By Kathy Blumenstock, Animal Planet
Cats seem to spend half their lives grooming (and the other half napping). In truth, experts estimate they spend about 15 percent of their time grooming but since they’re asleep 15 hours a day, it seems like a nonstop activity. Feline fastidiousness in maintaining a shiny coat isn’t just pride; it’s a healthy habit with built-in benefits. Watch a cat in the act of grooming, and you’ll see how he’s treating himself to a bath and massage, as well as gauging his body’s comfort level. He may chew at an old claw, removing it to reveal a new nail underneath. Then he may lick his paws. What are the secrets to a cat’s grooming success?
Why Cats Groom Themselves
When cats wash down their coats, they’re not only cleaning their fur, they’re regulating their body temperatures. Feline sweat glands, in their faces, anal areas and paw pads, do not cool off cats much. But when they deposit saliva on their coats, the evaporation keeps them cool in hot weather. Well-maintained coats also insulate them against winter’s cold. Plus, when a cat licks a wound, the antibacterial properties in his saliva can reduce the risk of infection. Grooming helps cats cope with stress, and stimulates their circulation and muscle tone. And cats seem to enjoy grooming, just as humans enjoy a spa visit.
A Typical Cat Self-Grooming Session
Every cat has a favorite pattern, whether he begins with his nose or ears, then moves toward his tail, or licks his paws first, than begins polishing his chest or sides. He covers every area he can reach with that sandpapery tongue. A cat’s tongue is more loofah than washcloth. It’s covered with tiny barbs or hooks (called rasps) that enable his tongue to function like a comb, catching and lifting dirt, parasites, loose fur and dead skin. The cat swallows this mess, which should be dissolved by the acid in his stomach. If he ingests too much hair to digest, rub a dab of hairball ointment on his paws for him to lick off.
Why Cats Groom Each Other
Mother cats instinctively groom their newborn kittens to ensure that the babies are breathing, and to remove the afterbirth fluids from their fur. They will continue to wash them during their early weeks. The mother cat’s cleaning of the abdominal and anal areas after feeding encourages the kittens to eliminate waste. It also teaches them how to groom themselves.
Cats will groom each other in a gesture of affection or protection. Some areas, such as their own faces, ears and the tops of their heads, are difficult for cats to clean, and they will rely on a buddy or sibling to lend a tongue.
What You Can Do To Help
Even though he grooms himself, a cat that sheds a great deal or has long hair needs a daily brushing to keep his fur free of mats or knots. A cat with a shorter coat should be combed or brushed a few times a week, eliminating some of the fur he would otherwise swallow. You should daily groom an older or ill cat that has little interest in cleaning himself, or an overweight cat that cannot reach where he wants to wash. If your cat is very dirty, or has gotten himself into something messy, bathe him with lukewarm water and cat shampoo (human shampoo dries out feline skin), then rinse and dry him thoroughly.
The Right Tools
Essential to grooming your cat is a stainless-steel comb with rounded teeth set far enough apart to allow removal of dirt and feces and to untangle the cat’s fur. Also needed are a flea comb, with teeth close together to grab fleas from the cat’s coat and a brush to remove dirt and distribute essential oils in the cat’s hair and skin. Groom your cat every few days if he’s short-haired, and every day if he’s longhaired or unable to take care of himself. His claws should be trimmed every two weeks with the proper nail clipper. If your cat won’t cooperate, your vet or a groomer can handle this chore. Having your cat groomed professionally is an option, but this can be costly, and your cat will need time to adapt to a stranger’s touch.