Why Cats Groom Themselves So Often

Reviewed By Kyoko •  Updated: 11/16/20 •  8 min read
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Does your cat seem like she’s constantly licking herself? Or does she seem to lick excessively? If so, you’ve come to the right spot to learn what could be your kitty to lick too much.

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Most cats are finicky about keeping themselves clean. According to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, cats generally spend between 30 and 50 percent of their day grooming or licking themselves. That’s a large part of the day and it’s quite normal for most cats. However, excessive grooming can be signs of a health problem.

Why Do Cats Lick Themselves?

Cats groom, or lick themselves, to keep their skin and fur clean. In fact, this is one of the first behaviors a kitten learns from her mother. Mother cats lick newborn kittens to help get their breathing started, to clean off the after birth, etc. A mother cat also cleans herself and her kittens after feeding, to remove any scents that could draw predators to her kitty nest. The mother kitty also uses her tongue to clean the kitten’s bottom and stimulate bowel movements. Kittens start mirroring their mother’s self-grooming when they’re a few weeks old. And they’ll start grooming their litter mates, too.

Self-grooming is important over a cat’s life. Let’s take a look at why cats lick themselves.

1). Cleaning: a cat’s tongue is rough; in fact, if you take close look at her tongue, it looks like her tongue’s covered in tiny, sharp bristles. This “bristles” are used to comb through your kitty’s hair to remove dirt, debris and hair mats. This is how she keeps herself so clean.

2). Licking stimulates sebaceous glands: your cat also licks her skin to stimulate the sebaceous glands in her skin, which secrete an oil that’s spread over her skin and fur during grooming. The oil protects her skin, keeps her coat shiny and even protects her from damp air and cold weather.

3). Remove odors and scents: a kitty may also be grooming to remove odors and scents from her skin and coat. Cats in the wild always clean themselves after eating, to remove smells that could draw predators to them. And if a cat gets into something with a smell she doesn’t like, she’ll clean herself to get rid of that smell.

4). Self-soothing: licking and grooming are also methods some cats use to self-sooth themselves if they’re unable to relax. They relieve stress by grooming—you might think of this as a kitty self-massage.

5). Cooling off: cats do have sweat glands, but not as many as their humans. For this reason, cats often groom themselves in an attempt to cool themselves off when it’s hot. Their saliva works to dampen the fur, which has a cooler effect as the saliva evaporates. Pretty smart!

These are some of the most common reasons cats lick themselves. Let’s take a look at excessive grooming issues

Psychogenic Alopecia

There’s a medical term for kitties who obsessively lick themselves—it’s called psychogenic alopecia. Now, before we move on, don’t be alarmed by the name! It doesn’t mean your cat’s going bananas! The term psychogenic alopecia literally means psychological baldness. This is a common problem in domestic cats, which generally doesn’t lead to major health issues. However, cats that obsessively lick themselves may be suffering from stress and/or a medical issue.

What makes cats groom excessively? Let’s take a look:

Parasites: fleas and ticks can cause cats to lick themselves incessantly. With fleas, you may notice scabs on your kitty’s neck, stomach or other areas. If she has an infestation of fleas, you’ll probably see them moving on her skin. Doesn’t the thought make you itch? Ticks, mites and ringworm are also common in cats, and can make your kitty lick herself too much. She’s trying to rid herself of these parasites.

Allergies: cats can suffer from allergies, just like their pet parents. Common allergies in cats include food allergies, pollen, dust, etc. These types of allergies can cause irritating, itchy skin, which your cat then tries to soothe by licking herself. She’ll usually lick at the areas that are most itchy.

Stress & anxiety: these can also cause a cat to over groom. Cats love to have the same schedule every day. Predictably and routine in their environment keeps a cat happy and stress-free. However, changes in their routine and/or environment can cause a cat to self-soothe by excessive licking. The most common stressors are changes in furniture arrangement, the death of a loved one (human or another pet), moving to a new home or even moving their litter box to a new area. Licking releases endorphins that work to calm your kitty and make her feel better. So, of course she’ll lick herself in an attempt to feel better.

Medical problems: itchy skin and/or painful areas can cause a cat to obsessively lick themselves. Cats clean their wounds by licking to rid the sores of infection and remove dead skin. Dry skin can be another cause of psychogenic alopecia. Medical issues such as back pain, hyperthyroidism, urinary tract problems, skin cancer, anal sac impaction, etc. can cause excessive licking.

Kitty will usually lick the same area over and over, which may lead to baldness and sore skin

The signs and symptoms to watch out for include:

If you notice these symptoms in your cat, it’s time to take her to the vet for an exam. You’ll want to get to the bottom of the problem. With your help, the vet will be able to determine if the problem is psychological or medical, and then they will determine the best course of action to help your precious fur baby feel better.

Common Questions About Cat Grooming

Why do cats clean themselves in front of you: that’s very common question. The best answer we could find is that this is a sign your kitty is comfortable in the environment and trusts you. She wouldn’t be so relaxed as to bathe in the open if she wasn’t comfortable and relaxed. She certainly wouldn’t bathe herself in front of you if she didn’t trust or love you. So, take this as a sign your kitty is at ease and loves you!

Why does my cat lick everyone: there are cats who love licking their pet parents and everyone around them. One reason could be showing affection—this is how cats socialize with one another and is a way cats express their love to people they love and are comfortable around. Another reason could be if your kitty was taken away from her mother too soon and she’s licking you and everyone as a way to self-soothe. One more reason—if people smell bad to a cat, the cat might try to “clean” her humans to remove the malodorous scent. It could be food people have been around, perfumes and other scents they wear on themselves and their clothes. These are some of the reasons a cat might lick everyone.

Why is cat licking everything: cats that lick everything may have a form of pica. Pica is a disorder where a person or a cat can develop a taste for nonfood substances. This disorder may indicate your kitty lacks certain nutrients in her diet. If your kitty is obsessively licking everything, then it’s probably good to take her to the vet for an exam. Pica may also be a sign of a medical problem such as feline leukemia, diabetes and feline immunodeficiency virus. The vet can run tests and do a physical exam, while checking for other symptoms.

Why does my cat lick himself when i scratch his back: this could be a sign your cat is just very happy and it feels good when you scratch his back!

Why does my cat clean himself after i kiss him: your cat may just be rearranging his fur if it became ruffled when you kissed him. Also, he may be trying to remove any scents you had on. Did you have garlic before kissing him? Perhaps he doesn’t want to keep the vampires away, so he’s cleaning off the garlic scent! Truly, if you are wearing perfume, smell like food, maybe just brushed your teeth, were chewing gum, etc., then your kitty is probably grooming himself to get rid of the scent. It’s not that he doesn’t appreciate your kisses, he just doesn’t like the smells you had on at the time!

We hope this guide has helped you learn about the possible causes of kitty excessively grooming herself. Remember to get an appointment with the vet if you can’t seem to find the cause. Your vet can determine if it may be caused by stress, parasites or another health problem. And if your kitty’s regularly licking you, then enjoy these lovely kitty kisses from your fur baby!

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Kyoko is from a family of 3 and moved to New York with her parents and siblings when she was 13. Kyoko is fond of spending a great amount of time with pets, specifically her beagle Luna and cat Missy. Her boyfriend often complains that she spends too much time giving attention to their animals. Kyoko has written dozens of articles concerning pets and is aiming at owning a pet shop one day!

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