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My Cat Is Not Grooming Themselves Anymore

 
By Laura García Ortiz, Veterinarian specialized in feline medicine. May 11, 2021
My Cat Is Not Grooming Themselves Anymore

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Cats are known for their self-grooming. It is rare we should see our cat be dirty since they spend such a large part of their day licking themselves clean, often in highly contorted states. While this can be amusing, it is also reassuring. It shows us the cat is healthy and ready to take care of themselves. Grooming behavior is instigated by their mothers who lick them when they are newborn. All healthy cats will continue to groom themselves throughout their lives, meaning it is worrying when they stop.

In this AnimalWised article, we explain why your cat is not grooming themselves anymore. In understanding this behavior, we can best know what to do to help them recover their grooming habits.

You may also be interested in: Can I Wash my Cat with Shampoo?

Why do cats groom themselves?

Grooming in cats is not a hobby or a way to beat the boredom. It is a response to basic survival instincts. As soon as they are born, their mother will start to lick them to clean the amniotic fluids which are held in their birthing sac. Although they won't be able to do it themselves for some time, from the very beginning they are learning the importance of staying clean.

Most cats notoriously don't like water, although this is not the same for all. Regardless, bathing in water is not how they keep themselves clean. As they become an adult, licking themselves helps to remove dirt, debris and any other material which needs to be removed from their coat. They will also gnaw at tangles and dried in dirt when necessary.

In addition to maintaining hygiene and their coat quality, grooming provides the following benefits:

Thermoregulation

Cats sweat from their paw pads, but not from the surface of their body, lacking sweat glands in these places. For this reason, cats groom themselves to stay cool. When they lick themselves, they deposit saliva on their coat which evaporates in the sun, just as sweat does. This process allows the cat to thermoregulate themselves since they can't do it another way. In doing so they also avoid problems such a heat stroke in cats.

Protection against parasites and other external agents

The tongue of cats has tiny spines known as lingual papillae. These are very useful in getting dirt and germs from their hair, but is also helpful in removing parasites and other potential health threats.

Carrying out grooming behavior allows the cat to keep their coat and skin healthy. It also helps to stimulate blood flow which has numerous benefits. However, as they do it so much, they can ingest a lot of hair in the process, especially during molting season. This can promote hairballs and other diseases.

Maintain a neutral body odor

When cats groom themselves, they clean dirt and bacteria. This process also helps them to remove any unseemly smells which come with them. These are normal smells which are part of a cat's hygiene, but just as we can smell if we don't wash, cats will develop a foul odor if they neglect their grooming. This is a holdover from their wild past as strong body odor would make it easier for larger predators to track them.

Relaxation

When cats groom, they do it at a time when they are relaxed and are least likely to be disturbed. Licking themselves helps them to chill out. You will often hear cats purring when they groom, giving them a similar sensation to when their mother would lick them as a newborn. It is also why cats may start to overgroom themselves when they are anxious as they may struggle to feel calm.

Affection

If two cats get along it is not uncommon to see them grooming each other. It is a sign of love and affection between cats which have a strong bond together. Since we can develop strong bonds with our cats, it is not uncommon for them to lick us.

Why is my kitten not grooming themselves?

Now we know why cats groom themselves, we can start to understand why might stop. When a kitten of only a few months of age stops grooming, it is important to know if they have been separated too early from their mother. Since a mother and siblings help them to know how to behave and interact, early separation can mean they have not been able to learn certain skills, including proper grooming.

The reason why a kitten may have not learned to groom themselves may include:

  • Death of the mother: if the mother dies during childbirth or after a few days, the cats will be raised without a tutor figure to teach them certain behaviors typical of the species.
  • Rejection by the mother: if the mother is alive, but rejects them, they will also have to be bottle-fed and they will not learn the behavior. This often occurs if the mother thinks the kitten is too weak.
  • Early separation from the mother: this is usually due to human interference in the kitten's development. Kittens should be separated from their mother after a minimum of 8 weeks together, although after 12 is ideal.
  • Mother cat does not groom herself: sometimes, the mother cat may have a disease, behavioral disorder or some other reason for not meeting her own grooming needs. In these cases, the kitten will struggle to learn since they have nothing to emulate.
  • Human interference: if a human guardian interferes during the development of kittens while with their mother, it can cause stress and other problems which affect education and learning how to groom.

