Cats are known to be fastidious groomers, seemingly only having time to groom, eat or sleep. They don’t often have a hair out of place, so it’s interesting to think about how much time they spend making themselves look their best.
Cats spend around 16–20 hours of their day asleep, so there’s only a small window of time for them to get anything else done. So how much of their time awake do they spend grooming? Cats spend, on average, around 30–50% of their time awake grooming, so as much as 2-5 hours a day!
What Makes Cats Take Longer To Groom?
Several factors can determine how long a cat spends grooming, such as fur length, weight, and age, but it’s clear that all cats spend a decent chunk of their time grooming. Longhaired breeds such as Persians and Ragdolls might spend more time grooming because of the length of their hair. Long hair tends to be thicker, so it can take more time to comb it out and ensure it’s clean and tangle free.
Cats with health problems such as arthritis or oral issues that cause pain will take longer to groom themselves. Arthritis is an inflammatory condition often seen in older cats, making it hard for them to bend and lick due to pain. Oral or dental conditions like stomatitis or tumors will also take longer grooming, and they might not be able to groom themselves at all.
If you notice your cat having trouble grooming and don’t know why, a vet visit is needed as soon as possible. Your cat can get matted and dirty easily if they cannot self-groom, and they’ll feel uncomfortable not being able to express this natural behavior.
Why Do Cats Groom Themselves So Much?
Cats groom themselves for various reasons besides staying clean. Cats groom to remove debris or parasites living on their skin and in their fur, such as fleas or mites. Cats also groom to regulate their body temperatures since they can’t sweat as humans can. They must use saliva to help cool them down. A cat will lick its entire body and use its paws to spread saliva onto its face, behind its head, and ears (which radiate a lot of heat). The saliva acts as our sweat does, cooling the body as it evaporates.
Grooming is also used to bond with other cats. While it’s not strictly self-grooming, cats will often groom others to build bonds in social groups. This is known as allogrooming, and it helps form close bonds with cats in groups such as those in feral colonies.
The most obvious reason cats groom is to keep themselves clean. However, their rough tongues can do more than remove dirt: they can brush out tangles and condition the coat by pulling natural oils down from the skin to the ends of the hair shafts.
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How Do Cats Groom Themselves?
So now we know why cats groom themselves, but how do they do it so meticulously? Cats have a few tools in their grooming arsenal! First, they have their tongues, which, if you’ve ever been lucky enough to be groomed by a cat, you know that it feels like sandpaper.
That is because a cat’s tongue is covered in barbs that face the back of their mouths, called “papillae,” which act like tiny combs. These papillae can rake through the hair shaft, removing tangles and dirt. Grooming isn’t their primary focus, however. They were designed to rake the meat from bones; it just happens that they can be used as fabulous portable brushes at the same time.
Cats also use their paws during grooming. They lick their paws and use them to spread saliva to hard-to-reach areas such as their ears, face, and back of their head. The last, more surprising grooming tool cats have is their teeth. If you’ve ever looked at your cat’s smile or looked into their mouth when they’re sleeping, you’d have noticed the tiny teeth that sit between their canines at the front. These cute little teeth are called incisors, and they’re excellent tools for use in grooming. Cats don’t use them for eating much, but they’re effective at scratching and nibbling at itches.
Can Cats Groom Too Much?
Unfortunately, even though cats spend hours grooming daily, they can groom too much. Overgrooming occurs when regular grooming becomes obsessive and leads to harm, whether to the skin, coat, or psychologically.
There are a few reasons for overgrooming in cats, and there are some obvious (and some more subtle) signs of it occurring. Reasons for overgrooming in cats include:
Signs of Overgrooming in Cats
Cats that overgroom can often hide the condition until the damage it causes to the skin and coat becomes extreme. Signs that a cat is overgrooming include:
You might also physically see your cat turning to groom almost urgently after a stressful event or situation. Keeping an eye on your cat’s normal behavior will help, as it can be tricky to distinguish between normal grooming behavior and overgrooming.
How Can I Stop My Cat Overgrooming?
If you suspect your cat is overgrooming, the first step is to take it to the vet. Make sure to let them know when you see your cat overgrooming since it will help pinpoint what might be causing it. The vet will examine your cat and look for physical signs of overgrooming, such as broken hair shafts, thinning fur, or bald spots. They’ll identify sores on the skin and offer treatment if needed.
Your vet might prescribe several treatment options, depending on the cause of your cat’s overgrooming. If it’s a flea allergy, for example, the vet might prescribe steroids to manage the itching and recommend regular flea treatment. If the problem is psychological, they may recommend behavioral modification and stress management, including giving you advice on how to de-stress your home.
Cats are known for their meticulous grooming habits and spend a significant portion of their day cleaning themselves. The grooming needs of a cats are different depending on the individual; factors such as age, health, and coat type can all affect how long they’ll spend grooming each day. Most cats will groom for almost half of their waking hours, so next time you pet your feline friend, make sure to comment on the beauty of their coat!
Featured Image Credit: Elya Vatel, Shutterstock