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My turn to ask for help interpreting a behavior...

I have a pair of neutered sibling cats, Harry and Hazel, about 7 years old.

Periodically -- usually during a mutual grooming session -- Harry will grab Hazel's throat -- not scruffing, but under the chin as if going for a choke attack. He seems to be being gentle about it, and Hazel doesn't actively complain -- she'll go right back to washing him, even if he does it repeatedly -- but to human eyes this seems rude.

I've never seen Hazel apply the same hold.

Is this just ritual dominance/trust assertion, and should I stay out of it even when it happens virtually in my lap? Or should I discourage, since I'm supposedly the dominant cat in the clowder? (Dogs think they're inferior humans. Cats think we're incompetent cats.)

Not a behavior I've observed before, since in the past I've only had one cat at a time -- so I'd appreciate input from folks with years of observing interactions. My ape instinct is to say "quit that", but my cat instinct is that as long as they're still friends they should work it out themselves.

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It sounds like your kitties are just playing. The bite to the front of the neck is an effective way to kill prey. I think your male cat is just practicing for "the hunt" - keeping his skills sharp. As long as your female cat is not complaining, they should be fine, without interruption. If your female cat hisses or starts to complain, just tell your male cat no and shoo him away.

Occasionally, this behavior can be sexual. However, if your cat is not mounting your female cat, then this probably isn't the case. Sexual behavior in a neutered male cat is not inactive, just much, much less than if he were not neutered. My neutered male used to mount my female cat occasionally. My vet said he probably didn't even know what he was doing. It was just instinct.

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  • Makes sense to me... OK, I'll try not to interfere. – keshlam Oct 30 '15 at 14:31
  • @keshlam BTW, love your usage of "Clowder" – KittyConsultant Oct 30 '15 at 14:49
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    Since it includes a human, it's really a New England Sham Clowder, but... – keshlam Oct 30 '15 at 18:56
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Cats can do this as a way of saying "ok you can stop cleaning me now."

The fact that Harry tolerates additional cleaning may suggest Harry changing his mind as in "well this does feel pretty good and I still could use additional grooming, so I will tolerate this a bit more." Harry could also be feeling relaxed and does not want to make a big production about wanting the grooming to stop.

Most cats will nip, paw or even bite you if you continue to pet them after they feel they have been pet enough. Some will just get up and move.

You can test this principle on any humans you may share your home with. Unwelcome grooming can be unwelcome.

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