If you’ve ever had more than one cat under your roof, you may have noticed a feline behaviour crop up where – every so often – one cat will begin to lick and groom another.
At this point, either the first cat will continue to groom the second on his or her own, or the second cat will join in, grooming the first cat back until the two begin licking and grooming one another for a little while.
If you’ve ever seen this behaviour firsthand, you’ve been lucky enough to be a witness to the incredibly neat behaviour of domestic cat allogrooming.
Allogrooming – or social grooming between two or more members of the same species – is something that many species do.
I’m sure you can already think of an example or two that feels similar to two cats licking one another – monkeys picking fleas and lice out of each other’s hair, for instance.
There are many commonalities between allogrooming behaviours from one species to the next, but there are also differences, so what I’ll be talking about here are specifically facts and theories scientists have discovered and refined through studying allogrooming in the domestic cat world.
Facts We Know About Allogrooming in Domestic Cats
There are a number of things we know to be true about allogroming in domestic cats. They are the following:
1. Both indoor and outdoor cats allogroom.
While I’m not saying they both allogroom at the same rate or frequency (house cats typically allogroom more since they are in closer proximity to other cats, and that’s a factor in whether there will be more allogrooming), still – both indoor and outdoor cats engage in allogrooming behaviour.
2. Cats that are spayed and not spayed, neutered and not neutered allogroom.
Spayed and neutered cats, as well as cats that haven’t been neutered or spayed, will all engage in allogrooming behaviours.
Again, there are differences in frequency and likelihood of spayed vs not spayed and neutered vs not neutered cats grooming another cat, but it’s still true that all types do allogroom.
3. Allogrooming occurs regardless of a cat’s gender – and regardless of the gender combination.
Male and female cats both allogroom – though male cats seem to groom other cats more than female cats seem to groom other cats.
Male and male cats allogroom, male and female cats groom each other, and female and female cats also lick each other clean in allogrooming sessions.
That being said, male and male allogrooming sessions are most popular, with female and female is likely the least frequent allogrooming gender combination to take place.
4. While two cats may regularly engage in allogrooming together, one cat will typically give the majority of the grooming.
You’re likely to have noticed this already if you regularly see allogrooming happen in your home.
In the vast majority of cases, there will be one cat that does a lot more of the licking and grooming to the other.
The cat that is more often than not on the giving end is not a coincidence either…
5. Dominant, confident cats are more likely to allogroom less-dominant, less-confident cats.
A cat that is the socially higher ranking and more confident is more likely to be on the giving end of the grooming.
A socially lower ranking cat is more likely to be on the receiving end. This isn’t always true, but more often than not, it is.
Thus, there’s a co-relation that’s been found:
6. Cats typically receive more grooming from cats who are aggressive toward them.
If one cat is typically the victim of another cat, that cat will also typically receive more grooming and licking from the dominant aggressor cat due to the dominance factor playing out in allogrooming.
7. Two conditions co-relate with more allogrooming: higher numbers of pairs of cats living in the same space, and less aggressive behaviour between cats.
An increase in the number of pairs of cats is positively co-related and will thus increase chances of allogrooming taking place.
An increase in mean, aggressive behaviours amongst cats has a negative co-relation with allogrooming – the more aggressive behaviours there are the less chance there is of allogrooming taking place.
Scientific Studies About Domestic Cat Allogrooming
While there have been a few studies done on the topic of domestic cat allogrooming, the research does seem to be a little thin in this department quantity-wise.
Of the research out there, Ruud van den Bos published an excellent paper in 1998 called “The Function of Allogrooming in Domestic Cats (Felis silvestris cams); a Study in a Group of Cats Living in Confinement,” and it’s where I’ve pulled the vast majority of facts for this article from.
I managed to find a full PDF version of the study online, so in case you’d like to go over it yourself, it can be found here.
The points from the van den Bos’ paper I find most interesting are as follows;
With allogrooming, the vast majority of interactions (94%) began with one animal approaching or inviting the other animal – not when animals were already sitting or lying together.
The majority of interactions (91.6%) were unidirectional (one cat licked and groomed the other).
Allogrooming usually occurred in the head-neck area.
In most cases (69.9%) allogrooming ended when one animal moved away, as opposed to the two staying near one another.
A few cases (12%) ended with one animal fleeing the other.
Overwhelmingly, groomers either stood (43.6% of the time) or sat up (45.1% of the time) during allogrooming sessions, while groomees often sat (46.6% of the time).
Cats that groomed themselves (self-groomed) more and for longer periods of time typically also engaged in allogrooming sessions more frequently and for longer periods of time as well.
