You may think that your cat has obsessive compulsive disorder when you contemplate the inordinate amount of time that clean kitty spends grooming itself and anyone else within tongue’s reach. While cats are meticulous in their cleanliness, the behavior that you witness so frequently is about more than mere preening.
How Do Cats Clean Themselves?
Although humans require soaps, shampoos, loofa sponges and other bathing accessories, the ritual in which all clean cats engage requires only saliva and their tongues. Your cat’s tongue acts as a natural brush. The tongue’s surface is covered with tiny barb-like projections that are called papillae. When your cat cleans itself, the papillae brush and extract dirt, loose hair, fleas, food particles, and other debris from the coat. Like the spray of water from your showerhead, the cat’s saliva moistens the surface of the body being cleaned. When debris is trapped deep within the coat, the cat will nibble away the offending particles with its teeth. Since the cat’s tongue will not reach the entire face, head and ears, the forepaws are employed as washcloths for these hard to reach areas, and the cat moistens its paw with saliva every few licks. Learn here How to Bathe a Cat.
Why Do Cats Clean Themselves So Much?
Coat maintenance is an essential part of grooming behavior. Clean cats groom frequently to maintain healthy coats by extracting unsightly loose hairs and debris. When the cat licks, the tongue and saliva aid in the secretion and even distribution of the natural oils from the sebaceous glands throughout the skin and coat. Cats learn the art of cleaning themselves from their mother by the time they are a month old. Why do cats clean themselves so much? The answer is that they may not be cleaning themselves as much as it would appear. Cats lick themselves for a number of other reasons.
In the wild, cats lick themselves to remove any odors from their coat that would signal their presence to larger predators. This is especially crucial after the cat has eaten a fresh kill so that any lingering aromatic traces of the prey’s blood are prevented from wafting to other animals in the vicinity.
Your cat grooms to regulate its internal thermostat. Cats sweat through the pads of their paws, but the remainder of their body needs assistance in temperature control. When the cat licks its coat, the coat is fluffed so that air can circulate to the skin, and as the saliva evaporates, the cat feels cooler. Conversely, grooming also helps to prevent the cat from getting chills. When the cat licks and distributes the coat’s natural oils, those oils aid in waterproofing the coat against dampness.
If you observe your cat licking continuously at one particular spot, you need to inspect the area closely. Cats will lick at wounds and lacerations as an instinctual step toward preventing infection. Do not rely on the enzymes of the cat’s saliva to stave off an infection, however. If you discover any type of wound on your cat’s body, veterinary attention and effective antibiotic treatment must be sought.
Some cats have the tendency to lick themselves more persistently when they feel stressed or anxious. Some potential stressors for cats include a recent move, isolation or lack of stimulation, a fearful situation, a new pet or baby in the household or the sudden long-term absence of a beloved family member. If your cat has undergone any such conditions and is now grooming to the point of exhibiting a thinning coat, irritated skin or bald patches, have the cat evaluated by a veterinarian before a skin infection develops.
Why Do Cats Clean Each Other?
The act of cats cleaning each other is called allogrooming. This behavior commences when cats are newborn kittens. Initially, the mother cat licks the kittens to stimulate excretion of urine and feces, to clean the kittens, to provide comfort and security to the kittens and to awaken them when it is time to nurse. Kittens start to mimic the licking behavior between two and three weeks of age, and by four to five weeks of age, the kittens are grooming themselves. Littermates engage in licking each other, and they will continue to carry out the mutual grooming rituals throughout adulthood.
In households with two or more cats that share a bond of friendship, it is common to observe the cats in the social act of grooming one another. Although this behavior certainly provides an assist in cleaning, when one cat engages in licking another cat, it is a sign of affection and companionship. If your cat has developed the habit of licking your arm or playing hairdresser by grooming the hair on your head, consider yourself loved. When cats lick their owners, it is a sign of affection, caring and trust.
When to Be Concerned
A cat that is over grooming or under grooming should be seen by a veterinarian. If your cat is grooming one area excessively, it could be attempting to alleviate pain or to clean a tiny wound. If you notice any areas of hair loss, a thinner coat or scabby skin, your cat may be suffering from a stressful event or experiencing an allergic skin reaction, such as flea bite allergy dermatitis. If your cat is not grooming as much as it used to and displays a coat that appears unkempt, this may be an indicator of a health problem. Cats that do not feel well may become apathetic in their grooming attempts. Cats that are injured and senior cats that suffer from degenerative joint disease may curtail their grooming habits because they cannot physically assume comfortable positions needed to access all areas. Changes in grooming habits should be considered a sign of potential illness and an indication to pursue a veterinary examination.