You've probably noticed your kittens carefully grooming itself throughout the day from time to time. This is perfectly natural and something your cat picked up while it was a kitten mirroring its mommy's grooming. From two weeks of age, they start to learn how to groom themselves and start out their own grooming ritual which continues well into adulthood.
Why cats groom
There’s a reason cats groom and it’s more than just keeping their feline looks tip-top. Grooming for cats is important in keeping their skin healthy. This is done through stimulating the secretion of an oil known as sebum.When cats like their fur, this helps lubricate and waterproof their fur, helping it shine. At the same time, grooming also gets rid of loose hair, mats, and cleans out any dirt or fleas.
Moreover, keep in mind that unlike humans’ cats are unable to sweat to regulate their body temperature. You may notice dogs panting but a cat panting usually means something is wrong, as cats rely on saliva on their fur evaporating to help dissipate heat and regulate their body temperature.
Now, not everything is functional when it comes to a cat grooming. Expressing affection is also a reason why cats groom other cats (and even sometimes humans!). It shows they trust the other feline and is a ‘feel-good’ behavior.
Ultimately, grooming is also a good sign of health for your cat. So if you do see your cat excessively grooming this can be a sign of stress, and similarly if your cat isn’t grooming as much as it should it may be sick or in pain. Either case, it’s good to pay a visit to the vet for a check-up.
Your cat has its own grooming ritual
Every kitten starts to build their own grooming ritual and this usually starts with the licking the mouth, chin, and whiskers. After this, they'll start grooming their shoulders and forelegs, followed by the hind legs, and genitals. Your cat will also use their forepaw to help scrub while grooming and tend to switch paws depending on which side of its body they are grooming. To keep their claws clean you'll also see them scratching and nibbling to help keep them clean and in shape.
There two specific types of grooming cats do that you need to be aware of:
Mutual Grooming is essentially grooming as a display of affections. Cats will usually groom another cats head or neck regions (usually hard to reach ones for the cat) as a sign of comfort, companionship, trust, and love.
If your cat starts to groom you, understand that they’re demonstrating trust and affection.
The other form of grooming is known as Displacement Grooming. Cats usually groom themselves as a soothing mechanism to help themselves feel better emotionally. However, when they groom in odd situations, this is known as displacement grooming. For example, when your cat is stressed or scared, to relieve the anxiety and tension they may start grooming themselves in such a situation.
In some ways, the grooming is a way to deal with conflict or anxiety, with the act of grooming helping release chemicals in cats that calm them down.
If you see your cat doing this, generally it’s fine and a normal part of a cats life but there may be cases where your cat overgrooms and starts to exhibit hair loss/bald spots as a result. In such cases, it's good to seek a vets advice as your cat may need some medication to relieve this displacement behavior.
With grooming, there’s also the chance your cat may not be grooming enough. This could be a sign of issues such as arthritis, pain, or dental problems. Kittens who are taken away from their mothers too early may also not learn how to groom themselves properly as well.
A good way to know if your cat isn’t cleaning themselves as much as they should be, look for these signs such as a very greasy coat or small pats of fur on your cats body or tail. Similarly, if your cat has a foul smell and food on its face or body that can also be a sign your cats stopped grooming itself.
Helping groom your cat
In such a scenario as the above, a good way to help is to brush your cat more often to stimulate grooming, and when your cat is grooming never interrupt it.
Now if your cat hasn’t groomed in a while, you may need to do more than just brushing. You may need to give your cat a bath.
First brush your cat to remove any mat or dead hair.
Place your cat in a tub and provide some secure footing for it with a rubber bath mat.
Fill the tub to about 3 or 4 inches of lukewarm water
Use a hose to gently wet your pet, making sure you’re not spraying into your cats ears, eyes or nose.
Use some mild shampoo and gently massage your cat from head to tail
Rinse off using the hose and then pet your cat with a large towel
Ultimately, the takeaway to this is that grooming is a necessary and natural part of cats life but always be on the lookout for signs where your cat may be over-grooming or under-grooming. In either case, if you’re worried consult a vet, and once in a while give your cat a nice bath to help keep him/her clean and beautiful!