Why Do Cats Groom Each Other?

cats_grooming_each_other

It’s one of the sweetest behaviors guardians of multiple cats can witness: two adult cats grooming each other. Have you ever wondered why some cats do that, and others don’t?

The scientific term for this behavior is allogrooming or social grooming. A 1998 study conducted by researchers at the University of Southampton, UK and the University of Leiden, Netherlands, analyzed grooming interactions among a group of 83 domestic cats. The study shed some interesting light on this behavior.

Allogrooming is focused on head and neck area

The study found that most of the mutual grooming was directed at the head and neck area. This may also explain why cats love to be petted and scratched in that location, to the point of often even rotating and pushing their heads into human hands and purring, similar to what they would do during an mutual grooming session.

Why do cats groom each other?

Allogrooming tends to happen most frequently among cats who are related, or cats who get along very well. Mutual grooming may be a resurgence of a cat’s mothering instinct, although it is also seen in male cats.

The hierarchy of allogrooming

The study showed that higher ranking animals groomed lower ranking animals more often than the other way round. Groomers tended to adopt a standing or sitting posture, while groomees tend to sit or lie down.

But allogrooming is not all peaceful. Researchers found antagonistic behavior in 35% of interactions. Groomers showed aggressive behavior more often than groomees. Interestingly,  groomers often groomed themselves after grooming a partner. Since grooming is also calming for cats, that may be a self-regulating behavior. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that allogrooming in domestic cats may be a way of redirecting aggression.

Do your cats groom each other?

Photo ©JaneA Kelley, used with permission. JaneA and her cats write the blog Paws and Effect.

133 Comments on Why Do Cats Groom Each Other?

  1. Ania
    June 6, 2017 at 11:20 pm (2 weeks ago)

    My male cat Bobo grooms his sister Mimi under her tail, they are both neutered. What does it mean, is it more than just grooming and sort of like sexual. When he does it she does not really enjoy it. So she leaves. I am curious if it is like normal grooming?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 7, 2017 at 5:22 am (2 weeks ago)

      He may be grooming away the scent from her anal glands.

      Reply
  2. Jan
    May 30, 2017 at 10:24 pm (3 weeks ago)

    I’m glad I found this discussion! My son and family adopted brother and sister kittens. They were abandoned too young but a foster mom bottle-fed them until they were about 8 weeks old.
    Oh my gosh, they are so cute and delightful! I havent had a kitten for years and never had siblings. Almost make me want to abandon my resolve to not get anymore cats.
    But I digress – Anywsy, the male cat just has little nubs for the whiskers by his mouth and we couldn’t figure out what the problem was. The female must be chewing them off as she is the groomer in their relationship. I guess it will stop when he gets good and tired of it?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 31, 2017 at 4:47 am (3 weeks ago)

      Yes, that can happen when cats groom each other. It probably doesn’t bother him. My guess is if it were to bother him, he would stop her!

      Reply
      • Karen
        May 31, 2017 at 5:07 am (3 weeks ago)

        When my two cats were kittens they used to chew off each others whiskers and do lots of grooming each other, themselves (and me occasionally!). They stopped biting the whiskers off on their own accord after they had matured and now both have beautiful whiskers.
        They are 2 years old now and still occasionally have a nibble but are quickly stopped by the other one!

        Reply
  3. Kent Shultz
    November 10, 2016 at 4:41 pm (7 months ago)

    I live alone…well, not quite. A year ago, a most-dead kitty crawled up on my front porch, matted, full of fleas, with diarrhea and vomiting issues. Could not eat or drink…very dehydrated. Took him to the vet pronto, and he was given IVs and antibiotics, recovered totally to the point he is my “jock kitty”….strong muscular, neutered, too. Shiny black and very loving. Since then,Sammi has adopted four other kitties…..sigh…to have as house companions. All are now neutered. All are boys, and they all get along so very well with each other…biting noses, tails, ears and paws…each having found his own space, but loving to stalk and chase and mock-fight each other. Never a growl, never a hiss…all done in pantomime. Each with a strikingly different personality and “view” of the world. Each has his phobias, but the four of them manage to keep me fabulously entertained. I wake up laughing and go to bed laughing…those crazy four clowns! I could write a book about them…yes, they all groom each other…some, more often than others…no real “sibling” rivalry…and all are rescue kitties. Terribly spoiled kitties, no doubt! But NONE is a fat cat….overfed, waddling sack of fat! They are just too active, and I do watch how and what I feed them. Great companionship, for sure…..

