Domestic cats lick their fur when it is not on them i.e. not a part of their coat, indicating an instinctive behaviour. If you groom a domestic cat’s coat, keep a small bundle of fur and offer it to your cat, he’ll lick it as in the very short video:
What does this mean? Well, for me it could mean that a cat’s motivation to lick his fur is automatic. It might be hard wired in the cat’s brain and grooming is not necessarily about a desire to feel clean, washed and groomed. It is as if the domestic cat is programmed to lick fur like an automaton.
There is no benefit to a cat if he licks his fur when it is not on him (but see the alternative theory below). If this is true, I see it as quite telling because we are taught that domestic cats are fastidiously clean and committed self-groomers. Perhaps the better assessment is that domestic cats are programmed to lick their fur, to clean it without rhyme or reason. The cat is not mentally processing the behavior as beneficial although it is. It is instinctive, unthinking behaviour.
Cat lovers want to get away from that assessment of cat behavior because to do so is beneficial to our relationship with them from the standpoint of both parties.
Can we extend this observation to other forms of cat behaviour? You quite possibly could. It certainly begs the question as to how much the domestic cat is applying rational thought to his/her actions.
Other actions are instinctive?
For example, if we extend this assessment about instinctive behaviour to hunting, perhaps the cat simply responds to prey in a programmed way. He is not thinking ‘I am hungry therefore I need to hunt’. If something moves or makes a sound and if its size is acceptable, the domestic cat hunts it, hungry or not.
Another cat’s fur?
I am going to ask a friend to groom his cat and give me some of the collected fur. I’ll find out if my cat licks that fur in the same way. If he does, it might confirm that a cat licking fur is a programmed action without real thought behind it. Although I have come up with an alternative idea….
There is an important alternative theory, as I see it. My cat might think that he is licking my fur. He might think that he is grooming me as his friend. In which case, surprisingly, he does not recognise the smell of his own fur even when freshly combed from him.
It is very commonplace for domestic cats to lick their ‘associates’ (friends to me and you). It is called ‘allogrooming‘. Now that I have considered this behaviour more, this may well be the reason. The thought came late to me.