Cats are famous for their grooming. After all, they spend up to 50 percent of their waking hours grooming themselves, so it makes sense that this has long since managed to make its way into the popular consciousness. Having said that, knowing that something happens isn’t the same as knowing why something happens, particularly when it comes to more curious behaviors such as cats grooming one another rather than just grooming themselves. As such, it is natural for interested individuals to ask further questions.
Why Do Cats Groom?
For starters, it is important to explain why cats groom themselves. By understanding this, interested individuals should have a much easier time understanding why cats groom one another. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single reason why cats groom themselves. Instead, there are a whole bunch of reasons. To name an example, cats might groom themselves for the purpose of regulating their body temperature, which is important because a body temperature that strays too far from where it should be means serious health issues for most animals. However, they might also groom themselves for the purpose of making sure that their natural oils are spread out in an even manner, thus helping their coat remain in excellent condition. Similarly, cats can use grooming as a way to stimulate their own circulation, eliminate parasites and other potential problems, and even prevent hairballs. On top of this, it is interesting to note that cats can find grooming to be comforting in the same way that humans can find grooming to be comforting. As such, they have been known to groom themselves when they are feeling either anxious, embarrassed, or otherwise uncomfortable for the purpose of relieving the issue.
Having said that, it is important to mention that it is very much possible for cats to either groom themselves too much or groom themselves too little. Yes, an average cat spends something like 30 to 50 percent of their waking hours grooming themselves. However, if they are grooming themselves to the point that they are losing fur, developing lesions, and showing other issues, it seems safe to say that something is seriously wrong. Sometimes, the cat is feeling extremely stressed-out, meaning that the source of its stress needs to be corrected before it inflicts further harm upon itself. Other times, the cat could be suffering from some kind of health issue that is causing it to seek out comfort. Perhaps this is some kind of neurological condition or perhaps this is a some kind of physical problem that is causing them serious pain. Whatever the case, over-grooming is something that interested individuals should deal with by seeking out a veterinarian sooner rather than later.
As for the opposite scenario, cats can wind up under-grooming for a wide range of reasons. For example, they might have been separated from their mother at a young age, so much so that they never learned how to groom themselves in the proper manner from their mother. If so, interested individuals are going to need to intervene by teaching a cat how to groom. Alternatively, it is possible that a cat was once grooming itself in the right way but has stopped doing so for some reason. Arthritis, dental issues, and other painful conditions are capable of making this happen, though they aren’t the only possible explanations. In any case, under-grooming tends to become real clear real fast because the cat’s coat will start becoming smelly and unsightly, not least because of the urine and other unwanted substances that can start clinging to them. Once again, this is the kind of issue that should convince interested individuals to bring their cat to a veterinarian sooner rather than later.
Why Do Cats Groom Each Other?
Considering the stakes, it is no wonder that cats spend so much time grooming themselves. As for why cats groom each other, well, it isn’t 100 percent clear at this point in time. However, there has been enough research to suggest that cats grooming each other plays an important role in their social bonds with one another. Some people might be surprised by that. After all, cats have a reputation for being solitary animals, which is one of the things that distinguish them from their famously social canine counterparts in the popular consciousness. However, while a lot of cats are indeed solitary animals for the most part, the observation of feral cats makes it clear that they are also capable of living in colonies that consist of female cats plus their litters. Unsurprisingly, that kind of arrangement means that cats are capable of forming social bonds with other cats, which is something that they have carried over to humans as well. Naturally, social bonds mean social behaviors, with grooming one another being an excellent example. When we see cats grooming one another, we tend to assume that it is a sign of affection because that would be the case for humans. There is some truth to that. However, it is important not to make too many assumptions about what cats are thinking because they are ultimately a different species, meaning that they work in somewhat different ways.
In any case, cats grooming each other happen between cats that are well-known to each other. In contrast, it doesn’t happen between cats that are strangers to one another. Something that is perhaps unsurprising considering what happens in these grooming sessions. After all, they often involve the cat being groomed exposing its head and its neck. This makes sense because those are places that even the most flexible animals find impossible to reach, meaning that they need some assistance if they want to take care of them. However, there are also potentially vulnerable parts of the body. As a result, cats aren’t going to expose those parts of their body to strangers, which makes intuitive sense even from a human perspective. In any case, this means that there seems to be a practical element to cats grooming one another. Essentially, one cat helps the other groom a place that it can’t reach on its own. After which, the other cat reciprocates.
