How Do Cats Choose Which Body Parts To Groom?

By Allegra Ringo

Sometimes it may seem like your cat is always grooming herself. But is there a method to her grooming madness?

Why do cats groom?

Like almost everything cat-related, grooming is a behavior kittens learn from their mother. Kittens begin grooming themselves at about four weeks old. Mothers lick kittens to clean them, stimulate them to release waste, urge them to suckle, and simply to comfort them. Most people know that adult cats groom themselves to stay clean, but it goes way beyond that.

Grooming stimulates the production of sebum, an oily secretion produced by the sebaceous glands. (Humans have sebum, too!) When cats lick themselves, they spread sebum all over their coat, which lubricates it and makes it shine. Grooming also prevents matting, removes loose hair, and removes parasites. According to Dr. Cynthia McManis, veterinarian and owner of Just Cats Veterinary Services, adult cats spend up to 50 percent of their day grooming.

How cats decide what to groom.

According to Amy Shojai at The Spruce, every cat has their own grooming ritual. However, most cats begin with their own face, licking their own mouth, chin, and whiskers. They then move on to their shoulders, legs, genitals, and finally, their tail. In general, cats start with their face and work their way down when grooming.

Kitten licking her paw
credit: Valkyan/iStock/GettyImages

Barbara Pezzanite, Ph.D, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB). She notes the same general grooming pattern as Shojai does. However, she points out that not all cats adhere to this pattern, and that not all body parts are groomed in one sitting — your cat may choose to spread out the work over the course of the day.

Next time you see your cat grooming herself, watch her for a while and see if she follows the pattern mentioned above. If she doesn't, don't worry too much: She's just a nonconformist.

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