Cats are some of the cleanest animals on earth, even though they hate water and avoid it at all costs. How often have you come upon a stinky house cat? And why is this? Because unlike dogs, they groom themselves (thankfully). Cats are meticulous about keeping their coats clean and shiny - it is estimated that a normal cat will spend about 10% or more of his day grooming. Some are so obsessed with cleanliness that they will even resort to grooming other cats who they feel are "dirty." Amazing, huh? If you have witnessed your cats doing this, you may be wondering just why do cats groom each other. Is it a sign of something? Is it sexual in nature?
How Does a Cat Groom Itself?
Have you ever taken a close look at your cat's tongue? Cats have very muscular and agile tongues that are covered with tiny hook-like ridges called papillae. The papillae is made from keratin, the same stuff that makes your nails long and strong. They use their rough, strong tongues to comb through the many hairs in their fur coats - it's almost like dragging tiny, hooked fingernails through the hair. Cats lick and bite at their coats to clear it of dirt, debris, and any parasites that may be trying to set up shop amongst the hairs.
It might seem like your cat isn't doing much when she is sitting there, licking one spot for an extended period of time, but she can sense when an area of their skin or coat needs to be cleansed more than other areas. Since cats groom themselves throughout the day, they manage to get to all of the areas of the coat in cycles.
Cats Clique Up
Cats are not considered to be pack animals by nature, but they do develop alliances. They will usually divide themselves up into small cliques of two or three. Yes, cats are very much like human "mean girls" in this way. If you have multiple cats in your household, you may have noticed that two or more of them spend a lot of time together, while shunning the other cats. When cats spend extended periods of time together it gets to a point where they do just about everything together at the same time, including grooming.
Is It Normal for One Cat to Groom Another?
So you may have come upon your cats balled together on your couch or your bed, licking each other. One eyebrow goes up slowly… is this normal? In reality, this is truly nothing to be concerned about. It is not sexual in nature (unless your cats are mating, but even then it's probably just basic affection). In fact, it is something you should be happy about because you have brought the cats up to be tight-knit like a family and non-aggressive.
In truth, one cat grooming another is not normal per se because cats are more likely to fight than to sit around and lick each other in silence. If you have two cats that do this, all that this means is that they are extremely close.
So why do cats groom each other in the first place? There are a few reasons, one of them being that it is a great way of bonding with another cat that he or she loves. When cats groom each other, it is a sign of great affection. They use this time to bond with each other and show how much they care. Plus, it is relaxing. Being groomed by another cat feels good, like a calming massage.
If two of your cats seem to hate each other and frequently have knock down, drag out fights when they meet, it is highly unlikely that you will ever see them grooming each other.
Mother cats lick and clean their kittens, so it is not uncommon to see this behavior in two adult cats as well. Even a male cat can take on this mothering, or in this case a "brothering" instinct with a younger cat who he becomes close with. Again, it is a way for one cat to protect and care for another cat that he has taken a liking to.
By the way, have you ever noticed that your cat tries to lick you too? That may be because he or she is trying to groom you! Maybe you need a bath? But seriously, it is just another clear sign that your cats loves you and wants to show you affection. It could also be because she doesn't like a scent coming off of your skin (maybe a soap or perfume) and wants to lick it away.
Convenience and Utility
In many cases, cats will groom each other simply because it is hard to reach certain areas. For example, the top of the head is very hard to reach for a cat. He will have to lick his paw and then rub the paw against his head to get that area clean. Another cat can lick his head clean easily. In fact, some cats will actually walk up to other cats and present their heads for cleaning when they know it is dirty up there. Cats are very smart and resourceful in this way.
Some cats are more selfish than others. You might find that one of your cats does all the grooming while the other just sits there, barely reciprocating. This is just the nature of the relationship and there is nothing that you can really do to change that. It may just be that the main "groomer" is more of the "mother" in that relationship.
The only thing you should really be concerned about when exploring this question of why do cats groom each other is hairballs. When cats groom themselves the hairs sometimes get left behind in the papillae and then get swallowed. Later on the hair balls get chucked up.
If your cat is grooming another cat frequently, he or she will have double the hairballs. You may want to consider feeding that cat a premium cat food with a hairball control formula to help manage the amount and size of these thick, compacted balls in his system.