In this experiment there were 14 male cats and 11 female cats (1 female who was rarely present). Of the allogrooming sessions, 54 (65.1%) were two males, 26 (31.3%) were males with females, and only 3 (3.6%) were two females together. Neutering and spaying likely played a part in this, however – especially since female cats typically engage in allogrooming behaviour much more when they are in heat.
Male cats nearly always (90.4%) acted as initiators.
Male cats were more active groomers, both in allogrooming situations and in terms of grooming themselves.
More often (78.6% of the time) higher ranking cats were the ones who groomed the lower ranking cats.
Whether cats were blood relatives did not affect frequency or duration of allogrooming sessions. Thus, allogrooming does not seem to have anything to do with whether cats are siblings, parent-and-child, cousins, or relations of any kind.
What Domestic Cat Allogrooming is Not
Allogrooming in domestic cats is not about hygiene. Or at least, not exclusively and/or primarily about hygiene and cleaning.
If it was only about hygiene, there wouldn’t be such enormous differences in behaviour from gender to gender in cats, as well as in terms of social hierarchy.
Obviously, there has to be something more important at play here than hygiene.
Allogrooming also can’t be about weaker felines establishing a relationship with dominant cats who then may be able to take care of them, since most allogrooming is instigated and carried out by dominant cats rather than those that are lower rank.
For these two reasons, allogrooming doesn’t seem to be about affection either.
If it was, it would make sense that dominant and submissive cats, and male and female cats would all be relatively equally giving of allogrooming to other cats.
The last theory that is unlikely to be true is mentioned in the study I’ve referred to’s discussion.
Allogrooming also doesn’t appear to be a tool to reduce stress that may have come about because of conflicts or being in close proximity to other animals, either.
The why comes to down many reasons, the most swaying, in my opinion, coming down to the fact that if allogrooming was merely about reducing stress in the group, there should be little to no difference whether dominant or less dominant cats are the ones to instigate and carry out allogrooming.
But there is a huge difference – dominant cats are almost always the instigators and the ones to lick and groom lower ranking cats. So again, there appears to be more to allogrooming than stress reduction.
Our Best Theory: Why Cats Lick & Groom Each Other
If none of these theories is likely to be true, what’s the most likely reason that explains why cats lick and groom each other?
Ruud van den Bos believes our best theory is as follows:
Domestic cat allogrooming is likely a way for cats to redirect pent-up aggression and to reaffirm dominance in a way that’s far better (for the group) than doing so through aggressive and even violent behaviours.
As van den Bos aptly points out: “A cost-benefit analysis for groomer and groomee suggests the following.
The groomer would enjoy the benefit of not engaging in costly overt aggression in order to maintain its position, the groomee the benefit of not being attacked by its opponent” (van den Bos 1998).
Thus, our best explanation for why cats lick and groom other cats has more or less everything to do with aggression and dominance, and very little to do with anything else.
It’s a way for a (typically more dominant) cat to relieve pent-up aggression and tension, and for that cat to maintain it’s position as higher up in the hierarchy in a way that is physically safer for the less dominant cat than the alternative (i.e. being attacked), which is more beneficial for the group.
As I stated in the “Facts We Know About Allogrooming” section, less aggressive behaviour co-relates with more allogrooming, but this could simply be because allogrooming causes there to be less aggression on the part of dominant cats – since they are ridding themselves of their pent-up aggression through the process of grooming the more submissive cat.
So while it definitely doesn’t seem to be an action of love, it does seem to yield a lot more peace and harmony in the group.
Not quite the adorable explanation you were expecting, but it does seem to fit, doesn’t it?
Thoughts on Cats Licking & Grooming One Another?
Have you ever seen two cats lick & groom one another? What did you expect this behaviour to mean?
Have you ever had a pair of cats under your roof who regularly allogroomed? Was one cat usually the one to instigate and carry out the grooming? Was this cat the more dominant of the two? The more confident?
Does the theory outlined as the best working theory in the scientific study make sense to you?
Does it align with the behaviour you’ve seen in your multi-cat home? Does it clarify anything you were wondering about? Or do you think there’s another theory that fits better?
Really looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this behaviour in the comments below!
Michele Morgan says
My younger female cat (17 weeks) instigated the grooming with my adult male. He then groomed her back, got up and left.
Very informative article, which I found whilst puzzling over the behaviour of my twins: neutered male litter mates. I noticed that one is the recipient: Dougal will offer his head for a quick lick, or his brother Ted initiates it. If Dougal tries to lick Ted back it’s no go, Ted will back off. I found this strange because I thought Dougal was slightly more dominant, he’s the one who sometimes tries to guard food or pounces for a play fight. On reflection Ted always takes first place for treats whilst Dougal waits like a little gentleman for his share. I thought he was relaxed because he knows he knows what’s coming, but after reading this I understand a bit more about their power play. Thanks!