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 10, 2016 at 5:31 pm (7 months ago)

      It sounds like you’ve got a wonderful family there, Kent!

      Reply
  4. Samuel
    July 15, 2016 at 7:09 pm (11 months ago)

    I have gotten another kitten as company for my older female cat because her brother died and she couldn’t manage being alone. While I was initially skeptical because she didn’t seem to like him very much (then again, she’s standoffish to pretty much anyone that isn’t me, even her brother when he was alive) and one thing that’s peculiar about my female is how she will sometimes just forcibly groom someone else. She literally grabs the kitten’s head sometimes, even if he’s in a different mood e.g. playing, and try to groom his head. She did that to her brother too, and he rarely if ever returned these free grooming sessions from her. Overall, he was also the dominant cat but I am pretty sure that between her and the kitten, she’s dominant as he’s hardly old enough to really claim any territory or space.

    While I am happy that she seems to like the new kitten so much that she’s willing to groom him despite that he’s sometimes such a pest to her (pesters her a lot about playing, may randomly attack or pounce or try to grab her even when she’s clearly not in the mood and she’s usually very cautious around him, rather prefers to observe him from a distance, ideally somewhere where she can perch), why does she do is so forcibly? It’s almost like she’s grabbing some prey and begins to lick, though the area is always neck/head. Is it just some weird mother instinct that she has? She can also sometimes cry out randomly at night, which is very reminiscent to the cries females do while in the heat though she’s spayed, luckily.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 16, 2016 at 5:36 am (11 months ago)

      It could be a mothering instinct. It could also be an instinctual attempt to calm the kitten. Grooming can be a self-soothing behavior for cats, and perhaps the soothing qualities extend even to grooming another cat.

      Reply
      • Samuel
        July 16, 2016 at 6:17 am (11 months ago)

        I’ve only seen it happen when they are lying together on the sofa. Sometimes he wakes up and walks up to her and wants to play so he tries to grab or bite her around the neck area, but she will just grab him in turn and try to forcibly lick him until he just wiggles free because he’s clearly not in the mood for it, lol. That’s why it seemed inconsistent with the allogrooming practice that is described here and I was wondering if it’s more just a quirk of hers but I guess it still represents some kind of affection from her side, so it’s all good.

        Reply
        • Samuel
          July 16, 2016 at 6:19 am (11 months ago)

          Also, of course, sometimes she does it to him when he’s not in play mood at which point he seems very happy to receive it (purring).

          Reply
        • Sarah
          July 30, 2016 at 12:30 pm (11 months ago)

          I have an older female and I acquired a female kitten. I was surprised at how well they get along because my older cat has always hated other cats. But she does the same exact thing to my kitten. I think it’s just the older cats way of trying to get the younger to settle down

          Reply
  5. Liv
    July 11, 2016 at 8:44 pm (12 months ago)

    My older male cat almost always grooms my younger female cat. A lot of the time, when she sees him sitting on my bed, she’s quick to jump on and nearly sit on him in hopes he’ll groom her. If he’s lazy, she tends to be the one to groom him. Haven’t see any acts of aggression or the likes, but both these cats have a decent temperaments.

    Reply
  6. Drew
    June 28, 2016 at 12:26 pm (12 months ago)

    Our older cat does that to our younger cat. It looks funny and sometimes the younger one will get fed up and take off running!! She mostly doesn’t mind it though.

