Why Do Cats Groom and Lick Themselves So Often?

by beaconpet
Why Do Cats Groom and Lick Themselves So Often?

Have you ever wondered why cats groom themselves and lick themselves so often? It turns out that brushing is an essential part of a cat’s daily routine. In fact, the average cat may spend up to 50% of their waking hours grooming themselves or another cat. However, grooming can sometimes become an obsession and lead to bald patches and sores on the skin. So why do cats groom themselves? Well, Beaconpet has a lot of reasons. Cats groom to clean wounds, hide their scent from predators, groom and lubricate their fur and skin, and for fun. It’s important to note that cats may over-groom due to stress or physical problems such as fleas or allergies. Understanding why cats groom themselves so frequently can help us take better care of our feline friends and ensure their health.

Clean from the Start

Why Do Cats Groom and Lick Themselves So Often?

After a mother cat gives birth, her first job is to remove the amniotic sac and stimulate the newborn kitten’s breathing by licking it with her rough tongue. As the kitten begins nursing, the mother cat will continue to groom it, helping to stimulate urination and defecation by licking its hind end. Kittens learn to groom themselves by imitating their mothers, usually starting when they are a few weeks old. If they are part of a litter, they will also groom and lick their siblings. The act of grooming serves more than just cleanliness purposes—it has several important functions.

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Purposes of Grooming

Grooming serves various purposes for cats, beyond just keeping themselves clean. Here are some of the most important reasons why cats groom.

To Cleanse Injuries

Cats have an instinct to lick areas that are painful or inflamed, including wounds. While this may initially seem helpful for cleaning the wound and removing dirt and blood, excessive licking can actually lead to infection and delay the healing process.

To Hide Scent From Predators

Cats have a highly developed sense of smell, which is fourteen times more powerful than that of humans. Most predators, including cats, track their prey through scent. In the wild, a mother cat will try to hide her young kittens by removing any evidence of their feeding. She will thoroughly wash herself and her kittens after nursing. This instinctual behavior can also be observed in domestic cats when they scratch the floor around their food dish after eating.

To Groom and Lubricate the Coat and Skin

When cats groom themselves, their tongues, which have barb-like structures, stimulate the sebaceous glands at the base of their hairs. This stimulation helps spread sebum, a natural oil, throughout their fur. Self-grooming also helps cats remove dirt and parasites, such as fleas, from their coats. Additionally, since cats do not have sweat glands, their saliva helps them cool down on hot days.

For Pleasure

Grooming is also a pleasurable activity for cats. They enjoy the sensation of grooming and may groom themselves or their human friends simply because they find it enjoyable. Cats also groom each other as a way of sharing this positive sensation.

When Cat Grooming Becomes Obsessive

When Cat Grooming Becomes Obsessive

While grooming is a normal behavior for cats, excessive grooming can become an obsessive-compulsive behavior. Cats may start grooming excessively due to stress, similar to how humans may bite their nails compulsively. Cats generally dislike any kind of change and can be triggered by events such as the arrival of a new baby, a death in the family, or even furniture rearrangement. It’s important to rule out any physical causes, such as flea bites, ringworm, or allergies, before diagnosing excessive grooming as a stress response. Cats who were separated from their mothers too early may also engage in self-grooming behaviors like licking or sucking, which can be alleviated in a safe and predictable environment.

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Medical Issues

There are several medical issues that can contribute to excessive grooming in cats. These issues may include:

Flea Bites

Flea bites can cause intense itching and discomfort for cats, leading them to groom excessively in an attempt to alleviate the itching. It’s important to regularly check your cat for fleas and use appropriate flea prevention measures.


Ringworm is a fungal infection that can cause itchiness and hair loss in cats. Affected cats may groom excessively in an attempt to alleviate the discomfort caused by the infection. Treating ringworm requires medical intervention, so it’s important to consult a veterinarian if you suspect your cat has this condition.


Cats can develop allergies to certain foods, environmental factors, or substances. Allergies can cause itchiness and skin irritation, leading to excessive grooming. Identifying and addressing the underlying allergen is crucial in managing allergic reactions in cats.

Preventing Obsessive Grooming

Preventing Obsessive Grooming

To help prevent obsessive grooming in cats, it’s important to create a safe and predictable environment for them. Avoid sudden changes that may trigger stress, such as introducing new pets or rearranging furniture. Stick to a consistent routine and provide enrichment activities to keep your cat mentally and physically stimulated. Additionally, provide plenty of opportunities for social interaction and playtime with your cat to help alleviate stress and anxiety.

Cats Grooming Each Other

Cats often groom each other as a form of social bonding. This behavior usually occurs between cats who have a positive relationship and feel comfortable with each other. Mutual grooming allows cats to strengthen their social and familial bonds, and it can be a sign of affection and trust. If your cat grooms you, it’s likely a display of love and acceptance.

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Comparison to Humans

Humans also engage in behaviors that serve similar purposes to cat grooming. One example is nail-biting. Just like cats groom themselves, humans bite their nails as a way to manage stress or anxiety. Nail-biting provides a temporary relief and can become a compulsive habit. While these behaviors may differ in appearance, they share a common purpose of relieving tension and providing comfort.

Cats Dislike Change

Cats, in general, dislike change of any kind. Their dislike of change is deeply rooted in their instinct to be cautious and wary of unfamiliar situations. Changes in their environment or routine can trigger stress and anxiety, leading to various behaviors, including excessive grooming. Providing a stable and consistent environment can help reduce stress and prevent the onset of obsessive grooming.

Cats’ Sense of Smell

Cats' Sense of Smell

Cats have a highly developed sense of smell, which plays a crucial role in their day-to-day lives. Their sense of smell is fourteen times more powerful than that of humans, allowing them to detect scents that are undetectable to us. This heightened sense of smell helps cats navigate their environment, communicate with other cats, and locate prey. Understanding and respecting a cat’s strong sense of smell is important for their overall well-being and enrichment.


Grooming is a natural and essential behavior for cats. It serves several purposes, including cleanliness, wound care, scent masking, and coat maintenance. While excessive grooming can be a sign of stress or underlying medical issues, it’s important to recognize that grooming is also a pleasurable activity for cats. By providing a safe and predictable environment, addressing any medical issues, and understanding your cat’s individual needs, you can help prevent excessive grooming and promote a healthy and happy lifestyle for your feline companion.

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