I have two strays that have adopted me within the last year, a longhaired white male and a tabby who showed up about three months later. Both are healthy, but I have noticed that the tabby grooms the white cat often. I can see tufts of white fur floating away during these adorable sessions which both cats seem to enjoy; however, lately I’ve noticed the white cat’s fur is thinning considerably in the area where he is groomed by the tabby. It’s an interesting relationship that these two have developed. The white cat will dominate at the food bowl, so much so that I now feed them apart, but often white cat will finish his bowl and overtake tabby’s. Otherwise, it does appear that the white cat is less dominant. He seems to check in with the tabby to see if coming into the house is ok, only doing so after the tabby does. They cuddle for warmth during cold mornings, play together, and genuinely seem to have bonded, but the over allogrooming. Im not sure how to stop this before it becomes a problem that requires treatment.
I think your theory is spot on! I’ve witnessed my female (older, dominant) cat initiate allogrooming with my male (younger, subordinate) cat in a seemingly unloving way for 3 years now. The interactions often end up in a sudden break up (the younger male pulling away) or a sudden bite from the female and a fury of paw swipes between the two of them. Nothing about allogrooming has ever hinted at affection between my cats and if it doesn’t end in an outburst of some sort, it’s usually because they’re too sleepy to engage. Lol. They tolerate each other at best! Thanks for the great read!
I really enjoyed this article, particularly since you referenced hard science. Here’s my take. I have 3 cats, 2 boys and a girl. Boy 1 is almost 4. Boy 2 is about 10 months old. Boy 2 is the groomer, boy 1 is the groomee. Boy 2 is always play fighting with his non bio brother, with some genuine soft aggression mixed in and boy 1 gets quite ticked off with baby brother. I’ve noticed after their play sessions that baby brother will groom older brother and they love it. I think it’s a male cat’s way of saying ‘sorry for being a jerk, I love you’. It may well be a bit of helping in the reduction of aggression, but at least in my household I firmly think grooming is about making up.
HOLY COW! I found this article after just witnessing my 9 month old crazy confident male kitten aggressively lick my shy, timid 5 year old female’s head and neck…this time it ended in her hissing at him, but most of the time she just kind of lets him do it reluctantly. It’s definitely not a loving gesture, but it’s better than the sexual aggression we dealt with and the constant attacks we faced after he was fixed. Very good article with great, thorough information. Thank you for publishing and sharing!
Found your post while trying to understand my cats’ behavior. I have a nervous indoor female who is my Velcro kitty and sleeps on my bed. We have an In/out boy who is bigger and more aggressive, who likes to come sleep on my bed as well. The girl initiates grooming of the boy when he’s on the bed, and the boy either tolerates it and they go to sleep together, or he gets aggressive and runs the girl off. It seems to me that the allogrooming is the means by which the female is trying to claim her territory, (me,) and the boy just tolerated it until he doesn’t. It’s a delicate peace around here when he’s in the house.
This is exactly what my 2 do. Brother and sister. She gets up moves to him ,hes usually peacefully sleeping and she licks his head till he cant stand it ant longer and then he will go for her. Hes much bigger and she usually ends up the victim. But is the one who started the whole thing.
Jeremiah Johnson Travelbee says
So from what I got from it is, it has a lot to do with love and affection. Here’s my take.
I’m on board with it’s a way to relieve aggression, show dominance, and good for the group or pack. But cats won’t groom cats they don’t like. So it’s saying “hey I care about you and I don’t want to hurt you, but just so you know I could though.”
Just my way of seeing it.
This is very interesting! I thought cats groomed each other because they like each other but the dominance theory makes sense too. I have a 3 year old male cat and recently adopted a 4 month old female kitten. After a few days they started getting along and now they play together. I noticed that the kitten comes to the male cat (usually when he’s asleep so she wakes him up) and he starts grooming her. While grooming, he also gently bites her and holds her so definitely he’s showing his dominance. She doesn’t groom him back and I was wondering why that was then I found your post so now it makes sense!
Sometimes the kitten plays a little rough and attacks the male cat biting his neck. Couple times it even made him choke. I pulled her away but I’m not sure what to do when she attacks him too much. I do play with them few times a day trying to burn all that kitten energy so she gets too tired for rough play.
Interesting article! I know I’m late to the game here. I have to say that my observation seems a bit different in my household, particularly with one female. I rescued two together and agree the dominant is the initiator with those two males. We moved and inherited a gang of ferals; 3 siblings and one orbiting Tom. After trapping, spay/neuter, they were initiated into the household in various stages, the Tom a full year later. Anyway, the runt, a female, is the peacemaker and initiator with all grooming. She approaches with her head down and often is grappled or snagged on her neck for her efforts yet she persists. She’s tiny, purrs like a truck, and wants to curl up with the groomee after she grooms. An outlier?