    Reply
  7. Charlene
    June 19, 2016 at 5:06 am (1 year ago)

    I have a male Russian Blue & a female Calico (both rescued kitties) it seems that the female is more aggressive when it comes to grooming the male..She will groom him for a few minutes & then he wants NO more of it & a “tussle”gins…

    Reply
  8. Andrew
    May 31, 2016 at 1:27 pm (1 year ago)

    I adopted a second cat which is much younger than my current cat and also much bigger. I worried a bit about this but lately the younger, bigger cat has been grooming his older “brother” and the older cat loves it. I am happy they get along (except for the younger one’s friskiness) since the previous cat I had adopted was very mean to him on occasion.

    Reply
  9. Carol
    May 2, 2016 at 4:44 pm (1 year ago)

    My 14 year old neutered male began grooming my 6 year old spayed female about 2 years ago. If she tries to move at all, he nips at her ears or neck. She is in heaven. I think he believes that he is her mommy. This inevitably leads to play fighting. He also likes to groom my 26 year old son’s shaved head. He also tries to wake me up in the morning by grooming my head, but I have very long hair and he ends up coughing and choking.

    Reply
  10. Katie
    April 24, 2016 at 5:47 pm (1 year ago)

    My two cats are brothers do sometimes but they are usually laying together and usually it ends in play fights but sometimes they end up falling back asleep.

    Reply
  11. Mystique
    April 23, 2016 at 3:13 pm (1 year ago)

    Reading some of the comments has me curious now.

    Backstory: In February, we got a shelter cat (born in the shelter, so they knew she was a year and a day when we got her), our “Baby Shae” (my daughter Shay actually found her on a visit to the shelter). 3 weeks later, my younger 2 daughters headed for the bus stop, 5 minutes afterwards, oldest came back…with the cat. Just as I was about to ask her how she got out…my mouth opened, I glanced up…and there was our Shae, sleeping on a chair! We took the new cat to the vet, made sure she wasn’t chipped, had her tested for feline AIDS and Leukemia, both came back clean. The vet checked her over and stated “She’s an adult, but just barely.” So we asked, “A year…year and a half?” The vet confirmed. Note (don’t know if this will be important later), we also have a dog (also a rescue) who will be 10 this June.

    Anyway, about 2 weeks ago (having had them both for roughly a month and a half now), we discovered Artemis (named after the mighty huntress Goddess…and this cat will hunt anything, but loves her toys most) was grooming Shae. Since then we’ve noticed it’s always when Shae is sleeping…and she often doesn’t even wake up. Adorable, really. However, both of them when interacting (chasing each other, pouncing, even during the grooming if Shae does wake up) always have their tails swishing/puffed up. That being said, while they do chase/play, it’s never really been in an aggressive manner. Their claws have never come out when batting at each other or anything.

    We’ve held Artemis, asked her ‘Do you want to be a dog?” looking her in the eye…and every time we do it, she actually wags her tail! Both cats, when I break out the cans of tuna for lunch, will sit next to the dog and “beg” just like like the dog. Banshee (our dog) was trained to “shake”, and thinks if she shakes, she’ll get some of your food. The cats even now do this as well, offering their paw when they know I’m close to being done.

    Is the tail wagging just normal for some cats (since with mine it doesn’t indicate aggressiveness)? Are they somehow learning these behaviors from the dog? (Note: Both love to go for walks on their leashes as well…when I bring out the dog’s leash they look at theirs and meow to go along, too)

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      April 24, 2016 at 5:31 am (1 year ago)

      You’ve got some smart kitties! It sounds like they’re mimicking the dog’s behavior! A cat’s tail is an important part of their body language. Generally, a puffed up tail is a sign of aggression or fear, but in some cats, it can also be a sign of excitement. Here’s more information on feline body language: http://consciouscat.net/2012/03/19/feline-body-language/

      Reply
  12. Fiona
    March 19, 2016 at 3:45 am (1 year ago)

    My 2 cats often groom each other but I am a little concerned that one of them now has bald patches on her face where the over cat is over grooming her. He has plucked out all of her whiskers above her eyes. How do I stop this?

