When it comes to personal hygiene, cats love to be clean. They are naturally equipped with the implements they need to groom themselves: a barbed tongue with which to lick, forepaws they moisten with saliva and use like a washcloth, and teeth to dig out tougher debris.
Believe it or not, adult cats may spend as much as half of their waking hours grooming themselves, their relatives and friends (and the other half taking a nap!)
If you’ve ever watched a cat groom their face, you’ve probably noticed the highly stereotyped manner in which he does it: first saliva is applied to the inside of one paw, then, using an upward circular motion, the cat begins rubbing his nose with his paw from back to front.
The cat will then reapply saliva to that paw and, using circular motions, groom behind the ear, the back of the ear, the forehead and over the eye.
When finished with one side, the process is then repeated with the other paw, on the other side of the head. After the head is clean, the cat will groom the rest of its body.
So why do cats groom themselves so much?
When cats wash down their coats, they’re not only cleaning their fur, they’re regulating their body temperatures.
Feline sweat glands, in their faces, anal areas and paw pads, do not cool off cats much. But when they deposit saliva on their coats, the evaporation keeps them cool in hot weather. Well-maintained coats also insulate them against winter’s cold.
Plus, when a cat licks a wound, the antibacterial properties in his saliva can reduce the risk of infection!
Grooming helps cats cope with stress, and stimulates their circulation and muscle tone. And cats seem to enjoy grooming, just as humans enjoy a visit to a spa!
Cats will also groom each other in a gesture of affection or protection. Some areas, such as their own faces, ears and the tops of their heads, are difficult for cats to clean, and they will rely on a buddy or sibling to lend a tongue.
Cats are social animals. They lick their humans as a display of affection and trust, the way they would lick littermates or their mother.
So, remember when your cat licks you, he loves you!