If cats have surrounded you at some point in your life, you may have noticed that they lick themselves a lot. This behavior is what actually makes them the epitome of cleanness in the animal reign.
When cats lick their bodies, it is called grooming. Cats licking themselves comes naturally to them. They do it to reduce anxiety, stress, frustration, or conflict temporarily. In short, we should not be concerned about this intriguing cat behavior.
Is It Normal For Cats To Lick Themselves?
Grooming is a normal and natural behavior. It starts when cats are just newborns; right after birth, the mother will lick the kittens to clean them. Licking also helps stimulate the digestive system to release urine and feces easily and provides comfort.
When kittens are around four weeks old, they start to groom themselves, and by week 5, they start grooming their mates and mom.
When cats groom each other, it is called allogrooming. This continues even into adulthood to show affection and make the bond between them and their mates stronger.
Reasons Why Cats Lick Themselves
Cats can spend up to 50% of their waking time licking and grooming, so they might have a few reasons to groom themselves naturally. Here we tell you the most common ones:
- Cats clean themselves as a way to protect themselves from predators. For example, they will clean food or any odor that might be attractive to threatening animals.
- Cats lick themselves to cool down. By licking, cats spread saliva, which helps to release heat through evaporation. Thus, grooming controls one-third of the cooling process of a cat.
- To warm up and fur maintenance. With their tongues, cats spread the oils segregated by glands located throughout their body. This action helps maintain the cat’s fur and also helps to create a barrier that isolates the body temperature to keep their body warm during wintertime.
- Keeping wounds clean. When a cat licks a wound, it’s to prevent infections. It is believed that cat saliva contains enzymes that turn into a natural antibiotic.
- Pest control. Licking can help cats to remove parasites from their skin and fur coats.
- Reduce conflict and stress. Grooming helps cats to reduce frustration, anxiety, or conflict temporarily. This behavior is called “displacement grooming,” it arises when the cat is facing two or more conflicting situations. For example, during a social conflict that might be threatening, your cat might be conflicted between running or fighting. Additionally, they may end up with a third unexpected behavior, grooming, which helps calm the cat down.
- Relaxing. Grooming is a routine, a complete grooming session is a soothing process to our fur friends, so they slow down and feel calmer and relaxed.
- Socializing. Grooming other cats to strengthen bonds with them. By licking their mates, cats let them know they care about them.
- Something might be wrong if your cat is obsessively licking itself until leaving bald spots. In that case, it might be a sign that something is wrong, like a pain in the area, skin allergies, or even stress.
Do Cats Really Get Clean When They Lick Themselves?
A cat’s grooming is more than reducing anxiety. Grooming is the way your cat stays clean and maintains its fur shiny and fresh. But how does this work?
Let’s talk about the tongue first. The tongue has tiny spines; they’re called papillae that allow the tongue to act like a comb, brushing dirt and loose hair away from their fur coat. It also stimulates the glands in each hair follicle to release oils which are then spread across the fur and skin.
The oil released by these glands acts as an insulator to keep your cat warm during winter times. And during hot days, spreading saliva across their fur coats helps them release heat and cool down.
Grooming also helps to remove parasites and prevents matting.
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Every cat has its own way of grooming as well as a unique pattern. But most of the time, it is similar.
Cats will start by cleaning their lips, chin, cheeks, and whiskers. Then they will move to the eyes and ears, cleaning these parts by licking their paws that will act as a cleaning cloth.
Then cats will move to the neck and go back to the ears, this time scratching. After that, they will move to shoulders and legs, then the rest of the torso. Finally, cats will finish with their genitals and then the tail from the base to its tip.
Then they will clean the paws and bite the nails to keep them polished.
Cats will bite here and there across their bodies; this is to remove persistent dirt.
Why Do Cats Lick Themselves After You Touch Them?
There might be two reasons a cat will lick itself after you touch them:
- The cat is trying to remove your scent and get their scent even out.
- Cats will lick themselves as a way of displacement. If the cat feels stressed after you touch them, they will likely start grooming to feel comfort.
Why Does Your Cat Lick You?
Your cat might lick you from time to time to groom you, as they would to another cat. Cats do it as a way of taking care of you or strengthening the bond they have with you.
Cats usually will lick your hands, fingers, and maybe your hair. Some cats lick the nose, brows, foreheads, arms, and even feet.
Licking you also can mark you with your cat’s scent, another way of establishing that you are its property or safe place, besides headbutts and urine.
Why Do Cats Lick Plastic?
There are numerous factors why cats lick plastic; the most common causes include:
- Food tastes and smells. If it is a plastic food wrapper, it might have residual food and aroma that will attract cats. Also, plastic bags from grocery stores are made of high-density polyethylene, HDPE. This type of plastic bag is very absorbent; they keep odors from the things they hold. Cats will feel attracted to this due to their excellent sense of smell; they will be especially attracted to bags that had fish, chicken, or meat.
- Sound. The crackling sounds of plastic bags may mimic the sound of some prey, and cats love those noises.
- Chemicals. Some bags are treated with stearates; this component is derived from fatty acids found in oils, vegetables, and animals. The taste of stearates can be appealing for some cats.
- Corn starch. Most eco-friendly bags are made to be biodegradable; sometimes, in their components, they include corn starch which is something that cats have a natural attraction to.
- Animal fat. Some bags might contain a “slip agent” to reduce friction. These agents are mostly made from beef fat, attracting cats to this subtle flavor on the bag.
The most significant risk of your cat licking plastic is the possibility of potential ingestion. This material is not digestible and can get caught in the stomach and intestine, which might cause life-threatening issues.
Some tips to keep plastic out of your fur friend’s paws and mouth are:
- Once unpacking items, safely store the plastic bag away from your cat.
- Place products made out of plastic in a secure and sealed trash can.
- Request paper bags if you have this option available at your local store.
- Buy reusable bags made from a different type of plastic or made out of fabric.
- Communicate the concern and measures to everybody in your household.
Why Do Cats Chew On Plastic?
Cats might feel the urge to eat plastic or even metal; the medical term for this is “pica.” Some scientists say this behavior comes from a nutritional deficiency. Others believe it is due to cats being weaned too early. It does not matter the cause. This behavior is dangerous if the plastic is ingested.
Another factor might be stress and anxiety, which causes cats to do irrational things. Cats might also bite and chew plastic because they like the flavor or love to play with it.
If your cat ingests plastic, inducing vomiting on your cat will be no help. Instead, the vet will recommend an endoscopy or surgery to remove the item from the inside of their body. An endoscopy or surgery are procedures that require general anesthesia and have some risks, so it is better to prevent your cat from playing, chewing, or licking plastic.
There are other plastic items that are not harmful to your cat. Try toys made for cats. But it is preferable to look for harmless toys for cats that are vets approved.
Should I Help My Cat To Groom?
Grooming is a task that is a natural behavior for your cat. Most of the time, they do not need any help. But if you want, you could help by getting a brush and combing your cat’s fur coat. The only time your cat might need a bath is when got a lot of dirt from going outside, like dog mess, car oils, or any persistent dirt.
Licking is a natural behavior in cats. However, it is good to keep an eye on your cat’s licking patterns and preferences to avoid excessive grooming, licking dangerous items, and potential ingestion of harmful materials.
If your cat starts grooming you, let it be, as this is a way of telling you they love you. A form of reciprocating this is by combing its fur coat with a brush.