In this instance ‘reciprocal altruism’ means that one cat will do something which is beneficial to another cat. In return the other cat will do something for the first cat. It is a form of behaviour that we associate with humans albeit not often enough.
Reciprocal altruism occurs in cats living in groups such as free-living cats in colonies. It is most likely to occur when the favours exchanged are of similar value and the exchange of favours occurs fairly closely in respect of time.
Queens helping each other kicks off with altruistic behavior
It may happen to breeding mother cats (queens) living together in the same colony even when they are unrelated. They are in sync when it comes to giving birth.
‘If a queen who has given birth within the last few weeks or who is about to give birth within the next few weeks aids another queen in the care of her kittens, the effort she expends on the other queen’s kittens will probably be reciprocated’.The quote is from ‘The Welfare of Cats’ edited by Irene Rochlitz.
Often the queens will be related. They might be mother and daughter or sisters. Reciprocal altruism under these circumstances helps the survival of the family.
People should recognise this sophisticated aspect of animal behavior in cats.