Anyone who owns a cat knows they spend hours grooming themselves throughout the day. It may be for a few minutes after eating, or right before taking a nap, or after they’ve finished playing with their favorite catnip toy. How and why cats groom impacts their physical, emotional, and social health. As kittens, they learn to lick themselves by about 2 or 3 weeks of age and will copy their mother’s grooming habits.
By the time a kitten is weaned, they will know how to wash themselves and start spending more time fastidiously keeping their fur free of dirt, debris, and tangles. A cat’s regimen may vary but a more often than not, a good bath will happen after a meal, before a nap, and after using the litter box.
Types of Grooming
Cleanliness – Grooming is often to keep themselves clean. Their tongue is used like a comb and removes old fur, loose fur, and dirt. Cats are naturally clean animals and this helps maintain a healthy coat and is sign of health. It’s estimated that a cat will spend about 20% of their day grooming themselves. They won’t always do a complete bath in one sitting. You may catch your cat licking its paws and then taking a nap and later cleaning its tail.
Mutual Grooming – If you have a house with two or more cats they may groom each other from time to time. It’s a way to express friendship and community among cats. It is a social activity more so than a hygienic one. Mutually grooming each other expresses comfort, companionship, and even love among cats. Your cat may even groom you! If your cat licks your arm, leg, or head it’s a sign of affection and trust.
Displacement Grooming – This type of grooming helps a cat feel better emotionally. If your cat was just frightened or feels tense, grooming is a calming mechanism. Displacement grooming helps them deal with stress.
Temperature Control – Cats don’t sweat so grooming themselves is a way to cool themselves down in warm weather and during cold days, it helps keep the fur down closer to their skin and retain heat. When a cat lick and tugs at their fur, it stimulates the follicles to release oils that can also help waterproof your cat. So if your cat is an outdoor kitty, grooming helps create a “raincoat” and keep their skin dry even if their outer coat gets wet.
If your cat stops grooming, this can be a sign of illness and may mean a trip to the vet is in order. Also, if you notice your cat excessively grooming and pulling out fur this can be a sign of stress and create inflamed spots.