Cats take grooming seriously. So seriously that the average house cat spends up to 50% of their day grooming themselves – the tools of trade being their tongue and paws.
But why do cats lick their paws after eating, even though their feet do not typically touch their food?
You will notice that this action is usually followed up with the wiping of the face and head. Therefore, it is more or less another part of the grooming process. So, what is this after-feeding grooming ritual all about?
Food-related grooming is engrained deeply in cats. Additionally, other members of the cat family perform this ritual, as well. In the wild, grooming after eating allows cats to get rid of the food scent, thus preventing other predators from tracking them down. As such, licking paws after eating is a survival tactic for house cats.
Don’t you find it fascinating that your cuddly kitty is still deeply in tune with their wild side? We do, and this is why we will attempt to break down this odd behavior, in addition to letting you in on everything else you need to know about cats and grooming.
Why Cats Lick Their Paws After Eating
As mentioned, cats groom throughout the day. However, when it comes to food-related grooming, you will observe that they do it both before and after eating.
There are two reasons why cats groom before eating: anticipation and elimination of their odor. Similar to how you salivate or smack your lips when your food is about to arrive at the table, cats groom their faces when anticipating a meal.
However, in the wild, there is no such thing as a meal being delivered to you; you must hunt if you are a predator. This is where grooming serves another purpose-to mask their scent. This allows cats to come as close as possible to prey without their scent blowing their cover.
Cats must also groom after eating to avoid being discovered by other predators.
Nonetheless, what is the purpose of licking their paws considering that they typically use their tongues to groom themselves? Well, despite being renowned for their dexterity, there are areas cats cannot reach with their tongues, such as the face and back of the head. For those areas, cats use their front paws as “washcloths.”
The purpose of licking the paw is to dampen it with saliva and then use it to wipe themselves. This way, your kitty removes all traces of food, including scent, from their being.
Why Cats Love Grooming
Grooming is not just about keeping clean and eliminating scents, it serves a host of other purposes. The following are some of them.
In addition to removing dirt and debris from their fur, grooming also helps to keep a cat’s skin healthy. This is because it stimulates the production of sebum-an oily secretion that comes from the sebaceous glands located in the roots of their hairs.
Therefore, by licking their coats, cats spread the sebum to all areas allowing for even moisturization. In the process, the cat is also able to remove loose hairs, dirt, and parasites, promoting a healthier coat.
One of the most important functions of sweating in humans is thermoregulation i.e., cooling down the body. This is because heat escapes through sweat as it (sweat) evaporates from the body.
However, cats cannot sweat like humans because of their furry nature. Instead, they spread their saliva all over their fur, which causes a cooling effect as it evaporates.
Licking also promotes faster wound healing in cats. This is because a cat’s saliva contains lysozyme, an enzyme that has antimicrobial and antibiotic properties. As such, by licking its wounds, a cat reduces the risk of infection significantly, resulting in faster healing.
Nevertheless, too much licking can be detrimental to the healing process as it can prevent the wound from closing up. Additionally, the bacteria in a cat’s mouth has the potential to cause infection. Therefore, do not allow your cat to nurse its own wound. Take it to the vet.
In a way, grooming is for cats as meditation is for humans. It allows them to unwind, calm themselves down, and relieve stress. This is the main reason why cats are impulsive groomers, halting any activity for an impromptu grooming session.
However, cats also use grooming as a type of displacement behavior, which is a seemingly inappropriate activity that humans or animals perform when in doubt or confused. This behavior is usually subconscious and typically arises when the individual has antagonistic urges. In humans, a common displacement activity is head-scratching when confused.
Cats use grooming as a displacement activity when they are uncertain about how to react to a situation. For example, if an unknown cat enters your cat’s territory, your pet might feel torn between fighting and running away.
Unable to make a decision, they may fall back to grooming as a displacement activity while contemplating their next move. It is a means of soothing themselves.
It’s natural for cats to keep clean, which is why they are fastidious groomers. However, the main reason cats indulge in impulsive grooming is to keep themselves scent-free.
In your eyes, your kitty is an adorable munchkin. But do not be fooled, as beneath that face lies one of the deadliest predators in the world. Domestic cats have contributed to numerous wildlife extinctions, which is why Australia declared war against feral cats.
This goes to show just how in tune domestic cats still are with their wild instincts. This is why they still lick their paws after eating, as it allows them to rid themselves of the food scent.
Featured Image Credit: Pixabay