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June 10th, 2021 | 0 min read

Why Do Cats Lick Themselves?

Written by
Sharilyn Vera

Did you know that cats can spend up to 50% of their waking hours grooming themselves? But is all this time spent licking themselves all to be squeaky clean?

If you’ve ever wondered, “why do cats lick themselves?”, you’re not alone! Here, we will share some common reasons why cats lick themselves and when to keep your eyes out if you think your cat’s grooming behavior is becoming excessive. 

5 Reasons Why Cats Lick Themselves

Cats are curious creatures, and we may never understand 100% of what they do. But we do understand why cats lick themselves (at least, we think we do!). Here are five reasons why your kitty may spend so much time grooming:

To Clean Themselves

Of course, the most obvious reason why cats lick themselves is to clean up. Cats are naturally clean pets and enjoy keeping it that way. When cats lick themselves, they remove all the dead skin, hair, and debris and make sure their coats are nice and clean. Licking themselves regularly can also prevent hairballs in cats because they can digest smaller amounts of fur at a time. 

To Protect Themselves Against Predators

It’s not all about looks, though! Cats also lick themselves to protect against predators. Even indoor kitties with no predators tap into these instincts and groom themselves to rid their coats of any food smell or particles. Also, grooming can help reduce their scent, therefore helping them blend in with their surroundings. 

To Treat Themselves

A straightforward explanation of why cats lick themselves: it feels good! It’s almost like giving themselves a full body massage throughout the day. Also, grooming can help a cat calm down if they are in a stressful situation because the act of licking themselves is soothing to them. 

This calming practice is also one of the reasons why cats might lick other cats and even humans. Social grooming is their way of showing a little love!

To Spread Natural Oils

While some cats need to get bathed more frequently than others, most cats are pretty good about keeping themselves clean. Licking their fur regularly is a great way to spread natural oils throughout the coat. In addition, regular grooming also helps lubricate their skin, too. A cat’s tongue has a rough texture, which acts as a sort of skin exfoliant. This spreads natural oils throughout the cat’s skin and also rids their coat of dirt and even parasites (like fleas). 

To Control Their Body Temperature

Did you know that cats don’t sweat through their skin like we do? While they can sweat through the pads of their feet, licking themselves is the main way that they can cool themselves down and maintain a normal body temperature. This works because the saliva on their skin from grooming then evaporates, which cools them off. Also, grooming helps get rid of any dead hair that might be keeping the cat too warm. 

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Is it Normal for a Cat to Lick Themselves?

With all these reasons, you can probably guess that yes, it’s normal for cats to lick themselves! Mother cats start licking their kittens right after they are born and this grooming behavior never goes away. It’s a great cleaning method, is relaxing to the animal, and can help them stay cool. If you’ve ever asked, “why is my cat licking me?”, it is most likely a sign of affection. Just as a mother cat licks her kittens, your cat may demonstrate similar behavior towards you. 

But, there is such a thing as too much licking. Let’s look at the signs of when a cat is overgrooming, or licking themselves too much. 

Is Your Cat Showing Signs of Excessive Grooming?

As you can see, the process of regularly licking is great for cats in many ways. But, there is such a thing as too much licking. Overgrooming is when a cat grooms too much and can eventually cause themselves injury. This obsessive grooming behavior can be caused by stress, anxiety, or a physical condition like an irritant on the cat’s skin. 

There’s a difference between regular licking and over-licking. If you notice that your cat is just licking in one spot non-stop, rather than over their whole body, this may be a sign of overgrooming. To tell, you can carefully examine where your feline is grooming to see if you spot a rash or other irritation. 

Another sign that your feline friend is licking too much is that it is interfering with their everyday activities. While cats do spend a lot of time grooming themselves, they should also spend time sleeping, playing, eating, and going to the bathroom. If you notice that your cat isn’t doing these things in favor of licking themselves, you may want to talk to your veterinarian. 

One of the reasons why we love having cats as pets so much is that they are super clean and can mostly groom themselves. Cats lick themselves for a number of reasons, including to clean themselves, keep their coat and skin healthy, cool themselves down, and show care to themselves, other cats, and even humans. 

Sources:

1. https://www.readersdigest.ca/home-garden/pets/7-reasons-why-cats-love-clean-themselves/#:~:text=Adult%20cats%20spend%20up%20to,of%20Just%20Cats%20Veterinary%20Services.

2. https://www.thesprucepets.com/why-cats-groom-themselves-so-often-4126526

Written by
Sharilyn Vera

Sharilyn is a proud cat owner, long time storyteller and researcher. Her work spans beloved podcasts, television shows, media outlets, and independent documentaries. She likes to strike a balance between education and comedy, which you can hopefully tell when you read her articles!