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Why Do Cats Lick Themselves When Grooming?

06. December 2018

Cats are pretty unique and weird animals. If you are a cat owner, you have probably seen your pet do some incredibly weird stuff like randomly standing on their hind legs or pushing things off a table and such. We all find this funny but some things done by cats have reasons behind them like licking themselves when grooming. We all have seen this action done by cats and I think we all have wondered why cats do this. Unlike the other stuff done by cats, licking themselves when grooming is a serious thing and has some good reason behind it.

If you have ever wondered why cats do this, then consider this article the answer to your wonderment. Read on below if you want to know more! 

Why do cats lick themselves?

We all have our share of disgust and amazement whenever we see our cats licking themselves as means of grooming their body fur. The main reason why cats lick their hair is because it is their way of cleaning and grooming their body.

When we talk about cleanliness, cats are considered the epitome of it in the animal kingdom. Not because they are meticulously clean freaks, but their body is naturally equipped with the perfect tools and implements to groom themselves properly and rightly. These tools are the cat’s body parts which include their saliva as an alternative washcloth, teeth to dig up more solid and tougher particles, paws to aid them in cleaning, and the most special of it all is their barbed tongue, which they mainly use to groom themselves. Did you know that adult cats spend almost half of their working hours grooming themselves and other cats? Now that’s what we call cleaning!

Unlike other pets or animals in general, a cat’s tongue is really special because of its texture. Since their tongue is barbed or has a barb like texture, using it as a cleaning tool for their body is really useful and practical. It is often said that cats are afraid of water that is why they are rarely seen being taken to a bath which lead to a common misperception of cats being innately dirty. When on the other hand, cats are extremely clean animals because of how they are equipped with the cleaning materials and tools themselves.

Whenever cats groom, their barb like tongues stimulate a specific gland at the base of the cat’s body hair which is called the sebaceous glands. The then stimulated sebaceous glands spread the resultant sebum all throughout the hairs of the cat. Moreover, this act of self grooming done by cats also helps them in getting rid of the dirt and other unwanted particles including parasites and fleas. That’s a lot of things happening with just a simple tongue lick of a cat, right?

Other reasons why cats lick themselves

Now that we know that licking their fur is a way of cleaning themselves, here are some other reasons why exactly cats groom themselves so carefully.

  • Cleanliness

Aside from the typical reason of cleaning themselves from dust, dirt, and other solid materials, cats typically want to be clean always to remove all smells from them. Felines in general and predators and prey, removing any smell in them mean they are less likely to be found by an unsuspecting predator.

  • Relaxation

Another reason why cats lick themselves is because they want to feel relaxed. Have you seen a cat groom itself after an embarrassing situation? Like falling over? This typical behavior shown by cats is what we call “displacement behavior” and it helps the cat to relieve stress and relax after the stress it experienced. Furthermore, a cat that is severely stressed would often over groom itself and barbering her fur as an attempt to make him or her feel better.

  • Healthy Skin and Coat

As mentioned earlier, the barbed like tongue of the cat stimulates the sebaceous glands of the cats body hair. The sebaceous gland is what causes the healthy glow and keeping it shiny and always in a good condition. The oils also counters excessive cold which is often experienced by cats.

  • Cools Them Down

Unlike other animals, cats do not sweat when they feel hot because of the weather or any other circumstance. Only the cat’s paws have sweat glands. Licking themselves helps in dampening their fur with saliva so that they are able to cool down especially when the weather is warmer than usual.

  • Friendship

Probably the sweetest reason why cats lick themselves is because of the bond and the friendship. In a cat behavior called allogrooming, cats begin to lick or groom one another as early as they are five weeks old. Oftentimes, this behavior progresses into adulthood wherein the bonded cats groom one another into hard to reach places. 

When licking gets problematic

It was mentioned earlier that cats often groom themselves for relaxation purposes. Over grooming, is a behavior seen in cats and is manifested in forms of excessive nibbling, chewing, biting, and licking their fur. This behavior is an indication that the cat is severely stressed and needs the attention of a veterinarian as soon as possible. Some common causes of stress in cats are isolation, introduction of a new pet in a household, fear, lacking stimulation, separation anxiety. Over grooming reaches a problematic state when it affects the cat’s health and appearance. Self injury is commonly seen in cats showing behaviors of over grooming. This includes fur or hair thinning, skin infections, and skin irritation.

On the flip side, if your cat stops grooming at all, then he or she is in serious trouble. A cat that stops grooming itself means that she is either extremely sick or extremely depressed. A trip to the vet immediately is recommended to tend to the cat.

Cats are social animals. If you are licked by a cat, consider yourself special because they do not typically lick human beings – unless you have food particles in your skin. Got something to share about felines? Share it with us in the comments section below!

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