I have one male cat who is older and dominant over the other, female cat. Most often allogrooming is started by the female. She will walk up to him and bow her head down in invitation for him to groom her. She will sometimes return the grooming, sometimes not. Often times the grooming ends in a squabble. In conjunction with providing a less violent means of establishing a hierarchy, I think it also keeps them smelling like each other, or at least like him.
I am clearly the uber alpha cat and they both will lick me, the female more so. This act feels either affectionate or perhaps somehow related to left-over mother-kitten interaction (mother grooms kitten, kitten nurses on mother). So I wouldn’t be surprised if the allogrooming might be physiologically connected too.
Your description made me laugh as I too have an older male cat and a new member younger female cat. She always approaches him with head bunts, mostly he stares at her as she passes after the bunt, and at times I see him grooming her. Like your description, this ends 80% of the time ends with a squabble where he suddenly swipes her and she out of defense hits back. It’s laughable but always made me curious as to why this happens. This article certain gives way to a logical reason why he is like that towards her. Aggression and dominance.
This is more how things go at my house. The less dominant boy approaches his dominant brother and bows his head to ask for grooming. He does the same with his biological sister, and she will do it occasionally with the dominant boy. The difference is things rarely end in squabbles here.
My fourth cat, female, is never a part of this, or any joint nap sessions; she’s also the occasional victim when the dominant boy feels like bullying. I believe she’s also a dominant cat; but the others have rejected her dominance so she’s an outsider. Basically, she’s Scar.
Judy Judkins says
I have 2 male feral litter mates. They are adorable and allow me to love them from afar. Although I am certainly NOT complaining, I’m wondering if anyone has ever witnessed the following behavior in male adult cats. They do not roam; they remain in the backyard constantly. They do not mark territory by spraying. They are totally submissive if another male wanders into the yard. They will even give over their food to the intruder. They have an extreme bond and they do not leave each other’s side; they shadow each other constantly. It seems like the male cats of anyone’s dreams.
Of course they are well cared for. We feed them twice daily and have custom designed a perch with enclosure below it equipped with quilt and pet heat pad. So why WOULD they wish to stray? Ha!
Just interested to hear if anyone else has ever witnessed this calmness and, in my opinion, odd behavior, in un neutered male adult cats. Thanks for any comments.
I thought this was interesting and it made a lot of sense, I found it in my search of why all the adult cats groom my youngest. We have 4 kitties, 3 adults (12 year old female, 9 year old male and 4 year old female) and one female kitten that is almost an adult. (All fixed, all indoor cats for the majority of their lives) The adults rarely groom each other but they all groom the youngest, the male most of all. But contradictory to where the dominant groomer initiates, almost every time the kitten starts the interaction to be groomed- placing herself next to an adult that was already grooming themselves or rubs against them until she is groomed. Since getting her, we have called her an aggressive submissive and wonder why that is and what it means.
Super late to this article but it rings true for my two cats. I got Caroline from a shelter 18 months ago. She was found on the street with her litter. She was slightly feral and hid for first two weeks. Sudden movement sent her darting out the room. Lots of sooth talking, playing and patience and 18 months later she’s a cuddly domesticated cat. I just picked up Lanny from the same shelter and he’s a mellow gentle personality. He was a therapy cat for an elderly lady before she went into a care home. I did their intro slowly but after one week they could tolerate each other. Lanny makes himself completely at home. Caroline has been a champ sharing her toys and space but she does try to rough house a fair bit and I can see she was insecure. So j give her lots of affection. Lanny is always the initiator on licking Caroline’s face and neck. It calms them both down. He is definitely the dominant more confident of the two. He’s bigger and his background is way more stable. He is a wonderful addition to our home.
Meghan McFadden says
Thank you for this article. It was exactly what I was trying to find out! I have two cats, Maddy and Mouse. Maddy is the mom and the most dominant. She is constantly trying to lick Mouse but it never seems affectionate. Mouse will tolerate it for a short while and then start growling. If Maddy continues, the hissing and fighting will start. I had thought that maybe Maddy was trying to continue her mothering role but I couldn’t understand why Mouse reacted so angrily. It all makes sense now. It’s definitely a power play on Maddy’s behalf, a way to reassert her dominance and Mouse isn’t going to roll over and take it quietly. Really fascinating article!
