When it comes to cat behavior, perhaps the best summary is “it’s complicated.” Cats have mystified, fascinated and beguiled their people for literally centuries and they don’t show any signs of stopping.
So why do cats groom each other and then bite? This is one of the cat behaviors that cat owners (and even non-cat owners) find most confusing and upsetting. The truth is, cats do this for a variety of very understandable reasons, each of which we will look at more closely in this article.
Here’s a typical example of what this cat behavior looks like. Are your cats doing this? Read on to find out why it could be:
Why Do Cats Groom One Another & Then Bite?
These are the most common reasons why you might see your cats sweetly grooming one another and then all of a sudden…..BITE!
Cat Grooming Is Innate & Necessary
When your kitties were still itty bitty and fully reliant on the mama cat for everything, guess what mama cat had to do after every single meal?
Yup – she had to lick and groom her kittens. Specifically, she licked their private parts to get each kitten to pee and poop. She would also lick her kittens to stimulate their circulation, clean them, check on them and simply show affection.
As Animal Planet points out, cats grooming other cats is an innate behavior from birth, although often it doesn’t look so natural when those sweet little kittens grow up and get into grooming scuffles!
Typically you won’t see any biting at this stage of development, however. The kittens are far too busy simply growing up.
Cat Grooming Can Be Mutually Beneficial
When your cats were kittens, there is no doubt the grooming they received was all for their benefit.
But as cats grow up and especially as they get older, it sure can be nice to have a little help with some of those hard-to-reach places.
In the spirit of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours,” cats are known to engage in a behavior scientists call “allogrooming.” As the Journal of Ethology points out, allogrooming has been identified and studied in domestic cats since at least the late 20th century.
Among other benefits, allogrooming confers social status, builds relational bonds, decreases stress, improves health and simply feels good. As such, allogrooming is more likely to occur between related cats, especially cats that came from the same litter.
To the social status point, many cat owners report that over time it becomes apparent that one household cat receives more grooming while the other cat does more grooming. Feline behaviorists believe this is an indication of which one is the dominant cat in the household social hierarchy (equally oddly, the giving cat is likely the dominant cat).
But cats are notorious for getting overstimulated by petting and grooming. If you have ever been happily petting your cat only to suddenly get a vicious hiss and a bite, you already know this well.
So when cats are engaged in allogrooming and one cat suddenly realizes they are done, a bite is one signal to let the other cat know enough is enough. And as keen observation shows, biting is a very effective signal!
What Looks Like Grooming Is Actually Feline Play
Play is an important part of enrichment in the life of a domestic cat. Cats, like people, tend to like to pick their own friends. They also tend to bond strongly with cats they like and prefer to play with those cats.
As such, there can be many different levels of feline play, from mutual play between two feline friends to the “annoying little brother” syndrome where one cat wants to play and the other consistently does not.
Feline play can and does include grooming, although not all the time. This can especially be the case with younger cats that have lots of energy and have trouble sitting still for too long.
As cat behaviorists point out, it is easy to tell when it is play-grooming when you see that claws remain sheathed, body hair stays smooth and flat, hissing and growling are absent and any show of teeth causes no harm.
This YouTube video of two friendly cats play-grooming helps you get a visual understanding of what the behavior might look like when it is true play and not feline aggression.
Are There Products Can Help Ease Cat Grooming & Biting?
Cats don’t have a way to verbally tell each other “no” (let alone explain why) like people do. But they have plenty of other methods including biting, hissing, growling, moving away, jumping, hiding and similar strategies.
To your cat, a bite is always a significant form of communication – as important in its own way as a purr. And like different “people” words have shades of meaning, a cat bite can be gentle/teeth-in and playful or it can be aggressive and meant to cause injury.
These products can provide your cats with alternate outlets for meeting their grooming needs and finding some much-needed personal space.
A cat scratcher with catnip provides your cat with a good outlet for physical exercise as well as a way to maintain claw length.
Cat trees can fulfill a cat’s need to hide, rest, play and be up high. When cats bite after grooming, a cat tree can also provide a place of personal space and retreat.
All kinds of cat toys exist to help self-entertain a rambunctious kitten or cat who is getting on your other cat’s nerves. From vibrating ball toys to motorized feather robots, toy-filled cat tunnels to interactive laser toys, introducing new toys at appropriate times can take the heat out of inter-cat aggression.
Final Thoughts About Cat Grooming & Biting
According to Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine, a cat will spend up to half of each day on grooming! Clearly, grooming is important on many levels and you can expect to see your cats doing this a lot.
If you are concerned about your cats grooming and biting each other, it is always wise to ask your feline veterinarian for guidance. If necessary, don’t hesitate to reach out to a feline behaviorist for help. Introducing new grooming, hiding and playtime toys like the ones mentioned here may also help each cat in your family find their happy balance between alone-time and togetherness.
Does your household include multiple cats who sometimes groom each other and then bite? Can you identify any of the behavioral reasons outlined here as a potential cause? Share your thoughts below!
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