Why Do Cats Groom Each Other And Then Fight?
Grooming is one of the two things cats always do (the other one is, you guessed it! sleeping). In fact, cats are observed to be grooming themselves 15% to 50% of their waking time. There are times, though, that the normally independent (sometimes thought as antisocial) cats will take the trouble of grooming their brethren and even let others clean them. This behavior is called allogrooming.
This begs the question: Why do cats groom each other?
Why Do Cats Groom Each Other And Then Fight
1. Cleanliness and Health
Cats like to maintain their slick appearance. They want to always look elegant. And they have the perfect tool for hygiene: their tongues.
A cat’s tongue has little barbs on them called “papillae”. These barbs serve as the cat’s comb used not only to untangle their fur, but to rid it of dirt and other undesirables.
Here’s a little trivia: cats don’t sweat. The scooped spines in their tongues are what they use to put moisture in their skins.
Since it would be preferable to keep the entire body fresh and cool, cats go to other cats to help them freshen up on parts they could not reach on their own, like their heads and necks.
But there are more reasons why cats groom each other.
2. Social Connections
It was found by a 2016 study titled Sociality in Cats: A Comparative Review, conducted by researchers from the University of Bristol, that allogrooming is one way that cats display unity in their colonies. Cats will only groom another cat IF they both know each other, because, as it turns out, cats are sociable enough to form their own cliques!
A cat outside a clique has first to integrate themselves to the group before receiving the privilege of being groomed by another. Cats simply would just not groom a cat they don’t know or like.
Cats need their brethren to make their grooming easier because, no matter how flexible they are, they can’t easily reach every part of their bodies. The process either is initiated by the kitty needing the grooming from another, or by the kind cat who just wants to lend a helping tongue. Who knew that cats can also be good boys?
3. Affection and Protection
A newborn kitty, after birth, is immediately groomed by the mother. Why do cats groom each other? To show affection and protection. Litters are completely helpless upon birth. They rely on Mama Cat for literally everything.
And Mama Cat, filled with maternal instinct to protect and provide, will bathe their younglings to remove the afterbirth fluids in their fur to prevent the smell from attracting predators. Mama Cat will continue to bathe her kittens until they are at least four weeks old, by which time they can groom themselves. During that initial four weeks, Mama Cat’s cleaning of the abdominal and anal areas encourages waste elimination.
It could be said that cats learn to allogroom from their mothers. They see that they can’t clean themselves, especially the head and neck parts of their bodies. So then they look for a fellow cat who they can trust to provide Mama-quality grooming.
4. Display of Trust
Since allogrooming is required for the neck and head areas of the cats, they are making themselves vulnerable when seeking help from other cats. When a cat approaches another for allogrooming, he or she will approach the other cat, flex his or her neck and expose the tops of the head and neck.
Now what does the good cat who does the grooming get from all of this? Well, besides from a display of trust, the groomed cat gives him a purr… which is worth a considerable amount of trouble, if you ask me!
This may be why cats like being petted on the head and around the neck, because that shows that the person they trust shows them affection through this act.
5. Releasing Aggression
In 1998, the University of Southampton carried out a study that has proven that the cat with the higher rank in the colony carries out the grooming more often than the rest. After allogrooming another, the allogroomer displays aggressive behavior after the activity. The researchers hypothesized that more aggressive cats divert their aggression through allogrooming, In other words, allogrooming is the cats’ way of flexing!
In every group, the leader always wants to maintain power and the respect of the subordinates. Therefore, Alpha Cat would not want to cause bitterness and rifts to form within his gang. So instead of picking up fights with them to show his glorious alpha-ness, he just chooses to be the bigger cat by instigating the allogrooming process towards the group.
But a more interesting conclusion is that the more confident, more aggressive cat will allogroom the cat he is aggressive towards. The research found that about 35% of the time, social grooming has an underlying antagonistic attitude.
The author of the 1998 Journal of Ethology states this phenomenon this way:
“…domestic cat allogrooming is likely a way for cats to redirect pent-up aggression and to reaffirm dominance in a way that’s far better (for the group) than doing so through aggressive and even violent behaviors…”
Why do cats groom each other? To show dominance.
Grooming appears to be a self-massage for these cute creatures. Cats like their coats shiny, pristine and beautiful (don’t judge them, they just want to maintain their pretty reputation). If stressed, Little Miss Pristine might just sit and lick herself to perfection.
But what if she already feels perfect? Then she goes to her less-attractive friend and cleans her, just to relieve herself of stress.
This further explains why more aggressive cats tend to clean others more, because they just have much aggression within that stresses them out.
So, Why Do Cats Groom Each Other And Then Fight? There are many reasons why cats groom each other. The reasons go way beyond the physical aspect of hygiene. There are social, emotional and familial aspects at play. Ultimately, our cats’ grooming of each other displays love for each other. They seek to clean and maintain the health of their friends whom they trust.
It is their way of displaying friendship and affection. Maybe there are more reasons why, but one thing is for sure, cats licking themselves are just so CUTE!