When it comes to personal hygiene, cats are the epitome of cleanliness. They are naturally equipped with everything they need to groom themselves: a barbed tongue with which to lick, forepaws they moisten with saliva and use as surrogate washcloths, and teeth to dig out tougher debris (so very efficient!!!). Believe it or not, adult cats may spend as much as half of their waking hours grooming themselves, their relatives and friends.
Mothers begin licking their kittens right after birthto clean them, stimulate the release of urine and feces, rouse them to suckle, and provide comfort. Kittens usually begin grooming themselves when they are about four weeks old. At five weeks of age, kittens also begin grooming their littermates, as well as their mom. Mutual grooming amongst littermates, called allogrooming, often continues into adulthood. Allogrooming is a social activity that serves to strengthen the bond between cats.
If you’ve ever watched a cat groom her face, you’ve probably noticed the highly stereotyped manner in which she does it: first, saliva is applied to the inside of one paw. Then, using an upward circular motion, the cat begins rubbing her nose with her paw from back to front. The cat will then reapply saliva to that paw and, using semi-circular motions, groom behind the corresponding ear, the back of the ear, the forehead and over the eye. When finished with one side, the process is repeated with the other paw on the other side of the head. After the head is clean, the cat grooms the front legs, shoulders, flanks, anogenital area, hind legs, and tail with long strokes of the tongue. The order of body parts may vary, and not all are necessarily groomed in one sitting.