Sonja Dyer says
I have 2 ~ 10 month old sisters who I adopted around 5 months ago, they are both very anxious and were obviously not socialised properly. They still don’t fully trust me yet but we’re slowly making progress, they are both indoor cats though I’ve made a few unsuccessful attempts to introduce them to the outdoors. Nepthys is the larger of the 2 who seems to be more confident around me, coming closer, sleeping with me during the night, sitting in front of the locked catflap as if protecting her territory from the 2 cats that live upstairs, taking treats from my hand. Isis is the smaller of the 2 and seemingly less confident around me, running away from me, not taking treats from me, only sleeping on the bed when Nepthys is there. However, she is more often than not in the same room as me sitting close by and constantly watching me. I’ve noticed them allogrooming a few times now and it always seems to be Isis that initiates it, Nepthys seems to really relax and enjoy it when it happens, no tension in either of them, I think I’ve only once seen play fighting turn in to proper aggression. More often than not the sessions end in the pair of them sleeping cooried in together. I was curious if the grooming had an ulterior motive as I’m struggling to understand them more in the hope of settling them in better and making them less anxious.
Sue Copenhagen says
Very, very interesting names that you have given your charges. I’m thinking of all the deep meaning behind your little sisters names.
Sonja Dyer says
Thanks, names are down to my interest in Egyptology. Isis and Nephthys are sister goddesses within their mythology.
Heather Livings says
Hi, I have 3 cats, Jack and Lily, who are both 5 years old, then i have Max, who is just a year old. Lily and Max get along great most of the time, sometimes playing can get rough. Jack just tolerates the both of them, but likes Lily more than Max. Recently however I noticed Max will bite and lick at Lilys ears excessively and only at night. He is licking the fur off her ears and creating some sores. I have checked for mites and infection, it’s not that. Why is he doing this suddenly and how do i get him to stop?
This post was exactly what I was looking for! Most others spout how ‘adorable’ allogrooming is and how special it is, but knowing my two girls I knew it was more than that! I have a dominant bengal female, Leela (8yrs old) and a submissive calico female, Stevie (1 Yr). Leela can be highly aggressive and is only roughly playful and mildly tolerant at the best of times. Stevie is desperate for her affections but it’s never given. I was overjoyed when I first witnessed the grooming, but over time noticed it was purely one sided with Leela always the groomer and always refusing even an affectionate head butt or return groom, so I knew it couldn’t be an affection based action. Your post explains a lot and confirms my suspicions so thank you! So far I’ve already been using feliway spray to try and calm Leela (it has very little affect) and next will be visiting the vet to see if they can suggest anything else to help with less stress, but if you can add any input it would be gratefully received!!
Elise Xavier says
Based on my experience having newly adopted a second boy, to lessen the stress of the dominant cat, it’s good to have the cats take “breaks” from one another. I will often separate my two when I know I’ll be out of the house for a long period of time. This started out being for our new cat, Bjorn’s, safety, but I found that our first cat, Avery, seemed to have a lot less anxiety overall this way as well.
If you’re at work for long hours, or happen to leave for a long time some days, I would give each cat their own space during these times for around a week, giving Leela, your dominant cat, access to the whole house, and keeping Stevie in a safe room with everything she loves and needs in it (a good view, food, water, toys, nap spots, scratchers, litter box, etc.) If Leela shows less aggression when the two are re-united, this trick is working for them and you should keep it up (as long as both cats are happy with the arrangement), until Leela’s aggression nearly completely subsides.
Try to increase the amount of positive time they spend together, so if they are able to eat meals in the same room, or have snacks in each others’ presence, or play together, that’s amazing and increase the frequency of that kind of thing happening. At times where Leela is likely to be stressed (for my Avery it’s before feeding times), separate the cats to lessen Leela’s negative emotions being “taken out on” or transferred to her feelings about Stevie. Basically try to make the experiences the cats have with one another either neutral or positive, and it should go a long way in reducing Leela’s anxiety overall, as well as giving Stevie a chance at getting Leela to like her.
Try phermone collars – I know it sounds crazy, our vet recommended them since our 9 month old male is confident and aggressive toward our older female, but it has made a difference! We give Lucy a new collar once a month, and Jack gets a new one every 2 weeks. So we spend $45 a month on collars (NOT ideal) but are hopeful that as he grows up and matures he will start to calm without us constantly changing these collars out. Amazon has some great ones!
My two 11 year old boy litter mates have lived together all their lives and while Marcel has always been incredibly dominant, and can spray despite being neutered and is the terror of the neighbourhood, Lewis is the initiator of their fairly frequent allogrooming, which often results in a fight and almost always seems reasonably aggresive. I interpret it as Lewis attempting to remind his brother that, although Marcel is the boss, Lewis is bigger and also important. I think the degree to which this develops into a fight depends on Marcel’s tolerance for Lewis’ delusions of grandeur. It does seem, in its early stages, to have an element of an attempt at couples’ therapy, which gets a bit out of hand. I’m fully open to the thought that I may be reading too much into it!
