Ask the Doctor: October 2022


Grooming the hand that feeds him

Q: I know that cats engage in allo-grooming — licking and gently biting each other to smooth and clean their colleagues’ fur and dig out foreign particles. But why does my cat groom me? One of my cats wakes me up two or three times during the night to groom my left hand. After several minutes, she plops on top of my hand and promptly falls asleep.

Leigh Morris
Arenzville, Illinois

Dear Mr. Morris,

A: Cats often allogroom when they feel they are part of the same social group. It means they “posi-tively affiliate” with each other. One study also suggests that cats who perceive themselves to be of a higher rank in a group will be more apt to groom cats seen as lower-ranking as a way to redirect what might otherwise have come out as frank aggression. That is, it might be a way of keeping peace.

We suggest that you not read into it too much and accept your cat’s grooming as a sign of positive affiliation — and maybe even affection. Cats will often rub against or otherwise touch their people both to mark their scent and as a sign of familiarity. Certainly, if your cat falls asleep on you after grooming you, it does not sound like her actions are about pulling rank. At the very least, by licking her own scent onto you, she’s establishing that you’re one of her favored “possessions.”

Sleep to the beat

Q:My cat seems to become more relaxed when I play soft music. Do cats really have a musical ear, or is she just feeling relaxed when I am?

Jordan Frank
Heflin, Alabama

Dear Ms. Frank,

A: Certainly your cat might feel more relaxed as a result of your own letting down, but music abso-lutely appears to be able to soothe a cat’s anxious mood. In one study, when slow classical music was played on string instruments, cats’ heart rates decreased, along with the diameter of their pupils. Loud, pulsing rock music increased their heart rate and their pupils’ diameter.

Based on the evidence, some animal shelters now pipe in music to help the animals in their care feel more serene. You can check out melodies for your own pet on “Relax My Cat,” a channel offered by YouTube. 



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