We’ve all seen videos of cats grooming each other, and there are many reasons for this. Often, they’re the same reasons why they cuddle with their humans. However, cat-cat relationships are much different than cat-human relationships. After all, we are different from a cat (and often worse at reading our cat’s body language). So, why do cats lick each other?
Most cats groom each other as a sign of friendship, though friendship means something different for us than it does to other cats. Cats often grow affectionate of humans because we provide obvious benefits (we feed them, after all). Cats often form friendships with other cats for the same reason. Cats can often survive easier together than they can individually.
Let’s take a look at some of the reasons cats groom each other, scientifically known as allogrooming. As always, it is impossible to know exactly what a cat is thinking—intention is always challenging to discover. However, we can make a few educated guesses.
The 4 Reasons Why Cats Groom Each Other
Cats recognize each other mostly through smell. Therefore, friendly cats will mix their smell as a way to signify their friendship. We know that littermates won’t recognize each other after being separated, as they won’t smell the same. However, littermates kept together will, as they will almost always smell the same.
When cats make friendships, smell is important. Cats may not have the same level of smell that dogs do, but they do use it for identifying purposes. Therefore, mutual grooming may be a surprisingly important part of a cat’s relationship with another cat. In fact, we may be able to say that cats aren’t actually friends unless they’re mixing their scent in some way, though this doesn’t have to involve grooming.
Cats have scent glands on their faces and sides. Therefore, if your cat rubs up against another cat, they may be transferring their scent the same way grooming would.
Cats may use grooming to communicate their relationship to others as well. When two cats groom each other, they are decidedly not grooming another cat. Therefore, it may indicate that they are closer than other cats in the colony. Not only does it show that the cats are close, but it communicates their relationship with other cats, too.
Many interactions in humans perform the same dual function. For instance, when a group of people talk, it signals that they’re friends, but it also signals that they aren’t as close with everyone else in the room. When a couple holds hands, it signals that they’re a package and lets everyone else know that the other is taken.
Cats may have a similar purpose when they groom another cat. However, like humans, they may not be doing it exclusively to tell the others that the other cat is “theirs.”
Many mother cats groom their babies from the moment they are born. This serves the practical function of keeping the babies clean and helping their digestive system function properly. Mother cats slowly stop grooming their kittens as they age and can groom themselves.
However, there may be a practical benefit for adult cats grooming each other, too. There are some spots that are hard for cats to reach, even with their extreme flexibility.
Even if cats don’t know this is their “why,” evolution may have designed them to like grooming other cats for practical reasons.
4. It Feels Good
Grooming likely releases dopamine in a cat’s brain. From a scientific perspective, this likely means that grooming makes them feel good. Many cats will excessively groom as a way to combat stress and anxiety. Over time, this actually causes many issues, and many cats even develop an addiction to excessive grooming. This condition is often hard to treat, but it can lead to the feline developing sores.
For all these reasons, we can expect that cats do like to groom themselves and each other. Therefore, if a feline likes another cat enough to let their guard down, they may groom each other just because it feels good.
Of course, this dopamine release is likely how evolution prompts cats to groom each other for all the reasons we listed above. After all, all animals are much more likely to do something if it also feels good. Cats probably aren’t thinking, “I’m going to go clean that cat’s head because it’s dirty.” Instead, they’ll probably participate in grooming because it feels good.
Should Cats Groom Each Other?
Cats don’t have to groom each other to be friendly toward each other. Cats can show their friendship in other ways. Because cats are largely solitary, just allowing another cat in their space shows some level of friendship. Cats can also mix scents by rubbing up against objects that the other cat did, as well as rubbing directly against the cat.
Of course, cats that live in the same house will inevitably smell like the same thing, especially if they both cuddle with the same people. The cats may inadvertently start smelling like each other through you. They don’t have to perform any direct grooming for this to happen.
Some cats are simply more touchy than others. It’s very normal for cats to never groom each other, while others may groom each other all the time. It all depends on their personality and preferences. There is no reason to worry—no matter what side of the spectrum your cats fall on.
Why Do Cats Groom Each Other and Then Fight?
Cat relationships are complicated—a lot like human relationships. Just like humans, cats will have cuddly moments and then fight. Sometimes, one of the cats is only tolerating the other. One might really like grooming, while the other doesn’t. This can lead to the latter cat becoming intolerant quickly, leading to fights. Fighting may be how the feline gets the other one to back off.
As long as your cats aren’t fighting too aggressively or all the time, this isn’t anything to be concerned with. Cats will have fights as they negotiate who gets to do what. Sometimes, they may go through periods when they seem to fight more.
The important consideration is the life quality of each feline. As long as they are both able to enjoy the home and access their needs, you don’t need to worry too much about the occasional swat—it’s just part of how cats communicate.
Cats groom each other for all sorts of different reasons. At the base of it, cats likely partake in shared grooming because it feels good. Grooming releases dopamine and serotonin, which likely makes cats feel happy (just like it does people). It’s these hormones that sometimes lead to cats becoming addicted to grooming, but they are also behind mutual grooming.
Of course, there are many other functions that mutual grooming has, too. It helps mix the cats’ scents together, which is one way cats identify friend and foe. It may also help cats announce their close relationship with other cats. Grooming also has the practical use of getting both of the cats clean, which is vital for the health of both felines.
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Featured Image Credit: Ilona Koeleman, Shutterstock