Elise Xavier says
Oh my goodness, this is the best! Cats have so much personality it’s ridiculous, I find it so fascinating when those huge personalities “clash.” Absolutely sounds like couples’ therapy getting out of hand to me, hahahaha. But I’m 100% the type to personify animal behaviour, so I’d never be one to tell you you’re reading too much into it 😉
irit engel says
i run a cat shelter with 350 rescued cats in israel.
i engage as long as my time permits in studying feline behavior. though i find your article fascinating, i feel that the conclusions are somewhat too inclusive..for example, i woudnt hurry to exclude the hygence explanation so quictly..as cats allogroom the most dificult areas to clean (head and neck) and do it so thoroughly, and since i witness a lot of allogrooming between kittens at the pre-domminance stage and in reciprocal manner. in addition, we have a kitten with jar and chik missing and he got plenty of grooming from several cats around that seems to be cleaning per se treatment.
i feel that at least the reasons for allogrooming is multiple and not exclusive one. the fact that a dominant cat engage more often in grooming the less domminat could be explained also in other way as the domminat feels mor free to engage in whatever interaction he likes while the more worried cats would be more introvertic and passive.
i’m looking forward to your comments.
Elise Xavier says
Completely fair. I don’t think this has been researched enough to have any theories disregarded – let alone ones you’ve formed watching many cats over the years. Obviously, we are just discussing opinions right now, so I could absolutely be wrong about any/all of this, we never know until it’s thoroughly researched! I would absolutely love to hear more if you have other theories about allogrooming, or any other cat behaviour for that matter!
While I personally believe there’s more to the dominance than simply feeling free to engage in whatever interaction a dominant cat likes (I think it’s mostly non-aggressive behaviour stress relief, which is not a bad thing at all!), I can definitely get behind cleaning being a part of why cats allogroom, although it may not be the exclusive or primary reason for it.
This certainly explains some things! I have a 6 year old female, fairly submissive (used to be groomed by my Male, sadly now gone).
I’ve adopted a kitten and from the beginning he’s been chasing and annoying her. At first she hissed and growled a lot and ran away, but it’s mostly ok now although we’ve had to intervene as he kept trying to scruff her. He doesn’t pick on her so much now however I have noticed that every time she tries to groom him he turns it into a fight! He’s only 4.5 months but I guess he considers himself dominant and has from the start (13 weeks old).
Nicky Brooks says
What a fascinating read! I went to this page having watched one of my cats groom the other a few times and your conclusions fit well. I adopted Sheba and Cleo from a rescue centre a year ago. They were aged 10 and 9 and had been in their previous home most of their lives when their owner died. Both quite nervous. Once they’d settled in I noticed occasional aggression between them, usually initiated by Sheba. So I was puzzled when occasionally Sheba would jump up to where Cleo was resting and minding her own business and start licking her, mainly on the head and neck. Cleo receives this attention apparently under sufferance. It’s never ended with an attack, one of them just moves away. I’ll note next time which moves first. Thank you for a very interesting analysis.
Elise Xavier says
So fascinating! I definitely would never have guessed allogrooming was so closely tied to aggression and dominance before I researched it. Doesn’t *sound* like an aggressive behaviour, that’s for sure! Now that I finally have two cats, I’m curious to know if any will take place, though when it does, it seems Avery’s the dominant one, so he’s likely to be doing the allogrooming!
Really would love to know which moves first between your two, and if it happens the other way around sometimes.
I have a household of 5 cats currently. 3 of them are residents and 2 are foster cats. I never thought I would have so many cats at once but, I have to say it is truly interesting to watch the cat behaviors in larger groups. All are males and all allogroom each other all the time! I never thought about this as a dominant behavior, more about affection. But it definitely makes sense. The last cat I had come in with an overgrooming problem. He licked himself too much and everything else! Now I’m thinking he was just trying to establish dominance. He eventually settled in but still remains the biggest allogroomer of them all. I’m starting to think he might be the new pack leader.
Only 1 cat rarely engages in allogrooming, typically he only does with his litter mate. And recently 2 of the other cats (don’t laugh) won”t stop trying to hump him. I’ve realized this isn’t a sexual behavior it is also a dominant behavior. Perhaps he doesn’t engage in allogrooming enough. Maybe that would keep the humpers at bay.
Elise Xavier says
Oh my goodness, what an interesting bunch! I never would’ve thought of humping as a dominant behaviour rather than a sexual one. Are the cats who do this neutered?
