Why do cats groom and lick themselves?

Cats are very clean and beautiful animals due to their habit of thoroughly cleaning and grooming themselves. Why do cats groom, though? Is it all about cleaning ,or is there something else behind it?

Cats groom themselves thoroughly each and every day!
Cats groom themselves thoroughly each and every day!  © Unsplash / Syed Ahmad

Cats seem to constantly have to groom themselves, licking and biting, rubbing and pulling. Interestingly, they sometimes even clean each other, causing us to ask: "Why do cats groom themselves so gosh-darn often?" Is it all about hygiene, or is there a deeper meaning?

In this cat guide, TAG24 is here to explain why cats groom themselves and others, what their habits are all about, and how much their personal hygiene plays into the equation.

Why do cats groom themselves?

Cat grooming is a way for them to effectively clean themselves, but that's not all. There are a variety of different motivations for grooming and licking, some of which you can even help them with if you get yourself a proper cat-fur brush. Other reasons include...

Coat care

Cats will clean and groom themselves by licking their fur. The rough structure and texture of their tongue is designed to act as a sort of comb, removing loose hairs, eliminating insects and plants, and stimulating the circulation of blood under the skin. Through grooming, cats reduce the greasiness of their fur, increase the water-repellent nature of their coat, and can even insulate themselves.

Personal scent

The cat will spread its saliva over their coat when grooming, leaving a unique and individual scent. This is an important means of communication between all cats, allowing them to distinguish themselves amongst the cat-community and even mark their territory.

Temperature regulation

On hot days, cats will wet their fur with saliva during grooming. The wetting of their body has a cooling effect, as the evaporation of their saliva reduces the overall temperature of their fur.

Cats will often groom themselves in the summer as a way of regulating their body temperature.
Cats will often groom themselves in the summer as a way of regulating their body temperature.  © Unsplash / Embla Munk Rynkebjerg

Why do cats bite their fur when cleaning?

Cats don't only lick their fur when grooming, but will bite it, as well. Though this might seem a little worrying, and look like it hurts, it is completely normal and not something to be worried about.

By biting their fur, cats will be able to remove strands of dead fur and hair, remove dead skin cells, get rid of insects or parasites, and properly get rid of bigger blobs of dirt or mud that may have stuck to their skin.

Why do cats lick themselves after eating?

After eating, there may still be remnants of food that they have picked up on their paws. The cat will lick their paws to get this off, but there may also be other reasons for a post-feed grooming session.

If you notice that your cat is licking its front paw and then using it to brush its ears, nose, head, or mouth, it could be completing a post-meal wash. Cats use their paws as a washcloth, to clean areas of their body that they can't reach with their tongues.

After eating, they will use this method to remove food residue, water droplets, and other foreign bodies from their facial fur and anywhere else that may have been soiled during dinner.

Why do cats lick themselves after a bath?

Funnily enough, cats will lick themselves after a bath to actually help with the drying process. Sure, it may seem counter-intuitive, but you have to remember that a cat's tongue is actually quite dry and coarse. Thus, it does not dampen their fur as much as a human tongue would.

By licking their fur, cats will actually help to remove the moisture that came from having swam, been rained on, or bathed. This helps to keep them warm and will reduce the huge amount of weight associated with them having fur that is soaking wet.

Why do cats groom themselves after petting?

Cat owners may have noticed from time to time that their kitty has a strange habit of rollin' up for a pat, having a nice cuddle, and then wandering off for a grooming session. There is no scientifically proven reason for this behavior, but it could potentially be as a way of removing foreign smells from their bodies, or even achieving a post-cuddle tidy-up.

A cat's smell will be transferred to the human who has given it a pat and, as a result, your kitty may want to refresh its own odor via grooming. It's also possible that your cat would like to tidy itself up or make its fur feel normal again after a nice long petting session.

Keep in mind: Don't worry, if your cat has started to walk away and clean itself after being petted, it doesn't mean that they don't like you or love you less than they used to.

Cats will often groom each other out of affection and trust.
Cats will often groom each other out of affection and trust.  © Unsplash / Syed Ali

Why do cats groom each other?

If two cats cuddle with each other, you may also notice that they may lick each other as well. It looks pretty adorable, but it also has an important function for our feline friends.

Mutual grooming is a form of social interaction between cats, where they strengthen their interpersonal relationship and show each other love and affection.

This is a genetic habit, and something that they would have learned from their mothers. Licking not only grooms the fur, but stimulates blood circulation and strengthens their relationships between siblings in particular. Mutual grooming actually occurs most commonly in cats that are related or have lived together since a very young age.

How often do cats clean and groom themselves?

It is not entirely clear just how much time a cat will groom itself for each day, as each kitty is different and it also varies between species and ages. Some cats will groom themselves between 10-20 percent of their waking hours, and some may groom for 30-40 percent.

The most important thing is that, as a cat owner, you pay attention to these things. If your cat has noticeably decreased or increased the amount of time that it is grooming, or if it becomes clear that they are not doing a very good job, a vet's advice should be sought out.

Unless your cat starts cleaning compulsively, you probably have nothing to worry about.
Unless your cat starts cleaning compulsively, you probably have nothing to worry about.  © Unsplash / Hana Oliver

Why do cats clean themselves so much? Are they sick?

Frequent grooming is an incredibly normal cat behavior, but owners should become alert to excessive licking or emerging bald spots in their kitty's fur. These symptoms could suggest health problems.

Other concerning symptoms include:

  • Incessant and excessive cat grooming (perhaps for more than 4 hours every day)
  • Compulsive licking combined with an inability to be distracted by anything
  • Cat has been licking its fur so intensely that bald patches appeared
  • Despite constant brushing, a cat's coat looks unkempt.
  • A cat is only licking one particular area of its body

It is actually possible for a cat to "over-groom" in a pathological way. This can not only be caused by, but can in turn cause, painful skin inflammations. In such a situation, medical attention should be sought immediately.

Possible causes of excessive grooming in cats:

Psychological reasons:

  • Boredom
  • Relief of tension
  • Insecurity and fear
  • Stress

Physical causes:

  • Matted fur
  • Itching due to dry skin or skin diseases
  • Allergies
  • Foreign bodies
  • Open wounds or injuries
  • Fungal infections
  • Parasites
  • Pain
  • Hormonal diseases (e.g. hyperthyroidism)
  • Digestive problems
  • Menstruation in female cats

If you are getting concerned for the wellbeing of your cat, you must see a veterinarian as soon as possible. They will be able to identify a cause and potentially provide treatments to get your kitty back to its formerly healthy self.

Don't get too worried about cat grooming!

It's a completely normal behavior for your cat to repeatedly and commonly groom itself. They often get lickin' at rather strange times, but unless they are repeatedly licking the same location or displaying other signs of injury or sickness, you probably have nothing to be worried about.

Make sure that you pair your cat's instinctive grooming with regular brushing to reduce the risk of fur-balls and other nasty problems. Keep them healthy, and they will love you for it.

Cover photo: Unsplash / Syed Ahmad

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