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Why Do Cats Lick Themselves So Often? 12 Reasons for This Behavior

When you look over to see what your cat is doing, we bet that half the time, they’re sleeping and the other half, they’re cleaning themselves! But why do cats spend so much time licking themselves? There are plenty of different reasons, so let’s explore them all.


The 12 Reasons Why Cats Lick Themselves So Often

1. To keep themselves clean

The most likely reason that you’ll see your cat licking themselves is simply to keep their fur nice and clean. Kittens start grooming themselves when they’re just a few weeks old. It’s estimated that cats spend roughly 50% of their waking hours preening that fur until it’s as clean as possible!

white cat licking paw
Image Credit: Pixabay

2. To regulate their body temperature

Cats don’t sweat through their entire skin surface like we do. In hot weather, they can sweat through their paws, but that might not be enough to maintain their normal body temperature. By grooming themselves, the saliva on their fur evaporates, which helps keep them cool. Pretty smart!

3. As displacement behavior

Some cats will start to groom themselves to distract from a stressful or unpleasant situation. Compulsive grooming can be a sign of anxiety at a change within their routine or the addition of a new pet.

cat licking its paw
Image Credit: TeamK, Pixabay

4. To distribute natural oils

The process of licking helps distribute the natural oils produced by your cat’s skin evenly across their fur. This helps keep their fur looking in great condition and their skin smooth. The oils also help keep your cat’s fur slightly water resistant, as well as warm in colder weather.

5. To remove parasites

If a cat is bothered by fleas or other skin parasites, they may groom themselves in an attempt to remove these annoying parasites. If you see your cat biting their skin at the same time as licking themselves, they may be irritated by bites.

orange cat licking itself
Image Credit: Pixabay

6. To relieve allergies or infections

If your cat has an allergy or infection affecting their skin, they may try to lick themselves in an attempt to remove the irritation. If the allergy or irritation is caused by something airborne, like pollen, or by something that your cat has walked through or rolled in, then giving your cat a bath to wash the irritant off can help. Seek veterinary advice to be on the safe side.

7. To stimulate circulation

Grooming helps increase blood flow, keeping your cat’s skin healthy. You can achieve the same thing by regularly brushing your cat.

cat licking itself close up
Image Credit: Pixabay

8. As a compulsion

Cats do groom and lick themselves frequently, but if it seems like your cat is grooming themselves more obsessively than normal, it might be time for a check-up with the vet. Compulsive grooming can cause lesions and hair loss, so your vet should be able to help you figure out why your cat is over-grooming.

9. To clean injuries

Have you ever noticed that if your cat has a small cut, they’ll concentrate on licking that area? Your cat’s saliva contains enzymes, which act as a sort of antibiotic to help keep injuries clean and free from infection. If your cat sustains a large cut, though, it’s best to take them to your vet for a check-up.

white cat licking itself
Image Credit: Pixabay

10. To hide their scent

Our domestic cats might not need to worry about too many predators, but they will still clean food or strong odors off their skin to try to hide their scent from potential predators. Depending on where you live, outdoor cats can be at risk from coyotes, snakes, or other wild animals.

11. To bond with another cat

If you live with multiple cats, you might see them licking each other. This is a sign that they’re bonded, as they’re happy to swap scents and pheromones with each other. It also probably reminds cats of being groomed by their mother when they were kittens.

kitten licking its mother
Image Credit: Pixabay

12. Because it feels good

Sometimes cats groom themselves because it just feels good! The routine of licking themselves can help cats feel relaxed and safe. Your cat might groom themselves to relax before starting the other activity that they do so well: sleeping!

cat paw divider


Now that we know the main reasons that a cat will lick themselves so often, let’s look at the other end of the scale. What if your cat isn’t grooming themselves enough?

Under-grooming can be a sign that your cat has joint problems making them uncomfortable or dental problems or that they’re in pain. Signs of under-grooming include:

  • Matted fur
  • Greasy coat
  • Dull coat
  • Stains on paws
  • Food left on the face
  • Smelly fur

You can try to encourage your cat to start grooming themselves again by brushing them to stimulate the blood circulation. If your cat is over- or under-grooming, always seek advice from your vet so they can rule out any conditions causing pain or those that need medical treatment.

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Featured Image Credit: Pixabay