Do you live with multiple cats? If so, you’ve probably have noticed some odd behavior. This can include fighting, biting, and grooming. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, allogrooming is defined as a means to “clean and maintain the appearance of an individual of the same species”. But WHY do cats groom each other? Is it a sign of affection, are they tired of looking at a dirty friend, or do they get some sort of pleasure from this act?
These are all thoughts that crossed my mind when I first witnessed this strange behavior, especially when I saw it happen between two cats that don’t even like each other. But why do cats lick each other, especially when they are known to be pretty germophobic creatures? To say the least, the answer may really be a bit of everything. It is very interesting behavior and not something you would typically expect. Not only does it happen within the cat species, but allogrooming is common among many different species.
Allogrooming occurs many times between members of the same species and is an important way to interact and form bonds. It helps to build and establish ranks and relationships between different groups of animals. It is also an effective way to remove bugs and parasites from the other members’ body and while keeping them clean and healthy. Whether it’s a chimpanzee, a tiger, or your two little cats, it’s always pretty awesome to witness allogrooming and this intriguing behavior among animals. So why again do cats groom each other? Below are 6 of the main reasons.
So Why Do Cats Groom Each Other?
Licking another cat can often indicate they calm, and it’s their way of saying the words “I love you”. When they lick each other, they are not only doing some cleaning, but it is also a time to bond with their fellow cat. Mother cats are known to lick and groom their newborns, which is one way to bond and show affection to their babies. Similar to the human touch, cats use their tongues as a means to express themselves.
When cats or kittens lick each other, they leave behind a scent that can help them recognize who is a friend and who is not. They can essentially be marking their territory while claiming the cat as a new friend. This can even share the same meaning when your cat is licking and grooming you – they are marking their territory, grooming you, and showing you love and affection.
Grooming is the obvious reason why you may see one cat licking another. Cats groom themselves for a myriad of reasons, from wanting to keep their coat clean and neat, to regulating body temperature to preventing hairballs. The saliva they coat themselves with is also great for cooling themselves down on a hot day. My cat spends a good portion of her day grooming herself when she’s not eating, sleeping, or playing.
The issue however is although cats can do an awesome job all by themselves, there are parts of their body they simply cannot get to. Having a feline friend can be great to help clean those hard to reach areas. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours! Grooming is a natural instinct for cats, so cats grooming each other should indeed be something you will witness if you do end up getting a second cat.
It should also be noted that certain cats deal with other issues, such as allergies, dry skin, and compulsive disorder. This could be one of the reasons why they groom themselves excessively. You may need to get them some medication, change out their food or take them to a vet if this is the case. Just something to keep in mind if you think your cat is doing WAY too much licking!
3. signs of dominance
Surprisingly, allogrooming may be seen as a sign of dominance. The dominant cat will groom the subordinate, which is quite different than what you would expect. When the dominant cat grooms the inferior kitty, their focus will be on the head and neck areas. This is to show them that they are in control and is making it clear who is the boss.
Also notice the body positions of allogrooming cats. The dominant cat will be in a standing position, while the subservient cat will be sitting down or lying on the floor. This is to assert dominance while being above the other cat. Cats frequently assert dominance also by spreading their scent and marking their territory. When certain cats struggle to be the top cat, they will mark territories the other cat has already marked. With grooming, they are essentially marking the subordinate cat.
Certain journals have published articles showing that allogrooming can be a way to take out aggression for dominant cats. As we will mention later, grooming can ease their mind and reduce their stress levels. Even cats can have some level of social ranking and hierarchy!
4. welcoming a new friend
A cat that first enters a new home can feel very uncomfortable and scared. However, cats groom each other as a way of welcoming them in. They are essentially transferring their scent over to their new feline buddy while making them feel more relaxed. You may notice cats will purr during these grooming sessions to show that they are peaceful and at ease. Grooming can help to reduce stress in cats since their focus is shifted away from whatever may be causing them anxiety.
Many times, after a long day’s work, I return to my apartment to sit next to my kitty. She loves to first groom herself and then me if I am close. I like to think cats grooming is their way of welcoming me back home. This can also be seen as an act of mutual grooming, similar to how cats groom each other.
5. maternal instincts
When kittens are first born, they require their mothers for everything, from eating, to protection to grooming. Mothers groom their kittens because it is a sign of affection and love. It is known that mother cats clean their babies as soon as they are born, to remove the newborn smell as it can bring out predators. They are doing whatever is needed to protect their little babies from harm.
Mothers are also known to lick their kittens bum, so it can stimulate their bottom parts to promote urination and bowel movements. Mother cats can also deal with stomach issues during this time since they do on occasion swallow fecal matter and urine. By the time kittens are 4 weeks old, however, they should be able to groom themselves and no longer require their mother.
This is also typically around the time kittens can start to be steady on their own 4 paws. Once the kitten starts to mature, you will notice this instinctual behavior subside. This is something you will see not only in cats but in various species, especially in the wild!
6. Stress reliever
Another reason cats may groom or lick each other may be to minimize conflict, depression, or reduce stress. Research has shown that cats groom themselves at times of high stress, in a situation where you think their options would have been “fight or flight”. Instead, you see your cat sitting there licking themselves clean. This is known as displacement grooming since they are displacing an act you think they would take with grooming.
Why do cats groom each other? Grooming themselves and others is a means to relieve stress. When they are going through the motions, their mind is not focused on whatever it is that is scaring them, but instead they close their eyes and lick away. It could be that the sensation cats get when touching something can have a direct impact on their little brains.
Cats groom each other because it feels great, and they like to perform this act because they enjoy it. When cats groom each other, they are essentially sharing this positive experience with each other.
Conclusion - Why Do Cats Groom Each Other?
In summary, don’t fret if you notice your cats licking each other all the time. They are showing affection to one another, bonding and cleaning each other. Be happy that your cat has such a close feline friend to enjoy their company with!
Allogrooming as mentioned is very common among cats. This is just another odd behavior that us humans might never understand about cats, but it happens all the time. Just like they like to hunt and prey on toys, grooming their own species is part of this instinctual behavior. There is no reason to worry. Just sit back and enjoy as your cat bonds and does what nature intended your cat to do.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Often Do Cats Groom Each Other?
Research has shown that cats spend roughly 10% of their day grooming themselves. Essentially, this means if they are not sleeping, eating, pooping, or playing, they are most probably grooming themselves.
Do Cats Groom Other Animals As Well?
Yes, similar to how they will groom other cats and their owners, cats will also groom other household pets such as dogs. It’s their way of showing affection so it’s a good sign if you see that happening!
Is Allogrooming Always a Sign of Dominance?
No, in fact, the majority of the time it is not. Be careful to pay attention to the body positions of both participants, as this can be a good measuring stick to gauge if either cat is trying to assert dominance.
What If My Cats Don't Groom Each Other?
There shouldn’t be any reason to worry if your cats don’t partake in allogrooming. Each cat is different, with different personalities and styles, and they may just show affection in other ways.
Can Cats Get Sick From Allogrooming?
The answer is no. Grooming another cat shouldn’t be any different than grooming themselves. They will be exposing themselves to essentially the same bacteria they would if they lick themselves, so there is no reason to worry.