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Self-grooming in cats

By Gay Published: October 9, 2009

Cats are just naturally dainty creatures. They take pleasure in cleaning, grooming and preening, and they enjoy a mutual grooming session. They learn this behavior from their mothers, before they leave her and strike out on their own. If their mothers are not around or never learned to groom, the kitten may or may not have an inclination.

We had a feral cat who was on his own from about four weeks. It took a year and a half to capture him, but we finally did. He was in fairly good condition, but he was thrilled to have our other cats snuggle up to him and wash him. They had taught him how to survive the bitter cold winters by leading him to the hood of a just-run car, where to burrow down in an area of leaves—and how to walk into our humane trap!

It only took a day or two for him to engage in mutual grooming, and he craved it. When he approached his favorite cat, he’d duck his head and the favorite (also the alpha cat) would oblige by gently untangling tangles and burrs and snarls, then proceed to wash. Cats are so flexible, so they can reach most areas, but if there is a difficult spot to reach, they simply load up their paws with spit and use them as washcloths. There is not a cat-lover alive who hasn’t enjoyed watching a cat preen its face.

Grooming is as much, if not more, an act of socialization as of washing. Grooming cats purr and snuggle together, and when they session is finished, they like as not curl up together for a nap. Their human friends generally enjoy brushing their cats, and the cat feels great comfort and affection when it is being attended to with a soft brush or a stiff comb that deliciously scratches unreachable itchy spots.

Cats usually have a routine—they start with the paws (wetting them cleans them and also serves as a washcloth for the next places), the face and chin, even the whiskers, and then on to the shoulders, forelegs and then the flanks and back legs and feet. They manage to reach their backs somehow and they don’t neglect their bottoms.

We had a couple of huge barn cats, who must have had some Turkish Van heritage.  One of them was a mostly white 22-pounder. If he could get into the bathroom he would leap up to the ledge of the tub and sit watching the water contentedly for a few minutes.  He'd purr and then bat the water with one paw.  Then again.. Then both paws would dip and his whole body dropped into the tub where he paddled or somehow gravitated to me, purring loudly as if i were a giant tub toy.  I'd remove cat from tub, throw a towel on him, boot him out and then turn on the shower to remove all the stuck-on cat fur.

For Castor, the cat, it was a gain he relished and he resented being denied access to the tub!

--submitted by Gay Fifer, owner of Parsley Hollow,Inc.

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