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How Do Cats Clean Themselves? What’s Normal?

Cats are known for their impressive ability to self-groom. However, there is a line between healthy grooming and compulsive grooming. Likewise, some cats under-groom. Both compulsive grooming and under-grooming occur due to other underlying health problems.

Understanding what’s normal for your cat’s self-grooming habits can help you monitor its health and well-being. If your cat is over or under-grooming, you should contact your vet to diagnose potential conditions causing poor grooming habits.


Why Do Cats Groom Themselves?

Before we dive into what’s normal, it’s important to understand why cats clean themselves. Obviously, cats groom themselves to keep their fur and skin clean, but there are several other reasons why cats self-groom. Here are just a few other reasons:

In other words, cats self-groom for a number of reasons. You never want to discourage self-grooming because it is an important part of your cat’s well-being and socialization with other cats.

How Often Should Cats Groom Themselves?

Since self-grooming serves such an important purpose in a cat’s life, most cats spend anywhere from 30% to 50% of their day self-grooming. Can you imagine if we bathed ourselves this much? Needless to say, you should see your cat self-grooming quite a lot.


Most cats do an excellent job of cleaning themselves, they will spend countless hours grooming themselves to get rid of loose fur. But with the Hepper Cat Brush, your cat will no longer need to spend their days grooming. The brush is designed to be gentle yet effective, removing loose hair and stubborn knots without any painful pulling. What better way to bond with your favorite feline? Click here to try it for yourself!

At Excited Cats, we’ve admired Hepper for many years and decided to take a controlling ownership interest so that we could benefit from the outstanding designs of this cool cat company!

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How Cats Groom Themselves

cat licking its paw
Image Credit: TeamK, Pixabay

Cats groom themselves using three parts of their body: tongue, paws, and forepaws. These body parts, matched with the cat’s flexibility, allow the cat to groom their entire body.


Have you ever been licked by a cat? If so, you know how prickly the cat’s tongue is. This rough surface helps to keep the cat’s coat and skin nice and healthy. The comb-like surface allows the tongue to pick up any debris or foreign objects on the skin’s body.


Cats can also use their claws and paws to clean their skin and coat. You can expect your cat to use its paws on locations its tongue won’t reach. For example, cats use their paws to reach their face, top of the head, and neck areas.


Cats can even use the back of their paws to help clean their bodies. This area is often used to help distribute the oil from the cat’s head to other locations. This oil helps the cat to smell clean and for the coat to stay nice and soft.

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Under-Grooming and Compulsive Grooming

cat licking its paw
Image Credit: Hannah Oliver, Unsplash

Healthy cats will use their tongue, paws, and forepaws to self-groom up to half of the day. However, cats under-groom or compulsively groom due to a number of underlying health conditions.


Under-grooming is mostly a problem with senior cats. As the cat gets old, it is more difficult for them to reach all the areas on their body. Cats can also under-groom due to other conditions, such as obstructions or pain.

Under-grooming results in your cat not being as clean as it used to be. You might notice more mats or loose fur around your home. Dirt and debris may be stuck to the hard-to-reach areas as well.

If you think your cat is under-grooming itself, take it to the vet to see if there is an underlying condition. Additionally, help your cat groom by taking it to a professional groomer every month and helping the cat groom with daily brushes.

Compulsive Grooming

Compulsive grooming happens whenever cats groom so much that it results in additional hair loss, skin lesions, and skin irritation. Compulsive grooming can happen because of flea infestation, parasites, or a neurological disorder, but it can also be caused by stress.

If you are noticing issues with your cat’s fur and skin due to grooming, take your cat to the vet. The lesions may need treatment, and the cat will need to be evaluated to ensure there is no deeper root to the problem. You will have to treat the cause of the compulsive grooming to get it under control.

When To Contact a Vet

You should contact a vet if you notice your cat is grooming way less frequently or more frequently than before. Both under-grooming and compulsive grooming can be signs of serious illnesses that need veterinary treatment.

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How To Help Groom Your Cat

grooming brush with cat fur
Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

Whether your cat is under-grooming or over-grooming, here are some tips you can incorporate into your cat’s routine to help the grooming process go smoothly.

1. Create a Stress-Free Environment

Always try to create a stress-free environment for your cat. If the environment is stressful, your cat may groom less often due to fear or compulsively groom due to stress. Try to create a calm and safe environment for your cat so that it grooms just the right amount.

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2. Brush Regularly

Brush your cat regularly to help mitigate hairballs and excessive hair loss. This is especially important for long-haired cats, but short-haired cats can benefit from brushing as well. You might need to introduce your cat to the brush first. With proper introduction, cats will grow to love brush time since cats groom one another in the wild.

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3. Only Bathe When Needed

Unless your cat is elderly and unable to lick itself, only bathe your cat when needed. For example, you should bathe your cat after it gets skunked, but leave most of the bathing up to the cat’s tongue. If you suspect that your old cat is unable to bathe itself, that’s when you should start bathing it.

Hepper oatmeal pet shampoo green background

Grooming your pet at home can help you save money and avoid stress, but only if you're armed with a great pet shampoo. We recommend Hepper's Colloidal Oatmeal Pet Shampoo, which has a pH-balanced, pet-safe formula made with natural ingredients like aloe vera and oatmeal. You won't find any irritants like phthalates, sulfates, dyes, or soaps, and the soothing formula will keep your pet's skin moisturized and happy. Plus, the cucumber and aloe scent will make you feel like you've been to the spa!

At Excited Cats, we’ve admired Hepper for many years and decided to take a controlling ownership interest so that we could benefit from the outstanding designs of this cool cat company!

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Final Thoughts

Cats clean themselves 30% to 50% of the day by using their tongue, paws, and forepaws. That being said, some cats under-groom or compulsively groom due to stress or underlying conditions. It’s important to monitor your cat’s grooming to make sure it is as healthy as possible.

If you suspect your cat is under or over-grooming, contact your vet. In the meantime, try to create a stress-free environment and help your cat with the grooming process by brushing it regularly and bathing it when needed.

Based on the underlying cause for your cat’s grooming problems, a vet may offer some additional treatment tips.

See also: 5 Amazing DIY Cat Grooming Arch and Self-Groomer Plans You Can Make Today (With Pictures)