I really would love for feline socialization behaviour to be studied more.. maybe there’s more out there in terms of research and I just haven’t done enough digging? Would love to find out more.
I’ve got two girls, Tizzy and Juno, and Tizzy is definitely the more dominant one. The cats will mutually play, but it’s usually initiated by Tizzy and Juno will usually tire of it first. Allogrooming as well is almost always initiated by Tizzy, and I’ve seen her practically pounce on Juno and start aggressively licking her face. It’s pretty fascinating and ridiculous at the same time.
Elise Xavier says
Wow, that pounce and aggressive lick sounds like a hilarious thing to watch. Cats most certainly are both fascinating and ridiculous things most of the time, haha! Thanks for sharing their odd behaviour!
jose latorre says
I found this article because I’m a little bit worried about the situation of my two boys.
They are both savannah F1. Bublik is 7 month old, timid and cautious. He is with me from 3 months old. One month ago I adopted Sasha (5 month old). He is the opposite, dominant and afraid of nothing. He is the dominant cat at home from day one. When he arrived he was licking me all the time and after some fighting with Bublik he is king of the house.
They are playing all day, doesn’t look like fighting anymore. And he is licking and allogrooming Bublik all the time, and the big one is losing his whiskers. I’m a little bit worried because he is kind of depress with this new situation at home. He doesn’t want to play with me anymore. Allows me to touch him but kind of resigned, and never aproachs to me by his own. He knows I’m guilty of this new situation.
Any suggestions to help to improve the situation? I was thinking about some kind of privilege, like letting him sleep in my room, to recover confidence in me.
Thank you very much for the article. Very helpful to confirm what I was already guessing.
Elise Xavier says
I feel like if you separate the two, giving the old one a space of his own and spending equal time with both of them, then letting the old cat feel free to join the new cat once he’s ready (could take some time) would help, but let me know if anything has changed in terms of their situation, or if you’ve tried anything new.
So sorry that they didn’t get along well from the start. But I definitely think a re-introduction slowly and steadily without being forced to interact at the onset will help. Have you tried the special privilege idea? Did it work out?
Can anyone else think of suggestions?
Jose Latorre says
Yes Elise, I did separate them most of the time. Bublik is now sleeping with me, and Sasha have the other room of the house. I noticed from day 1 Bublik improved his behavior, and started playing and sleep close to me. Still not the same caracther than two months ago, but definitly situation is better now. I let them play together and be around the house when I can watch Sasha is not abusing.
I’m planning to neuter Sasha next month. I think that will help as well. My initial plan was to wait a little bit more, but I’m not sure there is some benefit in waiting as He is starting to pee all around.
Elise Xavier says
I think that will definitely help a lot in the long run (the neutering). If you want to wait, I would continue to keep them separate until about a week after Sasha is neutered. Double check with your vet on doing it early, as I’ve heard you could create issues with UTIs later on if you neuter too soon (not sure about specifics or if it’s true – haven’t looked into it yet, but I thought I would mention it).
My roommate’s cat, Elliott, is phychotic and HATES other cats. When I brought my cat in, Elliott would follow him everywhere, hissing at him and then attacking him. He’s definitely mellowed out, but still goes after Jerry whenever he feels like it. When they’re both laying on my bed together, Elliott sometimes starts licking Jerry. At first I thought that it was sweet, but Jerry doesn’t like it. He starts growling until Elliott stops. Back at my old place, Jerry was the alpha cat; you could tell right away. Despite that, he has never been aggressive. He is the most chill cat I have ever met and always minds his own business. He didn’t care about Elliott’s aggression. Then we have Elliott, who doesn’t have experience in assuming dominance, who is exceptionally aggressive. I feel like he is trying to assume the alpha position, but Jerry doesn’t let him have that status, and this he shows by being unaccepting when Elliott tries to allogroom
Elise Xavier says
I have to agree with your assessment, it does sound like Elliott is trying to assume dominance, but that Jerry is not letting him hold that position. I really wonder where they’ll be in a few years – if Elliott will have mellowed out, and who the “top cat” will be so to speak. My vote’s with Jerry since he doesn’t seem to let Elliott’s aggression phase him at all.
So, I’m a weirdo with eight cats and many of them are related. I really enjoy observing their group dynamics – they’re so interesting! I feel very privileged that my husband loves me enough to allow me the opportunity to witness cat group behavior on such a large scale.
Anyway, I found your site after googling the term Allogrooming. I can confirm that it’s def an activity usually performed by a more dominant cat. Oddly enough, in my household it’s done solely by females – two in particular. But I’d love to share a different kind of story with you and hear your thoughts on it, because in all my years as a cat enthusiast I’ve never seen anything like it.
