Why do cats groom each other?

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Why do cats groom each other? What does this behavior have to do with big cat cousins, maternal instincts, social bonds and hierarchical relationships?

If you have more than one cat in your home, you’ve probably seen this scene from time to time. When you see it, you’re sure to smile and say, “Awww!” You’d say your pride as a parent was stoked when one cat started licking and grooming the other. So why do cats groom each other? Let’s take a closer look at this behavior.


Why do cats groom each other? Let’s talk about “grooming each other”.

Why do cats groom each other? Let’s talk about “full grooming”. Photo ©Ilse Oberholzer | Getty Images.

Before answering the question, “Why do cats groom each other?” Before we answer that question, let’s take a look at this feline behavior. Scientists call this adorable behavior “full grooming.” But why do cats groom each other? Our human intuition would suggest that it’s a sign of affection between cats, but it’s not as simple as that. Scientists have studied the mutual grooming behavior of domestic cats, lions, primates and many other species.

In a comparative review published in 2016 in Sociality in cats: the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, researchers at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom found that opposite-sex grooming is one of three ways cats express cohesion in a group They found that the other two methods were heterogrooming and odor signaling.

Why do cats groom? Social bonding.

In a 2004 study, “Social Organization of Cats: A Contemporary Understanding,” researchers at the University of Georgia looked at social interactions between cats in free-range colonies. The results showed that opposite-sex grooming occurred among cats that had already established social relationships. Cats outside the colony do not experience heterosexual grooming unless they are integrated into the colony. In other words, cats don’t groom cats they don’t know. However, that’s not all.

Cats that receive heterosexual grooming are usually very cooperative and will tilt their heads to approach the groomer. Cats may ask other cats to groom them by approaching them, bending their necks and exposing the top of their heads and the back of their necks. Since this is an area of the body that cats cannot groom on their own, this request may be motivated by a practical need to help bathe the cat.

Why do cats groom each other? It’s not always rewarding.

“Why do cats groom each other? When considering the question, “Why do cats groom each other?” there is another interesting point when considering this question. The researchers also observed that cats with closer relationships typically groom each other, and that this grooming may or may not be reciprocal. One specific example was a female cat with two adult cats. Each cat grooms the other two within a few minutes and takes turns helping the other bathe.

Understanding grooming among group cats helps us learn how to treat our own cats. In other words, when we pet or scratch a cat’s head or neck, we are, in a sense, grooming the cats where they groom each other. You may have noticed that cats like to be petted on the head and neck by humans. But when we groom our cats, we are also stroking other parts of their bodies that are not usually groomed. This can lead to petting aggression, the researchers concluded.

Why do cats groom each other? It has to do with higher rank.

A 1998 study conducted at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, titled “The Function of Allogrooming in Domestic Cats,” also found that allogrooming cats typically groom the head and neck. and neck grooming. The study also found that higher-ranking cats groom lower-ranking cats. Additionally, heterosexual groomers adopted a higher posture, either standing upright or sitting, while heterosexual groomers sat or lay down.

Heterosexual groomers also show more aggressive behavior than heterosexual groomers, usually after grooming another cat. Heterosexual groomers were also more likely to groom themselves after grooming another cat. The researchers hypothesized that heterosexual grooming may be a way to redirect potential aggressive behavior when the cost of a cat exhibiting aggressive behavior is too high. In other words, instead of provoking a fight and getting the other cat hurt, they could show their dominance by grooming.

Why do cats groom? Perhaps it is a maternal instinct at work.|A maternal instinct might be at play. Photography ©grase | Getty Images.

In considering “Why do cats groom each other?” there is another question that must be considered. Newborn kittens encounter their mother cat’s tongue. The kittens depend on their mother for everything, including bathing. This behavior is both affection and protection for the mother.

Immediately after the kittens are born, the mother bathes them because the smell of their birth may attract predators. By the age of four weeks, kittens are able to bathe themselves and stay clean for 50% of their lives.

So why do cats groom each other?

Based on research, it appears to be a sign of social acceptance and bonding. Cats do not groom, nor do they ask strangers to groom them. Grooming is usually done on the cat’s head or neck, where it is out of their reach, so perhaps cats groom each other out of a practical need to help each other bathe.

Since cats learn this behavior from their mothers, maternal instincts are likely involved. Allogrooming may also indicate social hierarchy. The allogroomer is dominant and the groomed is submissive. Even if the licking behavior is based on aggressive motives, it is tempered by social bonds among friends and family.

Susan Logan-McCracken, author and editor

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