As far as cats are concerned, cleanliness is next to godliness. And most cat owners agree. It's a pleasant side of your cat – grooming and licking himself until his fur is soft and shiny. We all love a clean pet. A recent study of farm cats found that they spend about 15 percent of their time grooming. This figure could be higher or lower for companion cats, depending on their activity level, the type of food they eat, and their general health.
Regular maintenance grooming is the form of grooming we see most often. Cats lick their coat to rid it of dirt and debris. This is usually done before or after sleep or rest, much like our relaxing morning bath or wake-up shower, or after a meal. This type of grooming takes the form of self-licking in a routine pattern.
But here's yet another amazing fact about the feline world: Your cat licks his coat for several other reasons besides cleanliness:
During hot or cold weather, licking the coat acts as a built-in thermostat. Your cat licks his fur to keep warm or to keep cool. During cold weather, licking the fur smoothes the fur down and traps the air to keep your kitty warm. And during the warm summer months, because cats have a very limited ability to sweat, their licking serves a function similar to our sweating. Saliva evaporates off the wet fur and helps keep it cool.
When your cat licks and tugs at his coat, he stimulates glands at the base of the hairs to release a secretion that helps keep his coat waterproof.
Although your cat enjoys being petted, you may notice that he grooms himself immediately afterward. This is to rid himself of your scent and even out his own scent. It also smoothes his coat back to the way he likes it.
Grooming is the most common form of displacement behavior in cats. It seems to help cats cope with stress by lowering their arousal level. For example, if your cat is intimidated by another household animal, you may notice that during an encounter, he may nonchalantly groom himself for several minutes.
Cats have a reputation of being meticulous self-groomers, and an unkempt coat is often the sign of illness. Excessive self-grooming can also indicate a problem (either medical or behavioral). Excessive self-licking can lead to baldness, or areas that are stubbly or inflamed. In these cases it is important that you visit your veterinarian.
Your cat will take care of grooming himself. However, you can give him some help, especially if he is a longhaired breed. Brush him daily to avoid painful mats, and you may even consider bathing him occasionally. This will not only provide an extra boost of cleanliness; it will provide good quality time with your pet and will also help reduce annoying hairballs.