I’ve come across a problem with my two cats that I don’t have an answer to. As I’m sure most Catster readers know, cats like to groom each other (and even their people) as a huge, huge sign of affection. It helps bonding, and it is one of the loveliest gestures a cat can make towards another furry creature or human. It shows how safe they feel.
I’ve mentioned before that Lucipurr loves Freyja, and Freyja loves her, too, but the intensity of Luci’s love gets too much for Freyja a lot of the time. The biggest way this shows is when Luci begins trying to groom Freyja, which she does on a daily basis.
To give Freyja some credit — when Luci was younger, she would get really excited while grooming Freyja and start biting her instead to initiate play. Freyja is definitely not a fan of that behavior in the slightest. It happened so often that Freyja immediately tenses up and flicks her ears back when Luci climbs into bed to cuddle with her. She expects the grooming, but unfortunately, she also expects the biting, so she’s learned to associate grooming with painful bites!
I feel bad for Luci. I can see her trying to show Freyja how much she loves her, but Freyja just responds with anger and attacks Luci, then runs away, leaving Luci confused and probably a little sad and rejected. I’ve been racking my brain for ways I can teach Freyja that Luci is more grown up and grooming is okay and a positive thing.
Luci lovingly attempts to groom her sister every day, at least once. Freyja has never once groomed Luci. She has groomed me and her dad once, a very special once, but it leaves me thinking she either associates grooming with pain or she just doesn’t love Luci back as much as Luci loves her, which breaks my heart!
So how can I teach Freyja to associate grooming with something positive?
I can’t come up with any ideas. The only idea I’ve come up with is slightly terrifying and definitely a little crazy. Okay, a lot crazy. The kind of thing I’ve only seen before on the TLC show My Strange Addiction.
Do you get where I’m going with this?
Yeah, that is the first and only idea that has come to mind.
So, how can I teach Freyja that grooming is okay? That grooming is a sign of affection? That she should totally tolerate the formerly very bite-y Lucipurr when she comes over and starts licking her head? I’m totally stumped.
Part of me suspects more cat owners than would like to admit have given their cats at least ONE lick on the head. While “what will the cat do if I do this” is a dangerous philosophy to live by, plenty of us are guilty of rubbing the belly, kissing the belly, or even huffing the cats.
But how many of you have or would totally try grooming your cat with your tongue? Please let me know I’m not the only one crazy enough to have this thought cross my mind.
I might be one of the few people crazy enough to give it a shot, though. Here’s how it went.
First, I approached Freyja about the idea. Luci looks offended if I even kiss her, but Freyja is a bit more lovey-dovey and open-minded. So I had high hopes that a “mama groom” might work to fix her fears of being groomed. I’ll have to ask that you excuse the bad photography and state of my eyebrows/face in the following photos — I had my husband wielding the camera and I had just dyed my hair.
We were about to cross a threshold I never imagined I’d be crossing when I became Freyja’s mama. She looked a little wary. My husband looked pretty amused. I reassured Freyja with my “soothing” voice and started to groom her head with my tongue. The following pictures sum up the brief experience we shared.
Freyja seemed confused. Cat hair is not a pleasant thing to have on your tongue, which I wasn’t really surprised about. I continued.
Freyja will tolerate a lot from me, because she does love me so much. She’ll tolerate hugging, cuddling, kisses, belly rubs, belly huffs. She’ll let me carry her around and sing to her. Sometimes she complains, and most of the time I’m a good mom and listen and put her back down, but often she asks or likes to be cuddled, hugged, kissed, huffed, and all the rest. She loves being cradled and sung to. My point is that she is a very tolerant girl, so she let me groom her for longer than most cats probably would.
I’m not sure if Freyja has been further put off grooming or took a valuable lesson away from this experience. Though she got away from me pretty quickly (for Freyja, anyway), she came right back for cuddles and hugs.
I’m still stuck on how to help her overcome her fear of being groomed by her sister. Is it even something I can help her change at this point? Some kind of food association won’t work, as Luci turns into a tiny lion whenever there is food around, and it would throw the whole plan off track. I try to talk her through it when Luci starts grooming her, but she always starts letting out warning meows and eventually attacks Luci.
Don’t get me wrong — they do love each other, and they are as close as two sister cats can be, but Freyja’s fear of grooming seems to be a point of contention in their relationship. I want to help her overcome it, but I’m out of ideas! Help me, Catster readers!
Freyja is so afraid of being bitten during a grooming session that it’s rare she’ll even allow a good old snuggle with her sister. I had to buy a second bed and a second hammock so she could have her own space. But even then, Luci eventually will follow her and subject her to — gasp — more grooming!
Have you ever had a problem like this? Does Freyja just not want to be groomed by anyone else? Or is it an association problem I can fix? Tell me in the comments! And confess: Have you ever licked your cat?
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About the author: Hana lives in Belfast after moving from the U.S. of A. with her two spoiled kittens, two chubby rats, and one cheeky husband. Hana works in admin but occasionally goes on tour working for an Austrian death metal band. When she’s not putting up road-weary punk rockers and metallers, you can find her taking the cats around town in their stroller, whipping up new recipes, or playing way too many video games. She writes at Mommyish and Catster. Follow her on Twitter and Tumblr.