Is your precious kitty a predator? Yes. Even if our cats are domesticated, kept indoors and called house cats, they are still predators. And, ALL predators – from polar bears to ladybugs – instinctively clean/groom themselves after they eat. Please note: If your cat stops grooming, consult with a veterinarian immediately. He might be very ill.
Why do predators groom after they eat? If they don’t, other predators will detect the odors of blood and food on them. Then cats become the prey. How much time do cats spend grooming? Experts estimate that cats spend between 15 to 50 percent of their ‘awake’ time grooming. Since they log 15 hours sleeping per day, it might seem like all your cat does is eat, sleep and groom. But cats groom for a variety of reasons. The reasons 'why' and 'when' cats groom are to:
- Clean their fur of debris: food, dirt, parasites, loose and dead skin and hair.
- Stimulate the production of sebum, an oily secretion produced by sebaceous glands at the base of each hair.
- Lubricate, insulate and waterproof their fur with the sticky sebum.
- Regulate their body temperature. Cats don’t sweat but as the saliva on their fur evaporates, the cat cools down.
- Cleanse a wound with the anti-bacterial properties in their saliva.
- Psychological benefits: To cope with stress and conflict (fear, uncertainty, anxiety). If a cat cleans too much, experts call this displacement or distraction behavior. My Gracee frantically cleans herself when her bigger brother starts 'eyeing' her. She doesn’t know if she should fight or flee. So, she frantically grooms. When Spirit fell from the catwalk, I ran to him. He was seated, grooming himself. I think he was calming himself. Some experts, looking at this same situation, would say that Spirit was embarrassed by his fall and, finding himself in an uncomfortable situation, dealt with it by grooming himself. Please note that if your cat cleans so much that it causes physical harm (hair loss or wounds), see a veterinarian.
- Increase their scent. Our cats might enjoy being petted. But have you ever seen your cat groom immediately after you pet him? This is to ‘out’ his own scent and to smooth his fur back the way he likes it.
- Stimulate circulation and muscle tone (a massage of sorts).
Cats’ tongues are covered with tiny barbs or hooks (called rasps) that are like a comb. The rasps catch and lift debris. Generally, the stomach acid dissolves this debris. If your cat ingests too much, a choking, gasping hairball episode will result. To prevent that, rub a dab of hairball ointment on his paws. He will lick it off. You can help your cat by grooming at least weekly with a comb or metal brush.
Every cat has its own cleaning pattern. The forepaw is dampened to scrub face, head and ears. They assume some rubberband-like positions while grooming along their sides, underside to the tip of their tail. Nibbling on the rear and front paws and claws keeps them clean and sheds the older claw.
Mother cats clean their kittens as soon as they are born. It continues as part of the nurturing process as well as stimulating the kitten to eliminate. Mutual grooming is common among cats. It is more of a social activity than a hygienic one but it does help cats clean hard to reach places around the neck and under the chin. When a cat grooms another cat or you, it is expressing trust and affection as well as claiming you.
Information for this article was gleaned and summarized from: webvet; PetPlace; mother nature network; care2; about.com/home; Demand Media-Martha Adams; our veterinarian, Dr. Long as well as experiences with my cats, including the Cat Authors.