11 Things to Know about Cat Grooming

Caitlin Dempsey


A black and white cat lying on the floor holding his back leg while grooming. He is licking his lips and the rug is a light blue color.

The typical cat spends a lot of time grooming. Cats are known to be particularly clean animals.

1. Cats Spend a lot of Time Grooming

Most cats spend about 30% to 50% of their lives fastidiously grooming themselves.

2. Why Do Cats Groom?

The act of grooming serves to remove dirt, loose hair, and insects such as fleas from the cat’s coat. Grooming helps to keep your cat’s coat free of painful tangles and matting. All of that fur gets swallowed and while most of it is pooped out, some hairballs get coughed back up.

3. Cats Have Spiny Tongues that Help Them Groom

If you’ve ever been licked by a cat, you will know just how rough the sensation of a cat’s tongue scraping across your skin feels. The reason for this sensation is that cat’s have hallow spines, known as cavo papillae, embedded into their tongues.

A closeup of a cat's tongue.
A closeup of a cat’s tongue. Photo: © Todorean Gabriel/stock.adobe.com.

These spines, along with an enzyme that the cat produces in their saliva, help to dissolve and whisk away debris and blood in the cat’s fur. The papillae act like a comb to detangle fur and pull out any debris.

4. Grooming Helps a Cat to Cool Down

The only place cats have sweat glands is on the bottom of their paws. So unlike humans which can sweat over their entire body, cat’s can’t cool much down by sweating.

When a cat grooms, the papillae deposit saliva deep in to the cat’s fur, which helps them to thermoregulate. Up to a third of a cat’s water loss during the day is due to evapotranspiration of saliva from the cat’s fur.

A black and white cat lying on the floor holding his back leg while grooming. He is licking his lips and the rug is a light blue color.
Many cats like to settle in for a grooming session after eating to make sure they are clean. Photo: Caitlin Dempsey.

5. Grooming is Good for Your Cat’s Skin

Grooming promotes healthy skin by increasing the production of sebum, an oily secretion produced by sebaceous glands located at the base of each hair.

6. Cats are Pretty Flexible Which Helps Them to Reach Almost Everywhere on Their Bodies

Cats start out grooming the easiest to reach spots. You may notice your cat first start to lick their paws. Then they will move on to rubbing those damp paws over their ears, along their cheeks and the top of their head.

A gray tabby cat grooming.
Healthy cats will groom every day.

Next starts the incredible twisting as the cat bends and maneuvers to reach almost all parts of their bodies.

Cats can reach most parts of their body to groom. Cats can’t reach the area around their shoulder blades and can struggle to reach the base of their tail.

Obesity in cats can greatly reduce the areas a cat can reach so make sure you help your cat with daily brushings if they are overweight. Older cats will also need more help as they age with grooming.

7. Cats will Bond Over Grooming

Cats will show affection towards each other by grooming. You might even experience your cat’s show of affection towards you by licking your face, hair, or hands.

This type of social grooming between cats is known as allogrooming.

8. Long-haired Cats Need Help Grooming

Cats that have been bred to produce very long hairs can’t properly groom. Persian cats need to be brushed daily to prevent matting and to help distribute oils the cat’s natural oils.

A longhaired colorpoint cat laying on a white tiled floor.
Longhaired cats needed to be groomed frequently to prevent matting. Photo: Caitlin Dempsey.

9. When Grooming is a Sign of an Unhappy Cat

Cats use grooming to distract themselves from a negative experience. This is called displacement behavior. A tense meeting with another cat, an embarrassing fall, and anything that causes your cat to feel anxious can lead to your cat grooming themselves to feel calmer.

10. The Lack of Grooming Can be a Sign of Health Issues

If your cat stops grooming and starts to look dirty or matted, that can be a sign that your cat isn’t feeling well. If your cat’s grooming behavior changes dramatically, make sure you have your vet check them out for any potential health problems.

11. Cats can Groom Too Much

While the typical house cat grooms a lot, too much grooming can be a bad thing. Cats that obsessively groom may have an infection or be exhibiting signs of distress. Fleas, parasites, and even stress can cause a cat to overgroom.

An orange tabby grooming in a window while sitting on a wooden ledge.
Make sure your cat isn’t excessively grooming which can be a sign of fleas or a health issue. Photo: Caitlin Dempsey.

Known as  “fur mowing”, a cat’s obsessively licking in one spot can result in bald patches and even break the skin. Broken skin on a cat can potentially lead to infection.

If you notice your cat overgrooming, make sure to have a vet examine your cat to uncover the underlying issue.


Hazel, S. (2018, November 18). Cool for cats: That spiny tongue does more than keep a cat well groomed. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/cool-for-cats-that-spiny-tongue-does-more-than-keep-a-cat-well-groomed-107007

Noel, A. C., & Hu, D. L. (2018). Cats use hollow papillae to wick saliva into fur. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences115(49), 12377-12382. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1809544115

Cats that lick too much. (2019, November 22). Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/cats-lick-too-much


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Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey holds both a master's in Geography from UCLA and a Master of Library and Information Science. She is the editor of Geographyrealm.com and an avid researcher of geography and feline topics. A lifelong cat owner, Caitlin currently has three rescued cats: an orange tabby, a gray tabby, and a black cat.