Cats Grooming Each Other

cCat allogrooming - cats licking each other

Photos by Elisa Black-Taylor

This is going to be a fun article about my cats, past and present, who enjoy the fine art of grooming each other (and dogs).

I’m fortunate enough to live in a cat household where watching the cats groom each other is often more entertaining than what’s playing on the “telly.” Not only do I get to watch my cats show their love for one another, I get a ring-side seat, because the majority of the time the cats are lounging on the sofa with me.

I first began viewing the grooming habits of cats around the middle of 2011 when we were most involved in active rescue. I’m including photos from many years back of my former cats grooming each other. Yes, I chased my cats with a camera, even back then. But it wasn’t as a spectator of licking action and more of photographing them whenever I caught a cute pose.

For the past year I’ve enjoyed studying our cats because I’ve gotten quite a few article ideas by watching them. I’m often told my articles about personal experience are favorites over those where I research a subject.

First let me say that Mandy is our main cat licker, followed in a close second and third by Furby and Gizzy. Mandy enjoys a “tease the prey” approach when she wants to groom one of the other cats. She’ll lay on her side, where she can securely wrap both of her front paws around whoever she intends to bathe. Mandy really loves grooming kittens, and none of the kittens we had when we were fostering ever had forced to self-bathe. Mandy tended to Sealy, giving him extra care as he was recovering from his car fan blade injury. We had to monitor her during the healing period to be sure she didn’t lick the injury, which wouldn’t have been beneficial to either cat.

I can imagine how special a cat feels emotionally when being groomed by another cat. It probably brings back memories of kitten-hood when the mother cat had this responsibility. A tended cat or kitten at our house usually becomes submissive almost immediately and seems to enjoy what’s happening

Our cats who lick other cats fall into two categories: the head licker and the all-over-the-body-oohhh-that-feels-good licker. Our Maine Coon mix Sheela will only groom the head and ears. Jasper, also a Maine Coon mix, shares that preference as well. Mandy is a sister to Jasper, and she’s definitely an all over licker. She doesn’t discriminate and will lick any cat who decides to nap beside her on the couch. There’s only one problem in that Mandy will also clean up our cat-dog Cujo. She’s kept him bathed since he was a pup, and does it on a daily basis. Now Cujo, being a dog, gets a little doggy odor, which is remedied with a weekly bath. I don’t even want to think about how yucky (for lack of a better word) his fur must taste, especially on day six.

Furby enjoys grooming kittens. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen him groom another adult cat, except maybe for his adopted mother Lola. Lola cared for Furby when he first came to us, and did all of his grooming until he was healthy enough to do it on his own. Furby always had a “sneak attack” approach in obtaining a kitten to groom. That’s why I was fortunate enough to catch it on video. Furby will lay on the couch and start a complete bathing session on himself. He’ll lick from neck to tail over and over. Usually a fascinated kitten (they were ALL fascinated by Furby) would jump up next to him. Furby then applies a variation of the technique used by Mandy in that he does a one-paw hold down maneuver.

Gizzy, our most traumatic rescue, has been our biggest surprise as a cat groomer. She was a senior cat turned into the Greenville shelter by a couple who was divorcing. I always felt Gizzy had suffered a lot of emotional damage, and in the beginning she hated EVERYBODY! She was our most talented kitty who could hiss, growl and slap simultaneously. Over time she has bonded well with all of our other cats. She has also become Lola’s private licker, considering they were once rivals. This almost always takes place on the floor in passing, and is an unprompted event. Unlike the others, Gizzy gets the job done in a hurry and then goes on with her cat day.

I find it strange that some of the cats are the nurturer’s and others are those needing nurturing. Perhaps they have some kind of cat sixth sense as to who needs comforted on a physical or emotional level, and are drawn to each other. Plus kittens are just so darn cute even I want to lick them!

The question I ask myself most often is “what does the licking cat get out of the activity?” Can the readers here help me out by leaving a comment?


Facebook Discussion


Cats Grooming Each Other — 12 Comments

  1. Great subject.
    I think my biggest groomer here is Lionel, a semi-feral huge long haired orange tabby boy.
    He, usually, lies down beside another boy, smashes him to the ground with his big ole paw and starts – almost like he’s saying, You’re getting a bath whether you like it or not, goddam it!”

  2. It’s so nice to see cats together grooming each other and to see cats and dogs getting on so well, lovely pics and video, I enjoyed them.

  3. There is nothing more relaxing than watching cats grooming one another. I HAD to make this video a few years ago- and I would love to share it here.. enjoy- Warning: This video causes extreme drowsiness. Do not watch while operating machinery.

    video still of two Oriental Shorthair cats

    • My Lilly is the groomer in my house. She grooms the other two and sleeps with them both. Molly sometimes comes and lies down next to her and asks for licks when she feels the need – and usually Lilly goes along with it.

      Gizzy sounds like my Lilly – more active in taking care of the other cats. 🙂

      • Marc, do you think that some cats can be more inclined to be givers and some cats more inclined to be receivers just as is the case with people? It seems to be like that.

  4. What happened at the end of the video. Why did you bop Furby over the head? Did you think he was getting in the mood to play by doing a play-neck-bite? And you wanted to stop that because Sammy is too small. That is how I read it.

    • Because he was being rude and I wanted him to look at the camera. His expression was priceless. He also jumps that way when he’s about to cause trouble and is caught. We’ve always had to watch him about rough play. Cujo referees any bad behavior these days and jump in if he thinks 2 cats are playing too rough. Usually Jasper and Sammy.

        • Mandy does but no one else. I like to keep a video short and I want the cat to look right into the camera to end it. Furby’s a brat sometimes.

          I tapped him in the head for the homemade cat food video too. He doesn’t trust me anymore unless I’m about to eat then he kisses up big time.

  5. Thanks for the article Elisa.

    “what does the licking cat get out of the activity?”

    The big question is whether it is unconditional. Whether the cat doing the grooming does it as a pure gift with no ulterior motive or self-interest. in other words does the giving cat expect the receiving cat to groom him in return in the future?

    My answer to that question is that the giving cat does so unconditionally. It is a pure act of friendship and a part of group living. A form of mutual support, which does bring indirect benefits because the group or partnership is strengthened and that make improves survival.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please only upload photos that are small in size of max 500px width and 50 KB size. Large images typical of most default settings on digital cameras may fail to upload. Thanks.