tree is used by another cat in the afternoon. 

Some cats choose to be solitary. They may share their territory with other cats, but generally avoid them. They schedule the time sharing so they don’t run into those they share with. Other cats live in colonies in the wild. These cats have a social structure and hierarchy, which can also be seen in multiple cat households. They will often time share with certain other cats. 

How do you know if your cat likes a new kitten?

There are some signs your cat likes a new kitten that you should look out for. If they begin showing these signs, they are getting along well. 

Grooming Each Other

Grooming each other is a sure sign that two cats like each other. Grooming is a sign of affection, and means that the two cats consider themselves part of the same social group. 

Playing Together

Cats that play together have a social bond. Just be sure to distinguish play, which can get rough, from fighting. If the cats are hissing, swishing their tails, or using claws, they are fighting. If they are pouncing on each other with their claws retracted, they are only playing. 

Sleeping Together

Cats that sleep together have a very close bond. A cat is at its most vulnerable when asleep. To sleep near another cat means that they have complete trust that the other cat will not harm them. 

It makes them feel safe and secure to sleep with another cat they like. It’s also absolutely adorable to see them curled up together. 

Rubbing or Nose Touching

You’ve probably experienced your cat rubbing against your legs when they are in a good mood.. This is one of the ways they show affection. It also allows them to transfer their scent with you, particularly if they are rubbing their head against you. 

The head has scent glands, which allow the cat to mark things, including their owner and other cats. If your cats rub against each other, it’s a sure sign they love each other.

They may also rub noses. This is essentially the cat version of a hug or kiss. 

Sharing Resources

When it comes to sharing, cats have a lot in common with humans. Cats do need their own space, food bowls, and even toys. However, cats who get along well will share with each other. They may take turns napping in the sunny spot under the window. They may share their toys. 

Humans also share their favorite things with their friends. Have you ever let your friend borrow a book or a favorite outfit? It’s a sign of friendship, and can actually increase the bond you share, for felines and humans.