Why do cats groom each other when they are in a group?
Is it about love and affection…or something else entirely?
More important, is licking another cat normal behavior, or should we call in the kitty psychologist?
Read on for all of these answers and more!
Why Do My Cats Lick and Groom Each Other? (4 Reasons)
The term animal behaviorists use to describe this peculiar behavior between cats is “cat colony allogrooming”, or simply allogrooming.
It is a behavior that is probably unique to the cat family since it can also be observed in larger animals of their species, such as lions and tigers.
While many pet parents may seem to think of this adorable behavior as a simple display of affection among cats, the reasons behind allogrooming are a bit more complex.
It’s a form of expression which has yet to be fully understood by scientists. While it may look cute, unknown to many, some reasons may even be quite surprising.
READ MORE: Reasons Behind Cat Bunting
#1 Maternal Bonding
One reason why cats like to lick and groom each other probably starts from the time of a kitten’s birth.
When a kitten is born, the mother cat automatically displays this behavior to her newborn.
It is most probably an instinct that the mother cat will have towards her kittens. It is even probably one of the many ways by which the mother will nurture her young.
Cats are basically clean animals. It can probably be said that grooming is part of a cat’s basic instinct even.
It is maybe because of this attitude that the mother cat makes sure that she keeps her kittens constantly groomed and clean from birth. (Yes. Cats hate being dirty!)
The tongue of cats has some pretty good antiseptic properties which make them very effective when it comes to cleaning themselves. (It is also for this same very reason why cats don’t need to bathe as often as other house pets, such as dogs.)
The instinct to lick and groom her young also has a protective purpose.
Keeping her kitten clean means that she is able to hide their scent. Doing so makes it easy for the mother to keep her young out of a prospective predator’s nose and sight.
Kittens, on the other hand, will rely on their mothers for help in practically everything in order to survive. This includes the need to groom and keep themselves clean.
They will allow their mothers to do what has to be done in order to live. This usually lasts for a month after which they are prepared to do the task of cleaning and grooming by themselves as their instincts dictate.
This cleaning habit between a mother cat and her kitten is a practice most probably carried over to adulthood, thus influencing the behavior of cats towards each other.
READ MORE: Why is My Cat Licking the Carpet?
#2 Form of Social Bonding
The most obvious of reasons behind this feline behavior is pretty much what everyone guesses. It’s a way of confirming not just a simple, shallow bond between cats. Rather, allogrooming is proof of a very deep bond between cats within a given colony.
Cats within their established social group do groom each other as a way of affirming that they are part of a particular cat colony since it is not always that a cat gets automatically accepted and approved of within a given group. (Yes, rejection does happen!)
This is probably a way of establishing cohesion in colonies that cannot be easily broken. (Indeed, it pretty much is like your regular high school drama.)
In fact, individual cats within a colony seem to seek approval by allowing themselves to be nudged and licked as part of allogrooming. After all, rejection can be pretty hurtful and that holds true even for cats.
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#3 A badge to show social hierarchy
Interaction among cats within a group or colony follows a sense of rank or colony hierarchy among themselves.
In the simplest of terms, the allogroomer is the leader– the probable high school jock or prom queen.
When a cat licks another cat, it’s his way of telling the rest of the group that no one should be messing with him.
This has been most especially observed in domestic cats as they start to form groups.
In this particular colony, it was noticed in a British study that the cat with the more aggressive behavior seemed to initiate allogrooming in other cats.
The more submissive cat allows the aggressive one to groom him at the head-neck area, which actually is quite difficult to reach.
Besides allogrooming, it has also been seen that the allogroomer usually has a more dignified posture compared to the one being allogroomed.
While the self-proclaimed head of the colony tends to sit with a more upright posture, the meeker one tends to hunch over while allowing himself to be licked and groomed.
Make no mistake though! It may appear to be an adorable behavior within a cat colony that may look like these cats are being friendly while trying to help each other.
Researchers seem to believe that allogrooming may actually be a way for the aggressive cat to redirect any pent-up aggression that may ensue in a fight.
In other words, this behavior may be a way for colony cats to maintain peace and order within their racks.
#4 They need help
Even cats need their buddies, at times, to help them out when they are in need. Cats are known to be fastidious animals.
They really make it a point to keep themselves as clean as possible. There are areas of their body that can be hard to reach, specifically the head to the neck area.
Think of it as you asking your buddy to scratch your back. Cats will go near another whom they are comfortable with to ask for much-needed help.
READ MORE: Why Does My Cat Lick Herself When I Pet Her?
Why Do Cats Lick and Groom Each Other and Then Bite?
Mutual grooming between cats may be their way of showing acceptance with each other. At times, it can be a sign of affection.
It can also be a diversion meant to stop one cat from showing antagonistic behavior towards another. However, there may be times when one cat has had enough.
Even too much social interaction can be tiring at times and when one cat has had enough, this may result in a display of inter-cat aggression, also known as a catfight.
This shouldn’t be mistaken, however, for aggressive play fights which cats engage in as part of their bonding activities with each other.
Cats can be pretty rowdy when they play and this kind of rough play is oftentimes mistaken as fighting.
Take a look at this video:
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Cats, when domesticated, can be social animals. Just like humans, they too tend to assess others to see if they can get along within a given colony through this behavior.
Licking and grooming each other, otherwise termed as allogrooming, is their manner of expressing themselves within their clique. To a mother and her kittens, it can be a sign of nurture and care.
Perhaps it is a learned behavior from birth that cats continuously practice as they age and mature.
Just like a mother and her kittens, licking and grooming each other may be their way of expressing acceptance which, in turn, will form stronger bonds within their colony.
Again, like a mother to her kittens, it is also their way of expressing authority within a given group. (Yes, the mom is the queen and the boss!)
For whatever reasons, the habit of licking and grooming is a feline’s way of communication. In the greater scheme of things, it is probably nature’s way of keeping order within their species as well.
- Bos, Ruud van den. 1998. “The Function of Allogrooming in Domestic Cats (Felis Silvestris Catus); a Study in a Group of Cats Living in Confinement.” Journal of Ethology 16 (1): 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf02896348.
- “Why Do Cats Lick Themselves? – Petfinder.” 2016. Petfinder. April 19, 2016. https://www.petfinder.com/cats/cat-grooming/cats-meticulous-nature/.
What do you think of cats grooming each other? Do you often see it with your cats? Let us know in the comments below!
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