Do female domestic cats lick more than male domestic cats?

We don’t know everything that there is to know about domestic cat behaviour. That is the first point to make. Please don’t expect clean, definitive answers to every question about cat behaviour. This is one of those instances in my opinion. But the question is relevant to a study that I’ve just bumped into about the social behaviour of full-time domestic cats of both genders. It’s a study which compared the social behavior of female and male cats inside the human home.

Allogrooming. Photo: Pixabay.
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And what surprises me about the result is a statement that the scientists make: “However, females were never observed to allorub other females”. This is stating that when observing 60 households made up of either two males, two females or a male and female, the scientist did not on any occasions see a female licking another female.

That does not mean that females in general lick other cats less often than male cats but it does point to that possibility. Of course, females lick their offspring a lot more than males which will make up for the lack of desire to lick other females when they are adults. And the study does not say that females did not lick males.

Conversely, the scientists stated that in male-male households these cats spent more time in “close proximity” i.e. close together. Are males more friendly than females? You might have bumped into discussions on the Internet about male cats, in general, being predisposed to being more friendly than female cats. I’ve put that quite gently in order to be fair and not to sound sexist ?. A lot of this talk is anecdotal and not supported by science. And of course, you must factor in individual cat personality. Each cat is different. But if there is some truth in the fact that females are more aloof than males, it supports the finding that female cats are less inclined to lick each other in allogrooming activities.

The participating cats were between six months and eight years old. There was no difference between friendliness and aggressiveness between the cats based on their gender. But there were big differences as you can see on whether they allogroomed each other.

You may know that “allogrooming” describes a specific feline behaviour which is when one cat grooms another by licking them particularly over those parts of the body which are inaccessible.

Some people say that when a cat licks another it is an act of dominance in a feline hierarchy. If the cat receiving the licking accepts it, they accept a submissive role. I’m not convinced about this but it has been stated by some experts as well as laypeople commenting on the Internet.

However, if a couple of cats allogroom each other, they consider themselves to be of equal status and there is no attempt at dominance.

Two questions come out of the fact that females don’t lick each other. The first is whether this is a general form of female domestic cat behaviour bearing in mind that only 60 households were observed. And the second is why this is happening?

The behaviour might support the hierarchy argument. If females are less interested in dominating other cats it would translate to not licking in order to achieve that dominance. And as male cats tend to be more dominant (are male cats always dominant?) they might, therefore, be more inclined to lick to assert that dominance.

These are just thoughts. Instinctively, my thought is that the dominance argument is a bit tenuous. Allogrooming is more likely to be concerned about strengthening the bond between cats. It is an essentially friendly process. And research indicates that allogrooming occurs between cats who have a closer bond between themselves than those who don’t.

Also, in support of the idea that allogrooming is a friendly activity, cats who are friends with each other often solicit i.e. ask, to be licked in difficult to access areas. This, to me, indicates that this is a friendly process rather than one intended to support dominance.

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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

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