    Reply
    • Amy
      May 1, 2016 at 6:30 am (1 year ago)

      One of my cats was losing a lot of hair lately so we took her to the vet. She said it wasn’t any kind of infection so she was over grooming herself, probably a result of stress. She recommended Feliway, a pheromone spray that we put on a bandana and tie around her neck, especially when she seems to be excessively grooming. It has worked wonders. I found it in a pet store. It’s pretty expensive but well worth it. I think you can get it on Amazon for cheaper.

      Reply
      • Ingrid
        May 1, 2016 at 8:56 am (1 year ago)

        That’s an interesting use of Feliway, Amy. I’m glad it’s working for you.

        Reply
  13. Aurora
    March 8, 2016 at 10:57 pm (1 year ago)

    I have two adult male cats- 4 & 5 year olds, who love licking each other! One cat is always the clear leader over the other, and he’s the one to usually start the grooming, but they both clean each other. They also fight when grooming, and the groomee likes licking me when I scratch the lower back/base of tail area. How weird!

    Reply
    • adriana
      February 27, 2017 at 2:24 pm (4 months ago)

      the base of the tail area is a nerve scratch to much and they may bite you

      Reply
  14. Gigi
    March 8, 2016 at 9:34 am (1 year ago)

    My cats (male and female 1 year apart) get along well. Frequently groom each other. I noticed that the cat that does the grooming is always the cat that was napping (the one that gets groomed walked up to the sleeping cat to wake him or her up). Any ideas as to why they do this? Just interesting.

    Reply
  15. Megan
    February 10, 2016 at 8:14 am (1 year ago)

    My cats who are sisters always cuddle and groom each other it’s very cute❤️
    My cats are very loving gentle cats☺️

    Reply
  16. Savanna
    February 5, 2016 at 4:01 am (1 year ago)

    I have a 1 year old cat. Born in October. Brought home in January. 2015. Cuddles thing ever. At the end of November 2015 I brought home another kitten. And it was like instant connection between them. The kitten will groom my older cat. And vice versa. If the kitten comes up while my older one is cuddling with me and starts grooming. My older one will get up and return the favor lol
    They are inseparable. They have to be together. Go everywhere together. Eat together. You will never find them alone. They are always right by each other. Sleeping beside. Or they will be curled up with each other. Or the kitten lying right on top lol. I’m guessing I lucked out. They absolutely adore each other.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      February 5, 2016 at 6:38 am (1 year ago)

      What a wonderful match, Savanna!

      Reply
  17. Jessica
    January 24, 2016 at 9:31 pm (1 year ago)

    I have three cats two female one male one of the females And the male will groom each other a lot they hold each other and sleep together all the time however they will not let the other female around them she is the outcast. The first two were raised together though. The thirywas brought into the family many years later. ….

    Reply
  18. Deb
    January 18, 2016 at 2:09 pm (1 year ago)

    My two cats groom each other often. Sometimes it leads to biting each others necks which seems to hurt. I try to break that up. The next day they will be fine again. Is that a dominance thing? My two puppies also try to get my older cat to groom them lol they sit very still when he complies. So cute.

    Reply
  19. Lauren
    January 10, 2016 at 4:38 am (1 year ago)

    Why were my comments deleted?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      January 10, 2016 at 5:59 am (1 year ago)

      They were not, Lauren, you’ll see them below. When you leave a comment on our site for the first time, your comment will be held for moderation. Much as we wish we didn’t have to do this, it does help us prevent spamming. In most cases, comments will be approved within a few hours. We rarely hold comments for more than 24 hours. We’re a small staff here, and Allegra, Ruby and I do get to be away from the computer for a few hours every day 😉

      Reply
  20. Lauren
    January 10, 2016 at 2:27 am (1 year ago)

    I have 3 cats, all male. There are two from the same litter that are 3 years old and one that is 2 years old. I find that the 2 older cats typically tend to groom the younger, but after a few minutes he tends to start play fighting with them. They are all fixed, I’m wondering if anyone has any insight as to why this happens

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      January 10, 2016 at 6:01 am (1 year ago)

      It most likely has to do with the hierarchy of allogrooming, as explained in the article, Lauren. Your younger cat may not agree that he’s the lower ranking cat when he’s being groomed by the older one, and play fighting is his way to attempt to shift the “balance of power.”