Our cat Panini became pregnant before we were able to have her fixed. She gave birth to two kittens, and the girl, Penelope, was very sickly. She was a fading kitten, but I managed to bottle and spoon fed her back from the brink. I love her dearly.
A few months later a friend of ours adopted three kittens and then realized she was horribly allergic to them. She called me crying and wheezing, so I told her that I’d be right there. The plan was for me to take the kittens in while we found new homes for them. They were only 7 weeks old, but I thought they would make good playmates for 5 month old Penny who was sickly, but still lonely in our house of old farts.
Penny and the new kittens quickly became buddies. Unfortunately it took longer for the other cats in the household to accept them. They were happily oblivious to the tension they were causing, so when baby Angel saw Panini hiding in a box glaring at her, she innocently ran over to play.
Panini, who is not particularly friendly, saw Angel running towards her, jumped out of the box and let out a warning hiss at the kitten.
Before I could even move, there was a black streak across the floor. Penelope lunged at her mother and hissed even louder into her confused face! Penny was FURIOUS; back arched and completely fluffed up. Momma Panini ran away, horrified. There is no doubt in my mind that Penny was protecting her little friend.
After that the adult cats kept a nervous eye on Penelope when the kittens were around. She is NOT an aggressive cat and I have never seen that behavior before or since.
I have never known cats to protect or defend each other. Have you? I was amazed, and very touched. Penny is my special girl <3
** The adults accepted the new babies, so we kept them! They're def part of the clan now and everyone is doing well. Except Penny, who still struggles. The kittens are bigger than she is now, but are very gentle with her.
Elise Xavier says
What a lovely story! I honestly don’t ever think I’ve seen a cat defend another cat before. I’m sure it’s taken place before, it’s just not a common behaviour I don’t think, as cats seem to mind their own business when it comes to squabbles between other cats more often than not. Definitely a special cat, and definitely seems to be a special bond she has with the kittens. Sounds like the kittens did so much good for her. Although she struggles, it sounds to me like she’s living as happy a life as can be lived.
Best of luck with all of them, and especially for your special Penny, who hopefully will get strong very soon!
We have two cats. Boycat, who is 10 and Calzone, who is 2. We’ve had Boycat since he was a kitty; he’s a neutered male (neutered early on). We adopted Calzone about 9 months ago from the local shelter. He was an un-neutered 2 year old male. He was neutered at the shelter when we adopted him.
Boycat has always been super mellow. Calzone showed up and spiced it up. At first he was very aggressive to Boycat, who seemed confused about the whole thing. He wanted to hang out and Calzone was always chasing him, swatting, and playing.
Now, they mutually play all the time. It gets rough, but you can tell it is a game and they switch back and forth between who is the attacker and who is being chased.
In the last month, I’ve seen Boycat allogrooming Calzone frequently. Just today, Calzone was alseep on the floor by my feet, and Boycat was on my lap. He got up, went to Calzone and started grooming his face. Calzone woke up, and appeared to enjoy it. He rolled over onto his back and stretched. He then started to softly paw at Boycat and the whole thing turned into a little bit of a playing session. Boycat walked away. Calzone never got off his back/side.
I’ve never seen Calzone alogroom Boycat.
Oh, Boycat grooms me all the time– my arms and head. So its definitely something that relaxes him.
Elise Xavier says
This is so interesting! Thank you for sharing what their behaviour together has been like. It’s fascinating learning how their behaviour changed as their relationship developed over time. I wonder if Calzone will ever allogroom back, or if Calzone would ever allogroom any other cats, or if it’s just Boycat who really likes allogrooming?
Such fascinating creatures!
Eastside Cats says
The Hubby and I watched Manny and Chili Bruce lick each other this weekend, and I can see that it’s a dominance thing. So often, the licking starts with biting, then grooming, then napping. I put my face in between both of them, hoping to get some licking too…but they wouldn’t! Chuck and Angel, although together in utero, NEVER went for allogrooming. Somehow, I think they didn’t like each other much, or at least didn’t care a fig for each other! Now that Chuck is gone, Angel still doesn’t like other cats, so it was HER…and not him. Oh well, she’s alone now, as she likes, and Da Boyz romp and fight and lick and chase and eat and watch Bird TV together…and they are happy. Therefore, I am happy!
Elise Xavier says
This is so interesting! I haven’t actually watched allogrooming myself because I’ve personally only had one cat before, but I wonder if others would see the aggression in the act right away or not.
Also that bit about Chuck and Angel not liking each other much, or at least not caring about one another, too interesting how little being relatives makes, isn’t it? Cats sure are fascinating!