Why Do Cats Groom So Much?
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Why Do Cats Groom So Much?

Cats are obsessive about their grooming and caring for their coat but this isn't a vanity thing – keeping their coat in top condition is very important for their overall health. The condition of a cat’s coat is also a good visual marker of their health and can be a hint that something is wrong.

Why cats groom

Kittens are taught to groom by their parents and will start washing themselves from around two weeks of age. The main reason behind the licking of the coat is to stimulate the creation of an oil produced by the skin called sebum. This is the same oily secretion that is created on a person’s scalp and is the reason we get oily hair. By licking their coat, a cat spreads this sebum along each hair of their coat where it forms a waterproof and protective layer, as well as giving it shine. The licking also removes dirt from the hair and gets rid of fleas and other parasites.

Licking the coat has another use – it lets a cat cool down. Humans sweat and dogs pant but cats do neither of these things so to reduce their body temperatures, they lick themselves, which in turn cools them down. If a cat is seen panting, this is a sign of serious illness and you should get them to a vet immediately.

How cats groom

Each cat grooms in their own way, often as they were taught by their parents just like we all have different routines to keep our hair clean and tidy. Most start with licking the chin and mouth area then grooming the whiskers. Next is commonly the shoulders and forelegs, followed by the flanks and genital area. Last is the tail, starting from tip to stern.

Forepaws are dampened to wash the face, head and ears and after every couple of swipes, the cat will wet the paw again. They also use their left paw for the left side of the head and right for the right.

Rear claws are used to groom the neck and the ears then the rear claws are nibbles to clean them off. Both front and rear claws and nibbles to keep them tidy or scratching posts are used to do the same job.

The meaning of grooming

Grooming also serves purposes besides just keeping the coat clean and tidy. When there is more than one cat in the household, you may see mutual grooming. This is done between cats that are friends and helps to reach awkward spots that they cannot always mange on their own. Grooming each other is a sign of companionship, comfort and even affection with another cat or with a human. Cats often wash their owners as a way of showing their love and trust.

Grooming that seems inappropriate can also be a sign of behavioral problems and is termed as ‘displacement grooming’. This can be when the cat grooms itself when frightened, tense or uncertain how to react in a certain situation. For example, a frightened cat may start frantically grooming itself instead of fleeing the situation. Or a cat may misjudge a jump, end up on the floor and begin frantically grooming where they landed to calm themselves. So displacement grooming can be a normal behavior or a sign of problems and watching your cat’s normal behavior will let you see which is which.

Helping out

Depending on the breed of cat you have, you may need to take an active part in their grooming process. Persians, for example, are one breed that need help to keep their extra-long coat in good order and daily brushing is needed. Other cats need less frequent grooming but may enjoy the process and people find it a great way to bond with their cat.

Scratching posts are a good way to help cats with their grooming needs because this allows them both the therapeutic value of a good scratch and to keep their claws in good order. Another idea is to have a cat litter mat beside the litter tray as cats often get litter stuck in their paw fur and this can irritate them. By putting a mat beside the tray, they can scratch on this and leave the trapped litter behind.

Conclusion

Grooming is a perfectly normal part of life for cats and one that they don’t need help in doing. Longhaired breeds do need a little brushing to help manage the length of their coat and mutual grooming with a brush can strengthen your bond with your cat. Whatever their normal routine, be aware of it so that you can spot if anything changes – this is a potential sign of a health problem.


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