Cats clean themselves by licking their paws and chewing on their fur. Cats’ grooming behavior starts early in life when mothers lick their kittens for various reasons such as cleaning them, stimulating bodily functions, offering comfort, and building a strong bond. Kittens begin grooming themselves at around 4 weeks old and soon start grooming their mother and siblings. This grooming habit persists into adulthood and is known as allogrooming when cats groom each other.
Cats possess remarkable grooming abilities due to their flexibility, strategic nature, and specialized grooming tools. Their rough tongue, sharp teeth, comb-like paws, and forepaws work together seamlessly, forming an efficient grooming mechanism. Additionally, cats can utilize their front paws to stimulate small oil glands on their head, which serves as their natural perfume, spreading the scent across their entire body.
Why do cats groom themselves? Cats groom themselves not only to keep clean but for several reasons:
- Grooming helps to keep their fur clean and free from dirt, debris, and parasites.
- It helps to distribute natural oils produced by their skin, which keeps their fur moisturized and healthy.
- Cats groom themselves to regulate body temperature by removing excess heat or cooling their bodies through saliva evaporation.
- Grooming provides cats with a sense of comfort and relaxation, reducing stress and anxiety.
- It is a way for cats mark their territory by leaving their scent on their fur.
- Grooming also plays a role in social bonding, as cats may groom each other as a sign of affection and to strengthen their social relationships.
Compulsive grooming, which includes excessive licking, biting, or nibbling, is a behavior that warrants attention. While cats typically spend a significant portion of their day grooming, persistent and obsessive grooming, accompanied by hair loss or skin lesions, should prompt a visit to the vet.
Compulsive grooming can have various underlying causes, ranging from medical conditions to neurological or psychological disorders. Stressful events such as moving, home remodeling, the introduction of a new pet or family member, separation anxiety, or a lack of stimulation can trigger this behavior. Cats often resort to excessive grooming as a means of self-soothing during conflicts. If left unaddressed, this behavior can lead to self-inflicted injuries, including psychogenic alopecia, which involves hair thinning, balding, and skin infections.
On the other hand, under-grooming can indicate health issues like arthritis, pain, dental problems, or a lack of grooming knowledge if the cat was separated from its mother too early. Look out for signs such as a harsh or greasy coat, small mats of fur, paw staining from urine, a foul smell, or food particles on the face or chest after meals.
To encourage grooming, start by brushing your cat daily with a cat brush, as it stimulates the skin, improves blood circulation, and helps remove fleas and ticks. Once your cat begins grooming, try not to interrupt her, as it is an important and soothing activity for her well-being.