We cherish the cat’s fastidious nature. But neatnik behavior goes beyond looking good. How and why cats groom impacts physical, emotional and social health. Kittens learn to lick themselves by two weeks of age by copycat behavior, and a slovenly Mom-cat will raise kitten slobs. Most times, though, kittens wash themselves by the time they are weaned, and adults spend up to 50 percent of their awake time in some form of grooming.
How Cats Groom
The specialized structure of the tongue makes it a perfect kitty comb, while teeth nibble and gnaw at tangles, dirt, and burrs caught in the fur. Each cat’s clean regime varies but a good wash often happens after meals, naps and potty breaks.
First the mouth, chin and whiskers get licked, followed by shoulders, forelegs, flanks and hind legs. Finally the genitals—how DO they pretzel themselves to reach?!—and then the tail gets attention. Forepaws re-dampened every few swipes serve as furry washrags to scrub face, head and ears. Rear claws scratch to groom the neck and ears, and claws get nibbled clean while front claws also scratch objects to groom them healthy.
5 Reasons Why Cats Groom
Grooming is a barometer of kitty health. Cats that feel bad often stop grooming, or lick and pull fur out due to stress or pain. Consider an unthrifty appearance or “barbering” themselves bald a kitty cry for vet care. Cats often need help in the grooming department—especially longhair beauties. Here are 5 common reasons why cats groom.
Healthy Skin & Fur. Grooming keeps skin and fur healthy. As they clean themselves, cats also search their skin and fur for dirt, sores or parasites and vacuum away buggy pests. Eww!
Waterproof Fur. Sebaceous glands at the base of each hair release an oily secretion—sebum—which lubricates and waterproofs the hair coat when your cat licks herself. Grooming also removes shed hair and prevents mats, which get in the way of temperature regulation.
Kitty Warmers & Cool Cats. Healthy fur falls in loose layers that protect the cat’s body from injury, and insulates her from temperature extremes. That keeps her warm in cold weather and cool in hot temps. A well-groomed coat free of mats can be fluffed and allows air to pass between the hairs and cool the skin. Cats also pant to cool themselves when they are very hot—but panting is a kitty danger signal! Since cats don’t have effective sweat glands, they lick skin and hair, and the saliva evaporation keeps Kitty cool.
Furry Social Networking. Mutual grooming helps cats take care of hard to reach head and neck areas, but also connects cats socially by sharing communal scent. Grooming another cat expresses comfort, companionship, and even love. When kitty accepts your petting (or you help her out with grooming) and she grooms your hair or licks your arm she’s engaging in mutual grooming that expresses utmost trust and affection.
Stress Buster. Cats use displacement grooming to feel better emotionally. Cats may groom themselves when fearful, to relieve tension, or when uncertain how to react to situations. For example, instead of attacking or running away from an aggressive animal your cat may suddenly begin to furiously groom. You’ll see the same frantic grooming if kitty misjudges a leap and falls on his furry fanny. Cats also use displacement grooming when other behaviors aren’t allowed; perhaps you’ve put the cat on a diet, or are trying to convince an outdoor cat he should stay inside.
We don’t know if displacement grooming has a direct effect on the neurologic impulses in the brain, or simply is a way for the cat to distract himself. Strong emotion may cause a rise of body temperature which the cat cools by grooming, or perhaps the benefits of massage and touch calms feline anxiety. Some displacement grooming is normal, but if kitty becomes obsessed loses fur or damages the skin, seek vet help.
So are your cats neatniks or furry slobs? Do you help your cat with grooming? Seren particularly enjoys being combed by the Furminator, but Karma could care less.
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