The true definition of allogrooming is “grooming another or to clean and maintain another’s appearance”. Therefore, allogrooming in cats is when a pair of cats are seen socially grooming one another.
But, what does cat grooming mean and what can we learn from it?
There are many reasons grooming might take place among adult cats. Grooming behavior usually comes down to a few key factors, which I’ll explain in the article below.
The biggest reason we think cats groom each other is to form a strong bond with one another or within a group.
Fun Fact: A group of cats is called a clowder
A study in 2004 from the University of Georgia noticed that allogrooming in cats occurs mostly when cats already have a bond. Only once an outside cat has been accepted will they recieve any grooming from another cat.
For example, it may take a while for your adult cat to accept a new kitten into their lives and begin cleaning and licking them.
The research also noted that cats who receive such grooming are very cooperative and will move their bodies in the best way possible to get the best out of the grooming session. Cats have even been observed to initiate allogrooming by approaching another cat and exposing their head and neck.
A British study back in 1998 called The function of allogrooming in domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus) noted allogroomers (the ones doing the grooming) typically cleaned the head and neck area only.
Another big takeaway from the study was that higher ranking cats did most of the grooming to the lower ranking cats. They sat with higher postures when taking part in the grooming sessions while the lower ranking cats took a lower position or posture.
The more dominant cat showed more aggressive feline behavior to the allogroomees and would groom themselves after grooming others. This is believed to be a way of redirecting potential aggression. Grooming behaviour is still widely studied to this day.
Hygiene is the least important reason cats will partake in a grooming session. Females or mother cats will begin cleaning their kittens right after birth as a maternal instinct and to clean off any mucus.
Once the kittens are old enough to groom themselves we start to observe grooming taking place to strengthen bonds and keep a hierarchy within the group.
We all know cats make great groomers therefore, hygiene is seen as a low contributing factor as to why they groom one another.
If you’d like to lend your cat a helping with grooming, then check out this list of the best cat grooming brushes.
To sum it all up, here’s what we know:
- Cats will regularly engage in allogrooming together but, one cat will do the majority of grooming. This is likely to be the more dominant and authoritative cat.
- Less dominant cats will at times solicit allogrooming from the more dominant cat.
- Allogrooming is less about hygiene and more about social bonding and social hierarchy.
Fun Fact: Scientists have studied this behaviour in lions and other big cat colonies. Many other species partake in allogrooming.
While it might look like your cat is lending a helping hand by grooming another cat’s head, it’s believed they groom one another’s head to express social hierarchy. You’ll notice one cat more frequently cleaning the others head, this is a good way of knowing who is the “top dog” so to speak.
Usually biting occurs while grooming due to being over stimulated or becoming frustrated. It is also a way of showing dominance towards the other cat and is usually harmless. They aren’t biting to inflict pain, they bite to keep one another in line.
Absolutely, cats will groom one another to assert the social hierarchy within the group. If you watch your cats for long enough you’ll soon figure out who sits at the top of the ranks. The one doing all the grooming is usually the dominant kitty.
Want to better understand your cat? You can learn about cat language here.
There are a couple of reasons for this, one being maternal instinct. A mother cat will begin licking her kittens right after birth and this is passed on through the generations. Older cats will also lick younger cats as a sign of bonding and acceptance. It will also let the other cat know who is in charge.
Species such as insects, birds, and primates all partake in grooming, even bats. Researches often study social grooming in other species.
Cats might groom another species such as your dog. This is seen as a form of social bonding and acceptance into their life.
Cats have been known to spend about 30% of their day grooming themselves. If they’re not sleeping they are usually grooming or eating.