Licking is the first thing kittens experience from their mothers right after being born. After that, cats can spend about half of their time awake, licking and grooming themselves, their relatives, and even their friends.
Cats instinctively care about their hygiene, but you might be surprised to know that is it not the only reason they lick so much. This behavior is called Allogrooming, which means grooming between the same animal species. By the end of this article, you will find that this cat convention has several other practical applications.
Mothers will lick their kittens to clean them and rouse them to feed, to help them release urine and feces, and, more importantly, to provide comfort. Grooming has psychological benefits. For example, a cat may groom to temporarily reduce conflict, frustration, anxiety or reinforce their social ranking on the hierarchy they are part of.
Cats will start grooming themselves within the first four weeks of their lives, and just a short week afterward, they are ready and more than willing to do the favor onto their mothers and their littermates or family. It continues well throughout their adult lives.
Now, it’s worth pointing out that cats are not the only animals that partake in allogrooming, as other animal species can be seen grooming themselves and others such as birds, primates and even insects, but it is safe to say that cats are one of the best examples of how it is employed to establish and strengthen bonds within their social circles.
Higher-ranking cats will groom those they deem to be lower-ranking members of their social circle. Another fun fact is that male cats are almost exclusively the ones who will extend the grooming invitation, and, for the most part, they will invite other male cats. It is done as a way to exert and reinforce their standing on the hierarchy. Higher-ranking cats and, by continuation, ‘’allogroomers’’ display a more offensive behavior than their grooming recipients, and they prefer to groom themselves only after having groomed other inferior cats.
It is also thought that allogrooming may be a strategy employed to redirect possible or potential aggression to avoid an imminent fight during which real damage could be dealt. In other words, if you let me lick you, then we will not have to fight. In the end, it’s all part of being socially accepted and connected within the collective dynamic.
Do Cats Like Grooming Themselves?
They do, and it represents a big part of their daily routine, especially if there are more cats inside their immediate social circle. Cats can make the best and most flexible gymnasts jealous with their contortionist feats when they lick and groom themselves, and it can be seen how thorough and meticulous they get while cleaning any and every part of their anatomy they can reach. They comfort themselves this way, no different than the way their mothers did in the very first seconds of their lives.
You’ve probably noticed the stereotypical manner cats employ during grooming. Firstly, saliva is applied to the inside of one paw, then using an upward circular motion, the cat begins rubbing their nose with their paw from back to front. The cat will then reapply saliva to that paw, and using a semi-circular motion, they will groom behind the corresponding ear, the back of the ear, the forehead, and over the eye. When finished with one side, the process is repeated with the other paw on the other side of the head. After the head is clean, the cat grooms the front legs, shoulders, flanks, anogenital area, hind legs, and tail with long strokes of their tongue.
It is fairly easy to catch a cat in the act of grooming and watch it perform its carefully planned routine. So it comes as no surprise to anyone that grooming has its hygienic benefits.
It helps eliminate parasites, keeps the cat’s coat clean and smooth, cools the cat down through evaporation of saliva, and stimulates glands attached to the hair roots that secrete substances to keep their hair water-proofed.
Now, Do Cats Like Grooming Each Other?
Yes, they do, but this is part of the more extensive subject of allogrooming. A cat will not automatically lick a cat they’ve just met as it is a practice performed within tight social environments. It requires a degree of comfort among the participants meaning a cat must feel relaxed with the company they keep before they engage in it actively.
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If this short criterion is met, then the grooming can begin, and the cat counterpart or grooming recipient will be very cooperative and help facilitate the best grooming possible by rotating their heads and twisting and turning accordingly to assist and even maximize the grooming activity. Cats can also call for Allogrooming themselves by greeting another cat and stretching their neck, and showing the back of their next or top head. These areas happen to be challenging areas to self-groom, even by cat standards.
Is Blood Relation A Factor In Cat Grooming?
Blood relation is not a factor determining the frequency or the duration and even if there’ll be any grooming at all as it takes a time-tested bond for this social exercise to flow. Therefore, familiar affection is not taken into account at all during the Allogrooming process.
If a cat feels safe and comfortable or feels it is a duty that falls within their role as a high-ranking member of the circle, they are certainly going to groom others.
Would Cats Lick An Unknown Cat Or Other Animals?
A cat will never approach a stranger, fellow cat or otherwise, to be groomed, and this makes perfect sense on the evolutionary and animal realm as well since this would require exposing your actual and literal neck and face to a stranger. This will not be comforting to the cat, nor will the cat want a shower that bad.
But, if I can bother you with some testimony, I can attest to my cat trying to groom my perplexed dog now and then. They’ve grown up together; therefore, there is a fair degree of comfort outside of all the inner turmoil they have by being different animals competing for attention inside one household.
In layman terms, they can sometimes act like cats and dogs, but my cat feels relaxed enough to attempt to groom the dog occasionally because of their shared background. However, because of their shared experience, I am also positively confident that the cat deems the dog inferior, so I would say that this explicitly fits the bill and the narrative in more than one way.
When Did Cats Decide We Could Groom Them As Well?
We all know cats to be proud and intelligent animals. Some studies even suggest that they allowed themselves to be domesticated over time by choosing to accept humans as part of a very lucrative deal on their behalf. You see, for the cats, it’s always about business first.
Mice, rats, and insects have always been drawn to crops and agricultural settlements made by human civilizations, and this was no different in Ancient Egypt. So consequently, cats hanged around these farming communities and squared a mutually beneficial agreement with the farmhands as rodent and pest patrol. They would refrain from disgruntling the humans because this allowed them access to food, and, in turn, this helped us rid of these agricultural pests. So, therefore, they would want us to have crops and the problems that come with them, and we would like them around to patrol them. It’s a pretty good quid pro quo if you think about it.
This contrasts with dogs, which were domesticated over thousands of years by changing their DNA. This was accomplished by breeding the more docile dogs, discarding the aggressive ones, and repeating this process via natural selection over long periods.
Cats’ DNA has changed very little over time. They just did the math and decided to jump on our laps one day. This helps to add a little context as to why they can seem so self-centered sometimes, especially when compared to dogs.
And this makes sense, given that for cats, this was purely a business endeavor all along, and it did not take them long to figure out that if they were more friendly and sociable, they wouldn’t need to patrol those pesky crops anymore and would have more time to groom themselves between naps.
In conclusion, whether it is a duty, a pastime, a means to comfort, or just a common hygienic habit, cats must and will lick each other and themselves, not only because it is how they are brought into this world but because it is part of who they are as proud, smart and, sometimes vain animals that continue to captivate us time after time.
Shawn Manaher is a serial entrepreneur but when he isn’t working, he loves dogs. He’s owned different pets over the years, and always gives a part of his heart to each pet.