Why do cats groom?

Cats are stylish creatures who like to stay tidy. A cat’s tongue, teeth and claws are like built-in grooming accessories, helping them to keep clean. Cats also groom each other as a way of showing affection. Keep reading to find out more about the grooming habits of cats.

Why do cats groom themselves?

Self-grooming has many benefits for cats. The first and most obvious benefit is that it keeps them clean and healthy. By grooming regularly, cats are able to:

  • Remove loose hair and dirt
  • Prevent mats
  • Distribute sebum (their skin’s natural oil) across their coat, keeping it strong and shiny
  • Remove parasites (such as fleas)
  • Stimulate circulation

On hot days, cats spread saliva over their fur which helps them to cool down. This is important because cats aren’t able to regulate their temperature by panting.

The roughness of a cat’s tongue assists with grooming. Cats also use their front paws to spread oil from their sebaceous glands across the rest of their body. This keeps their fur lustrous and shiny.

When cats feel stressed or anxious, grooming helps them to calm down. You might notice that after you take your cat to the vet, the first thing they’ll do when they get home is groom. Their natural oils contain their own scent, and grooming helps to replace the smell of the vet with their own ‘perfume’.

Why do cats groom each other?

In multi-cat households, mutual grooming is a sign of social bonding. It’s an act of affection, and it also helps cats groom hard-to-reach places. You should take it as a compliment if your cat ever starts licking you – it shows they care!

Grooming is common between siblings, especially if the cats were part of the same litter. But cats don’t necessarily need to be related to engage in grooming: it happens naturally when they become comfortable with each other.

By observing the grooming rituals of cats, you’ll gain interesting insights into their social hierarchies. As a general rule, dominant cats are more likely to groom cats that are less
dominant. It can be an aggressive – yet tender – way of asserting superiority and power.

Does my cat groom too much?

As mentioned, cats groom not just to keep themselves clean, but to soothe themselves emotionally. However, over-grooming is a sign that something’s not quite right for your cat. Excessive grooming can indicate that they have a health problem (such as allergies), or that they’re emotionally unsettled.

These are the most common reasons why cats groom excessively:

  • Parasites – Fleas, mites and other nasties can make your cat itchy. Excessive scratching and licking are signs that your cat might have an infestation. Check their skin to see if you can see any ‘flea dirt’, or take them to your vet for a professional opinion.
  • Allergies – Irritation can happen if your cat comes into contact with something they’re allergic to (such as a particular type of plant). Again, this is something that is best diagnosed and treated by your vet.
  • Stress – When something in a cat’s environment makes them anxious, they can start grooming excessively. If left unaddressed, excessive grooming can lead to hair loss and skin irritation.

Preventing over-grooming

To solve the problem of over-grooming, you’ll need to determine the underlying cause. For this, we recommend taking your cat to the vet for a check up. They will be able to advise if your cat has a medical issue.

If it turns out that your cat is over-grooming because they’re stressed, there are a few ways you can approach the situation. There might be changes you can make to your cat’s environment to put them at ease, such as introducing a ‘cat tree’ for your cat to climb. You should also provide spaces for your cat to retreat to when they feel stressed or overwhelmed.

A pheromone spray (available from most pet shops) could be useful as well. These sprays have a calming effect on cats, and are especially useful for situations where stress and disruption can’t be avoided.

Understanding your cat

Although it’s normal for cats to groom regularly, excessive grooming can be a sign of an underlying problem. The more you pay attention to your cat and get to understand their habits, the faster you’ll be able to notice when something is wrong. And if you’re ever in doubt, the best thing is to talk to your vet.