The Feline Grooming Ritual: It's Not All About Her Appearance

Pets & Animals Blog

You may have noticed that your cat spends an astounding amount of time on her grooming routine, fastidiously and methodically licking every inch of her body until she is satisfied with the results. The average cat normally spends as many as half of her waking hours each day grooming herself. Before you accuse your furry friend of being the family narcissist, find out the real reasons why cats spend so many hours preening and when changes in this behavior may indicate a problem.

Self-Cleaning Cats

One of the reasons your cat licks herself is to clean and maintain her coat. It's her way of freshening up. Those scratchy little projections on the surface of her tongue are called papillae, and these enable her tongue to function as a scrubbing brush to swipe dirt and debris out of her coat. Her saliva provides the moisture for her baths, and her front paws serve as built-in washcloths for cleaning those areas that her tongue just cannot reach, such as behind her ears and on the upper part of her face. She makes a valiant effort to keep herself pristine, but she needs a bit of help from you in her grooming care, which you should provide by doing the following:

When you spy your cat engrossed in her self-grooming ritual, she has other reasons to lick her coat than keeping up her visual appearance.

Odor Eaters and Thermostats

Domesticated housecats have wild ancestry in their family tree and wild cat survival instincts in their blood. In the wild, a cat who has just succeeded in a fresh kill to feast upon is vulnerable to larger predators. The scents of her prey waft along the breezes and signal her presence. As soon as she has devoured her meal, she must retreat from the carcass and proceed to thoroughly groom herself from head to toe to remove all aromatic clues that can give her location away. This is why some of your cat's daily grooming routines often take place after she has nibbled from her food dish.

Another function of feline self-grooming is to regulate her body temperature. Your cat can only sweat through her paws. She depends on grooming to cool herself down by licking at her coat and skin. As air makes contact with the saliva-dampened skin, the evaporation process helps to cool. Grooming can also help to prevent chills. Licking aids in the distribution of natural oils in her coat, and these oils increase the coat's water-resistance. Be aware, however, that your cat's most dedicated grooming skills will not be helpful in winter's freezing temperatures or if she suffers a case of heat stroke during the height of summer. Do your part to prevent your cat's exposure to such temperature extremes, and wipe her down thoroughly with a towel if you decide to give her a bath.

Licks of Love

Allogrooming is the term used to describe mutual grooming between cats, and this behavior can extend to their favorite humans in the household. When kittens are born, the mother cat licks her offspring to stimulate elimination and also as a show of comfort. By three weeks of age, the kittens start to mimic their mother's self-grooming behaviors, and a couple of weeks later, they are able to groom themselves and each other. This allogrooming also occurs when two or more cats in a multiple-cat household are closely bonded. It is a show of affection for one another. When your cat licks your hand, arm, or hair, take it as a sign that you have been dubbed her beloved companion.

When Cats Lick Too Much

Another reason that cats lick themselves is to care for a wound or laceration, and a cat will lick at one particular spot on her body as an instinct to keep the wound clean. If you observe your cat grooming in this manner, take a close look at the area, and if you see a wound, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for appropriate wound treatment to prevent an infection.

Cats also lick themselves excessively in an attempt to comfort themselves and alleviate stress and anxiety, which results in an obsessive-compulsive condition called psychogenic alopecia. Other reasons for over-grooming in cats include flea allergy dermatitis, external parasites, food allergies, and other allergies. Any cause of excessive grooming can result in the following problems:

  • Increases in hairballs, which can cause bowel obstructions
  • Hair loss on the areas being licked excessively, which is why such behavior is often referred to as fur mowing
  • Skin infection if the excessive licking inflicts abrasions in the skin

In addition to being on the alert for excessive grooming, you should also pay attention if your cat starts to slack off on her personal care.

When Cats Don't Groom Enough

If your cat's coat starts to look unkempt, it is not enough to lend her an assist with the cat brush or the bathtub. Considering how much time cats insist on allocating to keeping their coat meticulous, you need to interpret her recent lack of self-care as a potential indication that she doesn't feel well. When cats are sick or in pain, they don't devote their energy toward grooming. Lack of grooming is commonly seen in senior cats who suffer from degenerative joint disease because contorting themselves to lick hard-to-reach areas is painful. It is important to help your cat stay groomed in order to prevent mats, but the first priority is to have your cat evaluated by your veterinarian to determine the underlying cause of her diminished grooming efforts and to pursue treatment to alleviate her discomfort.

Grooming is an important custom in your cat's daily life. Help her stay spiffy and alert any changes in her grooming behavior to a veterinarian at a clinic like Center-Sinai Animal Hospital. Whether the cause is behavioral or physical, the two of you can work together to get your kitty's self-care routine back on track.


28 February 2017

Loving Your Pets

After our youngest daughter was in high school, I realized that I liked having people around to take care of and that my window for doing that was closing quickly. Instead of having more children, I decided to see about adopting a pet or two. I looked everywhere for a dog and a cat that would meld well with my lifestyle, and it was incredible to find a pet that I really connected with. However, I was able to find pets that I absolutely adored, and so I made them a part of our home. This blog is here to help new pet owners to adjust to their new situation and to learn to love everything about having new pets.