      Reply
  21. Gary
    January 6, 2016 at 10:03 pm (1 year ago)

    We have two cats. One over grooms the other to the point of grooming to bare skin on top of head. What can be done to stop it?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      January 7, 2016 at 5:50 am (1 year ago)

      Wow, that’s an enthusiastic groomer, Gary! I would try distracting the cat who overgrooms the other one to cut the grooming session short. Use a toy, not treats, to distract. You don’t want to inadvertently reward the behavior.

      Reply
  22. Sally
    January 6, 2016 at 8:03 am (1 year ago)

    My 13 year old male cat will try to groom my female cat (6 years old and had her for 2 years) whenever he gets the opportunity. He will do it until her head is soaked if he gets the chance, but mostly she only puts up with it for under a minute then she swipes him fairly aggressively. Does anyone know what is going on here? Is he being ‘motherly’ (although male)? or is he being dominant? He seems genuinely upset/surprised when she stops him as well! He also tries to cuddle up with her whereas she is not into that, she does sit near him occasionally.

    Reply
    • Carie Reynolds
      January 9, 2016 at 12:37 am (1 year ago)

      He probably dose it for comfort.

      Reply
  23. Melissa Hershey
    January 4, 2016 at 8:05 pm (1 year ago)

    Yup my two males sure do this & they aren’t even related. My oldest is a little over 2 years old & my youngest is just 4 months old. They get along wonderfully & can often be found together.

    Reply
  24. Jan
    January 2, 2016 at 3:49 pm (1 year ago)

    I’ve got a 3yr old female and and 9 month old female called boots and laces and they groom each other frequently,but then half hour later they’ll be chasing each other around the house stalking each other and fighting

    Reply
    • Lauren
      January 10, 2016 at 2:29 am (1 year ago)

      Mine do that too and they’re all fixed males. I’ve always wondered about it

      Reply
  25. Karla
    December 25, 2015 at 3:51 am (1 year ago)

    Loved everyone of these kitty tales!
    I have a female orange tabby (age unknown but at least 8-10 years) who I adopted as serious fraidy-cat when a friend called and said YOU HAVE TO TAKE THIS CAT OR SHES GOING TO THE POUND. It took 6 month of living with food, water, and litter box in my bedroom for her to come out from under the bed. “Squishie Pants Poo Poo” and a 5 year old male I raised from a kitten, “Crackhead” who are called PooPoo and Bubby get pretty radical in their growling chases and play-fights. Bubby (boy) will try to groom Poo (older girl) and she will take a couple licks then the ears will go back and cause is on! No ones been hurt and they separate when I Hollar so am just closely monitoring.

    Should I be concerned? PooPoo has completely come out of her she’ll since we moved full time into an RV and will stand in middle of kitchen and scream at me if her dish gets too low to suit her. Amazing!!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 25, 2015 at 6:00 am (1 year ago)

      From what you’re describing, it sounds like the chasing is just play, Karla. Watch their tales for cues: if they’re straight up in the air when they’re running, rather than swishing or puffed up, it’s a good indicator that it’s all in good fun.

      Reply
    • Karen
      December 26, 2015 at 9:30 pm (1 year ago)

      I had a lovely exfoliating facial from Solly the other day. Had to keep my lips tightly closed though (and have a wash afterwards!)

      You know those fish places where you can have your feet “cleaned” – how about cat facials…..NOOOO don’t even think about it, poor felines x and actually, poor fish…

      Reply
      • Ingrid
        December 27, 2015 at 6:15 am (1 year ago)

        Those sandpaper tongues make for a great facial, don’t they, Karen! 🙂

        Reply
        • Karla
          December 27, 2015 at 8:27 am (1 year ago)

          LoL at fish foot cleaning!! If onlyBubby would do my feet!!!

          Reply

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