Last updated: September 27, 2016
Even having 2 cats of my own at home, I still find myself visiting Cat Cafes. These cafes serve as cozy homes for multiple cats of different ages and breeds. Cat lovers can come here to have a bite or two or even a full meal while being surrounded by sweet kitty cats. Cat lovers can of course pet, play and take pictures with these furry little friends, although most cat cafes forbid customers to carry the cats on their own. It’s a great place to unwind and get to know other cats. It’s also the place where many people will get to observe the various behaviors cats exhibit among many of their feline friends such as cats licking each other.
What is Allogrooming?
When cats lick each other, this is a form of grooming called, “allogrooming” or what is commonly referred to as “social grooming”. Unlike with monkeys who groom each other’s entire body, social grooming for cats is limited to the head and neck area only. This could also be a probable explanation as to why cats often like being petted in the same areas as opposed to other parts of their body. In fact, cats are so fond of being petted in this area that they would even rotate and push their heads to the hands of humans to get them to pet that area.
There has been a lot of speculation as to why cats lick each other, and science would conclude that this is simply an instinct for cats who are related or perhaps, cats that get along very well with each other. Although, male cats also participate in allogrooming, licking one another can also come from the instinct of a mother cat to her kittens, much like with monkeys where mothers would pick on their children’s fur.
Groomers and Groomees
Just like with most mammals, allogrooming for cats are usually performed by those who are higher in rank or are older while those who are groomed are of lower in rank or are younger in age. Groomers would perform allogrooming while in a standing or a sitting position, while those who are being groomed would often just lie or sit down.
However, this is not always the case as many cats who are younger can also groom those who are older to them. This was evident in one my visits to a Cat Café, where I witnessed a young adult cat in a standing position grooming the head and neck area of an older adult cat, a Turkish Angora, as he was lying down on the floor. With the allogrooming session ending only when the older cat steered away from the younger cat’s reach.
Although, cats are able to lick themselves off on their own, it can get pretty hard to reach places such as the head and neck area. Having a close cat licking them instead can save them a lot of time and effort. Let’s just say that cats are really resourceful this way. Some would even go as far as actually butting their heads on other cats, to signify that they should lick and clean them there. However, there are those cats that can also take advantage of other cats, and don’t do any of the work themselves. They would often asked to be groomed, but don’t groom others in return. In these cases, it is just a matter of the relationship of this cat to other cats and is not really something to be concerned about.
Aside from the fact that cats licking each other can be a very useful and convenient way of keeping themselves clean, allogrooming is also one of the most obvious signs cats show affection towards others. This may be to other cats they have a special bond with or another cat they are related to. Allogrooming is the human equivalent of a backrub. Licking each other’s fur and cleaning each other is one of the most intimate moments a cat can share between those they feel especially close to.
Although, allogrooming is seemingly a very peaceful social interactions between most mammals including cats, studies have shown around 35% of interactions include aggressive behavior. In most cases, aggressors are commonly found to be the groomers rather than the groomees. Additionally, groomers are more likely to groom themselves right after grooming other cats. This can pertain to the fact that grooming is a calming behavior and can dissipate aggression to others. Allogrooming therefore, can be seen as a way for cats to direct their aggression to a more productive and less violent activity as licking each other.
Most people might wonder as to why do cats lick each other, but most cat owners are also curious as to why their cats lick them too. Yes, although cats are often portrayed as selfish and unaffectionate animals, they are actually very attached to their owners. Grooming their owners, licking their skin or their hair, even nibbling and suckling their clothes is the clearest sign of a cat’s affection towards their owner. When a cat licks someone, it is a sense of ownership for them, an expression that signals a sense of belongingness. The owner is now a part of the cat’s pack and the cat has claimed the owner for his or her own.
Sometimes, however a cat would lick, suckle and nibble on their owner whenever they are feeling stressed out or uncomfortable. The act of licking, suckling and nibbling is something they turn to when they are anxious and even when they are ill. This can be a comforting behavior for them that can easily turn to a compulsive disorder, just like when male cats start spraying.
Some owners would find it a little unsettling when their cats lick them, as the tongue of the cats can be pretty rough compared to the smooth surface of a dog’s tongue. It does take some time to get used to, and it is highly discouraged for owners to turn their cats away whenever they lick them. This can dishearten a cat in showing further affection once an owner expresses their dislike for it.
A cat’s behavior can be somehow different from a dog’s, but that does not mean that they are fully selfish and unaffectionate. Every animal has their own way of expressing themselves towards other animals or their owners. Cats are just like humans, they also take time to get to know other cats and other people. When in doubt, know that cats are emotional beings that can also feel and show love and affection. Understanding them and being patient with them can go a really a long way. This can even open up new ways of communicating love and affection between an owner and their cat!