By Dr. Irfan Ahmed*
Why And How Does A Cat Groom – Explained with its behaviour
A cat sleeps for 14 hours and the next best activity it involves itself in is self-grooming; the grooming patterns reflect various behaviours of a cat. A change in cat grooming pattern reflects overall health of the cat, it shows any illness, depression, and most of all a clear indication of parasites or secondary medical conditions.
During initial days of their life, kittens are dependent on the queen for grooming; she licks to condition their coat, and to stimulate urination and defecation. This is continued till the young are able to move from their nest to eliminate. There are certain motor skills and reflex that develop with time and kittens begin to groom; initially, it is not in an order, but in days ahead, they get on to copy their mother.
As kittens grow, they take on grooming more actively – 50 percent of their awake time, or 15 percent of a 24-hour period is spent grooming. However, this may vary among breeds, coats, and geographical distribution of cats.
Cats shed hair throughout the year; losses are heaviest just before the onset of summer and winter season. As the winter ends, winter hair fall; these are much denser compared to the summer coat. This may vary on geographical distribution, but is common in most breeds.
An all-time indoor cat shows a strange pattern of hair thinning between eye and ear as compared to the other body parts; during seasonal shedding, this area may go bald, however, it regrows. This pattern of shedding is found in Indian domestic short hair, Siamese, Egyptian Mau, and Bengals. Cats with longer hair must be brushed to remove loose hair to keep their coat unmatted and avoid accumulation of dander.
Cats groom in different patterns that reflect their mood and activity.
Oral grooming happens mostly after meals. They spend considerable time to groom by licking around the oral area, and from caudal to the midcervical area. A cat can be seen in weird postures to reach out to farthest parts of its body in order to lick out any smell of the body and to teeth out the mats. Oral grooming can also happen just before the periods of nap or sleep.
It is high during summer or on hotter days as they keep their body cool by moistening the skin and hair. Most of the cat grooming is done with its tongue and teeth. Tongue of the cat has fine grooves pointing inwards forming a natural comb to brush through its thick fur.
Incisors of the cats are useful for pulling burrs and tangles out of the hair coat and are often used to clean between the toes. As would be expected, this type of grooming is most effective for the body caudal to the neck.
Paw of a cat is used as a tool to clean the area where tongue can’t reach out; most of all, the forepaws are used. The cat licks its paws several times and they are wiped across the neck, the back of the head and ears, and finally the face.
Scratching various parts of the body with a hindpaw begins about 18 days after birth. It removes fur from the body and this is considered to be normal. But if the cat scratches in excess, it’s a clear sign of parasites; these parasites may be microbial like ear mites or flea kind. It may be secondary to bacterial or fungal infection.
Cats are solitary beings; they don’t show any social behaviour patterns as other species. They get along on certain occasions, mostly before the consent to mate. If two cats are kept together for their life; they get into cathood and show affection by licking or rubbing against each other. A female cat will groom other females and younger male cats, whereas an adult male cat will groom only female cats. A queen grooms and nurses the kitten when it is between 5 weeks and 4 months.
Mutual grooming can be extended to humans by licking them and accepting their petting. A bond is created between a human and a cat during such grooming session as this is the second best thing that cats like after their sleep and food. Due to such skills of their human masters, cats become very social and their bond gets stronger.
*Author is a professor by profession, a cat behavioural consultant, and a cat trainer; he has worked with 6000 plus cats and cat parents, attending to their needs and solving their problems. He is the founder of Mallikas Cattery, a cat care centre, where cat boarding, cat behavioural consultations and cat problems are attended and resolved.