Cats: Cat Habits
Why does Kitty spend so much time cleaning? What’s up with all this licking? As is well known, cats are fastidious little creatures and like to stay sparkling clean. Maintaining fur in top condition is essential for a cat’s well-being. They lick their fur to get rid of dirt, to strengthen their own scent, and to keep their coats waterproof. Repeated licking with their tongues smoothes the fur allowing better protection against the cold.
Cleaning is also a “displacement activity.” You may have noticed that a cat will suddenly stop and lick its paws when faced with an unsettling situation. This avoids having to react immediately to a situation, allowing Kitty time to consider her next move (kind of like a human stopping to scratch his head before making a decision).
Why does kitty wash so thoroughly after being stroked? Most cats love a cuddle and some stroking; but this does fill their fur with human scent, covering their own. Also, after rubbing from a human, the fur is usually ruffed, and cats like to restore their own scent, smoothing out fur in the process.
Why does kitty lick herself when the weather is hot? Since cats do not have pores or sweat glands, they need another way to keep cool. So they lick themselves repeatedly, leaving a layer of saliva on their fur. This acts like human sweat; as the saliva dries and evaporates, it lifts heat from the cat’s skin.
Why does kitty tug at her fur when cleaning herself? This is an important part of the grooming process. Tugging stimulates glands in the skin to release secretions that keep the cat’s coat waterproof.
Can you ever say to your cat, “You missed a spot!”? All the same, have you noticed that when Kitty is having a good licking she really does have a choreography of sorts? She doesn’t make those twists and contortions without a plan. She follows a strict pattern of cleaning—no part is left untouched. She starts from the head, works along the front legs and shoulders, then down the flanks to the genitals, and ending up with her tail, from base to tip.
Cats can contort themselves to reach nearly every part of their body for cleaning. The only areas they can’t reach either with their tongues or paws is between the shoulder blades. (This is where a companion cat is helpful!)
When cats lick each other—apart from mother and kitten—it’s not just to clean the place they can’t reach. Mutual cleaning actually creates a bond between cats and establishes a pecking order. It’s interesting to note that a cat that licks another on the top of the head is actually saying, “I’m the boss!”