Our cats share an intricate language of their own which can appear baffling to cat owners.
One heartwarming and intriguing gesture that you will see your cats do often is to groom or lick each other.
But why do cats groom each other all the time?
Cats often lick each other as a form of social bonding and grooming. This affectionate behavior is known as allogrooming. It’s also a way for cats to show care and establish a communal scent, reinforcing familiarity and group identity. Some cats can even use grooming as a show of dominance.
In this article, we’ll delve into the fascinating reasons behind cats licking each other, offering valuable insights into their complex world.
The Basics Of Cat Grooming
It is common for many people to think that cats are rather clean animals. That is because when you look at a cat, it is either sleeping or licking itself.
Grooming is a big part of a cat’s life and most cats can easily spend up to 5 hours a day licking themselves clean.
Maybe that is why our cats smell so good.
Even a cat’s tongue is made for grooming.
If you take a closer look at your cat’s tongue, you will notice many small spikey hooks on it.
These hooks are called papillae and they are made from keratin which is the same material used in the formation of our hair and nails too.
They are able to penetrate your cat’s fur and easily remove dust, dirt and loose hair from its body.
In the next section, we’ll explore the reasons why cats groom other cats all the time.
Cats Groom To Bond
Mutual grooming is more than just a way for cats to keep clean.
It is a cornerstone in building and reinforcing social bonds among cats. You see this happening between indoor cats as well as lions in the wild.
When you see your cats grooming each other, it’s a sign of trust and mutual respect.
The groomer is given access to the personal space of the other cat, a privilege not granted lightly in the feline world given how territorial domestic cats can be at times.
This shared moment helps to strengthen their relationship and build a bond of trust and familiarity.
It’s similar to us humans spending quality time with people that we like, engaging in shared activities that bring us closer together.
Display Of Social Hierarchy
As someone that has both a cat and a dog, it is clear as night and day that my cat is less sociable as compared to my dog.
Dogs are pack animals and are always eager to please but cats are quite the opposite due to their solitary nature.
However, it is quite common to see cats living together in a community or a colony.
I have cat colonies around my neighborhood that are as large as 15 cats.
It can be very adorable seeing them greet each other.
They will approach in a relaxed manner with their tails held high. You can usually tell how the cat is feeling but observing its tail.
You might not realize it but a social hierarchy exists in such colonies, even for your own indoor cats.
More often than not, the cat that does the most grooming is the one in control or the ‘Alpha Cat’.
Interestingly enough, the head of the colony is usually a female cat or a matriarch.
The higher-ranking cat grooms the lower-ranking cat, solidifying its role as the leader and ruler of the universe.
It’s not always the case but it’s a common pattern in many multi-cat scenarios.
Mother Cat And Her Kittens
Nothing in this world comes close to the love of a mother for her offspring.
And when it comes to mother cats and their kittens, grooming and bonding with the little ones is a full-time job.
This bond sets the groundwork for many behaviors and lessons, including essential grooming habits.
From the moment a kitten is born, the mother cat starts the grooming process.
She will lick her kitten to remove the amniotic sacs from around their faces and bodies.
Licking her kittens also helps to keep them clean as they are still too small to groom themselves.
Grooming helps to strengthen the bond between mommy cat and her litter.
Exchange Of Scent And Pheromones
When it comes to cats, scent is very important to them.
A cat’s sense of smell is very sensitive and powerful, 14x better than ours, and it uses this to communicate and hunt.
The tongue of a cat is able to trap scent particles.
The cat will then curl its upper lip which makes it look like it’s sneering. This action is actually called the flehmen response.
The exchange of scents and pheromones is a critical aspect of cat-to-cat relationships
Cats have scent glands in various parts of their bodies such as their:
- paw pads
- base of their tail
These glands produce pheromones, chemical signals that contain a wide spectrum of information about the cat.
When cats lick each other, they are marking one another with their personal pheromones.
This helps to foster a communal scent that signifies they belong to the same group or family.
Mother cats are always licking their kittens to impart their scent on them. This helps her and her litter to recognize each other.
One important thing to note is that this scent needs to be refreshed otherwise cats won’t be able to recognize each other after a period of separation.
Cats Like To Be Clean
In a multi-cat household, you may observe this behavior quite often.
One cat will be licking the other cat, paying extra attention to those hard-to-reach areas.
Cats are very flexible but there are some areas on their bodies that they just can’t reach.
So having someone help you wash and clean those inaccessible areas is a godsend.
Imagine trying to wash your own back without a back brush
It’s nearly impossible!
In fact, a study found that the majority of social grooming between cats occurred around the head and neck regions
Why Do Cats Lick Each Other And Then Fight?
If you have a couple of cats at home, there might be times when they are all happily grooming each other and then fighting the next second.
This behavior can be attributed to a few reasons:
Cats are very particular about their personal space.
While a grooming session might start as a peaceful social activity but if one cat grooms for too long or too hard it can trigger aggression.
Don’t be surprised to have your cat lose a few whiskers from being groomed too aggressively.
It’s a way of the offended cat saying, “That’s enough, back off.”
The same thing can happen if you pet your cat for too long.
The sensations get too much and become uncomfortable for your cat.
Display Of Dominance
The grooming process isn’t always an equal exchange.
Sometimes a dominant cat might forcibly groom a lower-ranking cat to assert its dominance.
If you have recently added a new cat to your roster, it can start to be dominant to try and show the other cats who’s the boss.
If you have a cat that is smaller in size or a kitten, it might be groomed more often by its bigger siblings.
A fight can break out when the submissive cat isn’t in the mood for this or feels overtly dominated.
Why Do Cats Lick Each Other’s Bums?
Cats do sniff and smell each other’s bottom from time to time but it doesn’t happen as often as dogs.
There are occasions when I have allowed some of my fostered cats to meet my own cat.
The greeting usually happens with them selling reach other’s faces most of the since that is where most of the scent glands are.
They do sniff or lick the other cat’s bottom at times to gather more information.
Cats that are rather to mate can also engage more often in this behavior.
When a male and female who are ready to mate meet, they will start to engage in a mating ‘dance’.
Both cats will display lots of curiosity and contact with each other via licking, smelling and rubbing.
Mother cats are always licking their kittens’ behind to encourage them to poo or pee. When the little ones are done, the mother cat will lick that area again to clean them up.
This happens until her kittens are old enough to groom themselves after a few weeks.