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Why do cats lick themselves?

For many years and even today, the age-old misconception that cats groom themselves is a challenging belief to Professional Cat Groomers. We hear it all the time, “cats groom themselves – that is what their tongue is for.

It’s true: cats do have rough tongues — that’s a fact. That’s why you feel “sandpaper kisses” when your cat licks you. Now looking into the biological reason for this feature, there is a specific reason for this morphology. According to PetMD: The center of a cat’s tongue is covered with small, backward-facing barbs known as filiform papillae. These papillae contain keratin and serve several functions for the cat:

  1. To help rasp and scrape flesh from the bones of their prey
  2. To comfort themselves
  3. To cool themselves
  4. Survival (as in to remove bits of prey from their coats so it does not attract other predators)
  5. To remove dead hair from the coat

Why Does this Matter?

These Papillae do, in fact, remove dead fur from your cat.  But where does it go? Your cat is ingesting hair, which is neither palatable nor digestible. Since the hair cannot be digested, it has to come out somehow:  vomit and hairballs in the living room (YUCK).   In the worst case, that hair may end up coming out of your cat on the surgical table.  The veterinarian bills will follow.

Cats are generally greasy creatures. They have 50% more hair per square inch than dogs. It is interesting to note that short hair breeds shed much more than long hair breeds. As natural shedding occurs, it combines with the oily dirt on the skin causing a clumpy, tangled coat of mats. Being a fastidious animal by nature, the cat will attempt to lick the dead hair away. Cat skin, cat saliva and sebaceous glands produce a protein named Fel d1 which is the primary allergen that some people react to. Dander is made up of miniscule particles of dead skin cells and dried saliva. Dander, too small for the human eye to see, is found on a cat and on its shed hair left in the environment. Bathing washes off existing dander, removes dead skin cells and cleans away the layers of cat saliva.

Imagine, if you will, not washing your hair for a year and only licking it… You get the picture.

As cats age, more toxins are emitted, increasing sebum (the oily or waxy matter that the sebaceous glands in the skin secrete). Arthritis and other health conditions may inhibit any natural licking, resulting in even more clumps of grease, dirt and mats. Pelting of the coat is a very painful and dangerous condition because the hair is tangled very tightly to the skin and can only then be removed by shaving (only if health conditions permit). No amount of licking will get this out.

The Health of Your Cat’s Nails

Often times we’ve heard that,  “My cat scratches his/her posts all the time. They don’t need their nails trimmed”

True, we know that cats scratch things often …but are they doing this to “file down” their nails? The scratching behavior helps remove some of the dead keratin layers from the new nail growth and sharpens and elongates their nails. If left unattended, the nails may grow into their paw pads leading to veterinarian care for punctures in the pads and possible infection. These long sharp nails may accidentally scratch you. Regular trimming and nail caps are humane alternatives to declawing. Nail caps are soft vinyl sheaths glued to your cat’s nails that blunt the nail tip and prevent damage.

Marking their territory is another reason for scratching. Sebaceous glands located in the pads secret pheromones (scent) detectable only to cats. This oil gland helps to keep their paws moisturized. Interestingly enough, cats have sweat glands called Eccrine Glands in their paws, which help them to keep the temperature balance in their bodies.

Professional Grooming on a Regular Basis is Important

Cats that are not groomed are prone to serious matting problems, skin conditions and painful ingrown nails. A cat that is groomed regularly (approximately every 6-8 weeks) will not suffer from these problems. Since we handle cats on a habitual basis, looking over every square inch of his body during each visit, health issues that arise can be found early on, and the likelihood of effective intervention is focused on the service at hand.

As a Professional Certified Cat Groomer, I use only botanical and natural cat-safe products.  Our salon is equipped with a patented drying system designed specifically for cats. It allows me to thoroughly hand dry each animal and offers the most efficient drying process. It also produces the highest quality groom. The salon is also equipped with a patented de-shedding device. Hairballs and shedding will be significantly lessened.

Ear cleaning, eye and face cleansing, nail trimming and nail cap application, attention to chin acne and stud tail, neatening of overgrown faces and cleaning up of dirty hindquarters are just some of the services we are happy to provide.  See our Service Menu page for more.

We believe that cats are one of the most magnificent and mysterious creatures on earth.  By taking advantage of our expertise, we know that life for you and your beautiful feline will be a lot cleaner.  Your pillow partner will purr with contentment, and so will you!

We share this information with you not merely as cat groomers, but as cat owners and cat lovers.

At Downtown Tabby Inc. we have a passion for knowledge and a passion for cats. As a Certified Feline Master Groomer with the NCGI and a Certified Master Cat Groomer with the PCGAA, I constantly research and educate myself as much as possible for the betterment of my own feline family members as well as yours.

Copyright 2016 Downtown Tabby Inc.