Cats and Grooming - Why do cats lick and groom each other?

When you have more than one cat living together, you may have noticed one cat will begin to lick and groom another.

Either the first cat will continue to groom the second on her own, or the second cat will join in, grooming the first cat’s back until the two begin licking and grooming one another for a little while.

This typical feline mutual grooming behaviour is also known as allogrooming between domestic cats. Cats usually groom each other for:

HYGIENE. To keep their coats shiny and clean.

BONDING. Grooming each other expresses comfort and companionship in the same community.

AGGRESSION. The need for dominant cats to rid pent-up aggression and establish a higher hierarchy in the same community without expressing violent behaviour.

what is allogrooming?

Allogrooming – also known as social grooming between two or more members of the same species is an activity that many species do including cats. Allogrooming can be mutual grooming between pet cats.

In mutual grooming between cats, where both cats groom each other in a reciprocal way, they express their friendly relationship with each other, creating bonds of companionship, love and comfort.

While mutual grooming helps cats get grooming attention to hard-to-reach areas of the body, usually the back of the head and neck regions, it is more of asocial activity than a hygienic one.

When your cat lick your hair or your arm, and accepts your petting, she is engaging in mutual grooming that expresses trust and affection. Your cat loves you!

why do cats groom?

Grooming is essential in a cat’s health and well-being. When a cat licks her body, she maintains healthy skin by stimulating the production of sebum, an oily secretion produced by sebaceous glands at the base of each hair. Licking spreads sebum over the hair coat to lubricate the fur and make it shine. Licking also removes loose hair, prevents mats, and removes dirt and parasites.

A shiny coat of fur is the first sign of a healthy and happy cat. An unkempt appearance in a cat signals underlying illness or old age, when arthritis may prevent the cat from reaching her body parts for grooming.

A cat’s grooming habits also indicates her emotional state. For example, a physical illness

may trigger excessive licking on a specific area bald, due to pain or anxiety.

Unlike dogs, cats cannot sweat to cool themselves. Instead of panting to cool off, cats rely on evaporation of her saliva spread on the fur.

aggression and grooming in pet cats

According to studies done in 1998 by scientist Ruud van den Bos, allogrooming in domestic cats is likely a way for cats to redirect pent-up aggression and to reaffirm dominance in a way that is far better (for the group) than expressions through aggressive and even violent behaviours.

As van den Bos aptly points out: “A cost-benefit analysis for groomer and groomee suggests the following. The groomer would enjoy the benefit of not engaging in costly overt aggression in order to maintain its position, the groomee the benefit of not being attacked by its opponent” (van den Bos 1998).

Upon studying the cats’ body language, he found that the groomer would take on a more dominant posture during the grooming, such as standing or sitting up, while the one being groomed would be lying down or crouched.

Allogrooming is a way for a typically more dominant cat to relieve pent-up aggression and tension, and for that cat to maintain its position as higher up in the hierarchy.

The scientist concludes that cats lick and groom other cats has more or less everything to do with aggression and dominance, and very little to do with hygiene. Furthermore, groomers often groom themselves after grooming a partner.

While allogrooming definitely does not seem to be an action of love, it does seem to yield a lot more peace and harmony in a group of cats living together.

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