Why won't my adult cat groom themselves?

When a kitten stops grooming, it is usually because they have never properly learned the behavior. However, when an adult cat stops grooming themselves, something has changed. Although they may have groomed regularly before, if they stop all of a sudden, it means a problem has arisen. The nature of these problems commonly fall under the following categories:

  • Oral problems: when a cat is suffering from oral problems, it usually means they have pain in their mouths. This could be due to feline oral diseases or due to periodontal problems which affect their teeth. Chronic gingivostomatitis is a problem which can get worse. Whatever the underlying reason, it can mean the cessation of grooming behavior. It will also likely result in their ability to eat properly, especially if they are only given dry food.
  • Obesity: When a cat puts on a lot of weight it will result in various problems. Not only will they have less energy, but their movement is restricted and it can mean they are unable to groom themselves properly.
  • Osteoarthritis: the degenerative joint disease is typical of advanced age. It causes discomfort and pain that can make it difficult for the cat to groom themselves or even to do it at all. General wear and tear of age will also reduce grooming behaviors in cats, but it doesn't usually mean they will stop altogether.
  • Lower back pain: since a cat has to contort their body to reach the places they need to groom, pain in their spine can make this difficult.
  • Fractures: broken bones, whether mandibular, thoracic, pelvic, or vertebrae, prevent grooming by reduced movement and associated pain.
  • Senile dementia: with age, cats can develop dementia and forget to perform certain behaviors such as grooming.
  • Disease: various infections, system conditions or any disease which causes the cat to lose energy can mean they stop grooming. They will become lethargic and be unable to carry out even basic tasks. Autoimmune disorders such a feline AIDS can also result in the cat's inability to groom.

These reasons why a cat is not grooming are generalized. However, there may be reasons why a cat does not clean a localized area. For example, if a cat stops grooming their anal area, it could be due to infected anal glands or some other reason which makes the area sensitive.

My Cat Is Not Grooming Themselves Anymore - Why won't my adult cat groom themselves?

What to do if my cat is not grooming themselves

When the problem of lack of grooming is caused by not having learned it from the mother, regardless of the cause, we can try to teach this behavior ourselves. So if you're wondering how to teach a cat to groom themselves, try the following:

  • Wipe some wet cloths over some areas of their coat so the cat will notice that something is happening and will try to remove it. Although they learn grooming behavior from their mother, it is an innate instinct and they might be able to pick it up quickly enough.
  • Apply malt paste to some part of the legs or another easy-grooming area so they are enticed by the taste. They will lick it off just as they will lick food and this action can help them to start grooming. In our related article, you can learn more about malt paste for cats.

Cats are very clean, so as soon as they see how clean the groomed area has become, many begin to clean themselves.

For adult cats or kittens which have stopped grooming, we need to understand the root cause of the problem. Once we do, we can address it. For example, if obesity is preventing the cat from grooming, then we need to restrict their diet and encourage exercise. Whatever we do, we need to take them to a veterinarian. This way we can diagnose the problem and ensure we don't misdiagnose ourselves.

The veterinarian will prescribe treatment according to the problem. If it is a bacterial infection causing them to lose energy, treating the problem with antibiotics may be the solution. However, in many other situations, the problem will require symptom management rather than direct treatment.

Now you know why a cat has stopped grooming, you can check out our article below which explains why a cat may lick themselves too much:

If you want to read similar articles to My Cat Is Not Grooming Themselves Anymore, we recommend you visit our Skin care category.

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