When a Cat Licks Another Cat is this Friendly Behavior?

Cat Allogrooming
Cat Allogrooming. Does this mask unfriendly behavior?
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Apparently, only one study has tried to elucidate what is going on when a cat grooms (licks) another, which as you might know is called allogrooming. The study took place in 1998 (van den Bos).

The study concerned an indoor colony which consisted of 14 neutered male cats and 11 spayed females. The researchers made the interesting observation that the more aggressive individuals groomed the less aggressive individuals more often than the other way around. Also, in about one third of the allogrooming sessions the cat doing the grooming became aggressive towards the recipient of the grooming. This often occurred immediately after the grooming had taken place. This reminds me how domestic cats can sometimes lick their human companion followed by a bite. It might be the same thing as between cats.

Dr Bradshaw says that this behaviour is consistent with the idea that allogrooming in the domestic cat is a form of redirected aggression or dominance behaviour. The researchers also concluded that allogrooming is not a form of behaviour which is designed to maintain bonds between related cats.

I find this conclusion interesting and I want to disagree with it. Although, it interesting that the cat doing the grooming became aggressive sometimes. I wonder whether this was genuine aggression. I don’t know because we don’t know enough about the study but perhaps what might be happening is that the cat receiving the grooming may, at a certain stage towards the end become slightly agitated and that agitation is manifested in a certain form of behaviour directed at the grooming cat which kicks off a minor form of aggression in response.

Other studies I have read tell us that allogrooming is between “preferred” cats which indicates that cats that they are chosen to receive some grooming on the basis of friendship. That is the common sense reason but apparently it is not as simple as that.

Source: The Domestic Cat: The Biology of its Behaviour
Michael Broad wrote this post.

4 thoughts on “When a Cat Licks Another Cat is this Friendly Behavior?”

  1. I have six de-sexed males. Oldest a Ragdoll help mother the younger rescue boys. All who I got between 4-10 weeks in age. Learned them go tray and so on. Even now the 4yr old with nuzzle in to his stomach and get groomed.

  2. my kitties do that a lot & they ALL get along so im thinkin its all good. to me it seems like when they groom, play, groom that theyre saying, “hey u know im just playin right? were good, right?” when they do it to us(me, my gf, & our kids)its like they want us to know to not take it personal cuz they see us as 1 of them. but they DONT bite us hard tho. i told my kids its ok as long as they dont keep biting, but to always say “OW!” really loud if it hurts to let THEM know otherwise they wont learn. so im with u on this one, sir! (arent those kitties cute!)

    • I think like you Ed. I agree with you. I guess the scientists think different! There might be something going on in the background though that we don’t realise.


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