Why cats groom themselves and other cats

We all know cats are clean animals, but they spend an immense amount of time grooming themselves. They groom themselves and other cats for about a third of their awake time. Why do cats groom themselves that much? Are they obsessed with cleanliness?

cats self grooming, cat licking his paw
Photo by Douglas O’Brien, cc

Reality is that cast groom themselves and other cats not only to stay clean. Self-grooming and mutual grooming (knows as allogrooming) serve several purposes for cats. It is an innate behavior and aided their ancestors to survive.

Besides, cats not only groom themselves and other cats, but their owners and other pets, too. Here is a list of reasons why cats groom.

  • To clean food leftovers. It is vital to stay clean if you are a top predator. Has anyone died because of dirt? Well, cats can’t afford to smell like their dead prey if they are willing to catch a fresh one. Have you noticed that cats often groom after a meal? That is natural since they must remove food leftovers from their fur. If the food in their coat starts to rot, they will smell over a distance. Any mouse would hide long before the cat ha come closer.
  • To remove fallen out hair. Cats do shed. If you are an owner of a long haired cat, you know that, unless you brush your pet, his coat will tangle in mats. Self-grooming lets to reduce the problem, but not only that. Cats don’t want sheets of their hair around the nest since it brings unnecessary attention. Thus the cat not only removes dead hair from their own skin but also ingests most of his hair. Where does the hair go? They either pass through or can come back up in the form of a hairball. In nature, the amount of hairballs is kept to a minimum, because a natural cat diet contains a lot of moisture that helps hair to get through their system. In the household, especially if cats are on dry food, most owners will agree — a day without a hairball is rare. If you struggle with hairball production of your cat, read more how to reduce cat hairballs here.
  • To relieve stress. Have you seen this: a cat falls from a cat tree or table, shakes his head in disbelief what an embarrassing moment just happened and the licks his paws for a short moment? It’s their little thing. When they are in stress, cats groom. We bite our nails or flicker with our hair during the stress or when we are bored — cats groom. It’s harmless as it is, however, if your cat is grooming himself too often, it’s possible he is under a large amount of stress. You can learn more about stress in cats here. However, if your cat has developed bare skin patches because of excessive grooming, you should consult with a veterinarian.
  • To bond with other cats and non-cat animals. Cats quite often groom themselves and their conspecifics, but quite often they groom dogs, other pets and people. And, to whomever this behavior is directed, they usually seem to enjoy it. Don’t you? This serves for two purposes as it helps to stay clean, as well as provides a possibility for social bonding.
  • To feel good. You know the feeling when someone strokes or brushes your hair. How about the massage of the head? It feels good, and we don’t see how cats are different from humans.
  • To help their kittens. To help in what? First, to stay clean, but also to help them pass stools during the first weeks of their lives. Kittens are born unable to empty their intestinal contents, which give their mothers an extraordinary task. They have to groom their perianal area which stimulated defecation in kittens. Then their mother also ingests everything that her kittens pass, so the area around the nest stays clean. And this is where we stop complaining about having to change diapers for our kids.

Even though cats are clean animals, and groom themselves a lot, in most cases, cats living in a household environment require regular brushing. How often, it differs from a cat to cat. While long-haired cats may require daily brushing, shorthaired ones can go by with less frequent brushing.

You can learn more about brushing here, though, even if you don ‘t see a problem with old hair, it still is an excellent activity to try. Because now you know — cats groom themselves not only because they must stay clean. Grooming is also nice for bonding and makes cats feel good.