Curiously, there seems to be evidence that rank is involved in these interactions as well. This is because higher-ranked cats have been observed grooming other cats than their lower-ranked counterparts. After which, those same cats would groom themselves rather than be groomed by the other cats. It isn’t quite clear what is going on in these interactions. Sadly, humans can’t just ask cats to voice their thoughts in the same way that we can with other humans, so we need to make guesses. One such guess is that the grooming is a way for the higher-ranked cats to show their dominance over their lower-ranked counterparts in lieu of something more aggressive. That can seem strange. However, it isn’t uncommon for animals to show dominance using behaviors that seem strange to us because, well, they aren’t us.
Besides this, grooming other cats is also a matter of maternal instincts. There are some species that show very little regard for their offspring. One excellent example would be sea turtles, which are famous for laying their eggs on land before leaving. As a result, baby sea turtles are born with the ability to make their way to the sea. Something that is extremely important because even with that capability, just 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 10,000 of them will make it all the way to adulthood. In contrast, humans are very much the opposite. We are born helpless because our species takes care of our offspring. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be born helpless because we would be extinct. Cats are closer to us than to sea turtles in this regard. They don’t need anywhere near the same amount of time as humans, but they still need care from their mothers in the first part of their life. That includes grooming them for the purpose of keeping them clean, encouraging them to urinate, and so on and so forth. As such, it is possible that cats grooming other cats is connected to those maternal instincts to some extent. Summed up, we don’t know exactly why cats groom one other. However, it is clearly connected to their social bonds with one another because they don’t do that kind of thing unless they know the other cat. There seems to be an element of practicality. Similarly, there seems to be an element of social hierarchy. Beneath everything else, cats grooming one another is connected to their social bonds.
How Do Other Animals Groom?
There are plenty of other animals that groom themselves. For proof, look no further than us. As a species, humans have always tried to keep ourselves clean for some of the same reasons as cats. However, we are making more of an effort in this regard than ever before, so much so that some people argue that we are overdoing it. Essentially, too much washing means stripping our skin of its natural oils as well as its moisture, both of which are critical for its proper functioning. Of course, there are plenty of other animals that groom in interesting ways. For example, honeybees actually groom one another for the purpose of removing dust and pollen. This makes their senses better, thus benefiting the colony as a whole. Similarly, while vampire bats have a very negative image from the human perspective, they are remarkably social animals. Vampire bats are known to regurgitate food for one another. Moreover, they also assist one another with grooming, which is particularly important for them because their diet means that they are at extra risk of parasitic infection.
One could make an argument that similar behaviors show up between species as well. After all, there are numerous species that help out with the cleaning of bigger, much more formidable animals, thus enabling them to survive without being eaten by the latter. This includes numerous species of fish such as gobies, cichlids, and lumpsuckers that engage in this kind of behavior, with the result that they service everything from bigger fish to sea reptiles, sea mammals, and even octopuses. In fact, they are so common that there are even species of fish that have evolved to emulate them, thus enabling these species to get close enough to feed on the clients’ tissues. Similarly, people might be familiar with cleaner birds, which perform more-or-less the same kind of services for everything from rhinos to crocodiles. Something that was observed even in ancient Greek times, as shown by Herodotus’s mention of what he called the trochilus.
Having said that, it is interesting to note that some animals do things that seem like the opposite of grooming themselves for various reasons. For example, the larvae of the green lacewing are fond of eating aphids. On its own, this isn’t a huge issue because aphids aren’t exactly the fighting champions of the insect world. However, there is a major issue in that aphids have developed mutually beneficial relationships with ants. Granted, ants aren’t necessarily that impressive either, but taking on a single ant is very different from taking on an entire colony of ants. As such, the larvae of the green lacewing gets around this problem by covering themselves in aphid bodies as well as other objects, thus making it more difficult for ants to recognize them. After which, they are free to feast on their targets. In contrast, there are also other animals that cover themselves in unpleasant substances for the purpose of making them less appealing to would-be predators. To name an example, capuchin monkeys do so by using limes and onions as well as ants and millipedes. This isn’t exactly the most pleasant way to live, but this beats being eaten for most species out there.