Cats groom each other when they have bonded together. It means that they are very comfortable in each other’s company, so you’ll often see one cat licking the other’s face and ears. To your surprise, something happens suddenly and the fur starts flying.
It is extremely rare for two cats who genuinely dislike each other to perform social grooming. The aggressive play includes kicking, pawing, rolling around, and chasing. All of the rough and tumble that you see is NOT real fighting, just playfulness.
We’ll explore the reasons why social grooming is crucial for two cats to get along well. We’ll then look at why some cats become aggressive, and the differences between fighting and playfulness.
Grooming in Cats
Before looking at why cats fight, it’s necessary to address why cats groom. Quite a ritualistic exercise, all cats spend a large portion of each day going through their fur and cleaning every reachable part of their body.
While licking is the primary action associated with grooming, cats will also bite tangled fur and dig deep to locate fleas and various types of skin irritants. If you have ever watched a cat groom, you realize what a long and detailed task it is to complete.
The Washington Post has an interesting article on the process of cat grooming as well as the social aspect of behavior itself. The act goes far beyond the simple notion of using the tongue to clean.
Like many aspects of the animal kingdom, there is often far more involved from a behavioral standpoint than meets the eye. Cats commonly groom for the following reasons:
- Standard bathing exercise
- Cleaning up after mealtime
- Temperature control
- Relaxation and stress/anxiety relief
Cats also know that when they have nothing else to do they can always groom. Many times grooming is a fixed exercise that cats can rely on.
It is not uncommon for a cat to use grooming as a way to ignore the request of an owner. Grooming can be used as an act of “busy work” as a stall tactic. Yes, cats are that smart.
Excessive grooming can be the result of an intense emotional crisis. The pulling and removal of fur can occur when a cat is having a difficult time adjusting to an environmental change. For example, introducing a new kitten to the household can cause tension and stress for a senior cat.
Why Do Cats Groom and Then Fight?
The best way to explain the act of grooming and fighting is the old adage of too much of a good thing. Why do cats lick each other and then hit each other? Patience has been lost. The “good” has gotten old and tiresome.
Although social grooming is an act of bonding, every cat reaches a point where they have had enough. Think of it as a hug that has lingered for far too long.
Although cats that groom each other have a solid bond, some form of play fighting can develop. And, although rare, if the wrong buttons are pressed a bit of play fighting could advance to the next level. Hissing, squealing, slapping, etc. can be unleashed at that point. This is where it is critical for an owner to step in and make peace.
Most who have studied this topic suggest that a lack of patience is the tipping point. Because cats are naturally curious animals and also like to walk to the beat of their own drum, the act of another cat messing with them for too long can lead to annoyance.
If it appears that your cat is telling your other cat, “I’m going to lick your neck clean before I bite it,” you are probably not too far off.
- Grooming followed by fighting can be the result of an illness or disease detection. Although rare, some cats may stumble upon a flesh wound, infection, etc., in the cat they are grooming. Once an area (or smell) of concern has been found, this may halt grooming and take a more stern and “standoff-ish” approach. If grooming is often followed by a quick turn of events, you may wish to physically examine the cat on the receiving end of the grooming. Something could be wrong that is drawing the attention of your other pet.
What’s the Difference between Play and Fighting?
Play fighting often involves rolling around, grabbing, kicking with rear feet, and quickly rising and chasing one another around your home or open play area. For the most part, no sounds of discomfort or anger are displayed. It is also common for said kicking and grabbing to halt suddenly, and both cats are entirely relaxed and resting together.
Real fighting, on the other hand, is quite different. An altercation is far more aggressive, deliberate, fast-developing, and nearly impossible to break up. The cats will chase each other, tackle, and resume aggression. Screams and squeals are often the vocal byproducts.
The longer you own your cats, the easier it will be to stop a fight. While some play fighting can get a bit too rough, there is still a stark difference between the two.
- Although it is possible, two cats that have it in for each other will rarely engage in social grooming. If two cats are at odds, the last thing you want to do is be touched by the other cat. If your cats are grooming and then begin “fighting,” you can almost bet they are engaging in fun and aggressive play. If two of your cats are scuffling (at play or otherwise), never walk away while it is in progress.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has an in-depth article concerning feline aggression and how it can be managed. The info includes various types of aggression and how you can restore peace within your multi-cat household.
Common Reasons Why Cats Groom Each Other
Social grooming is done for a variety of reasons. Let’s examine some of the most common occurrences and what they mean:
- Grooming is a form of bonding. This is why cats that enjoy grooming each other will rarely engage in a real fight. If your cats groom each other, this means that a lot of love and trust has been developed. They view each other as family. Grooming, in and of itself, is an exercise in trust. Why do cats lick each other’s ears? This is due to confidence in the group dynamic. Plus, licks to the face are a cat’s favorite spot to show affection.
- Are your cats from the same litter? If so, social grooming tightens the bond within the family. Do you have young cats from the same litter and one older cat? The act of a kitten licking an older cat means that the senior feline has been accepted into the family. Taking it one step further, does your cat lick you? If so, you are also part of the family.
- Social grooming is a vital connection between kittens and adult cats, most notably the mother. This is a display of affection as well as territorial marking. It serves as a warning to others that “kitten X” is part of a specific family. The scent associated with licking is so strong that a mother may even reject her own if the kitten’s scent has not been changed enough. This implies that the bond between a mother and baby can be broken if proper territorial markings have not been built.
- Social grooming is also a form of acceptance if a new cat has been added to your household. If the established cats have taken an interest in the new arrival and begin to smell and lick them, then that is a good sign of acceptance and protection. By licking and grooming the new cat, the “family scent” has been transferred.
Do Cats Socially Groom Other Animals?
Why does my cat groom my dog? Your dog is part of the cat family. While that may seem strange, trusting cats will accept almost everyone. This is why it is common to see stories on TV of how cats and raccoons are best pals or how a senior feline is best friends with a puppy.
If the trust and social bond are there, cats will lick and groom other animals. Have you ever heard people say they enjoy their pets more than people? This could be one of the many reasons why. That is true acceptance.