Cats will typically spend 15-50% of their time grooming. This is perfectly normal and not indicative of any problem or issue. Grooming satisfies your cat in two ways. First it keeps their fur clean, removing dirt and detritus. And, on warm days, the saliva spread over the body during grooming helps to cool your cat. While we do not know for sure, grooming may also be a calming behavior and an indication they feel safe and secure in their environment and with you.
The opposite can happen occasionally too. Some cats, when nervous or upset may groom excessively. It is a way for the cat to move themselves away from what if upsetting to an activity they find calming. You cat cannot take a Prozac when stressed so grooming may take its place. This is not an abnormal behavior and can be quite therapeutic for your cat.
Your cat may also prefer to groom particular parts of their body. Most often cats groom their face, paws, shoulders, chest and neck. Cleaning the face works to get food and other material away from their nose and whiskers so their sense of smell is not affected. Dirt on the paws can be irritating so it is important for your cat to keep those tootsies nice and clean. An outdoor cat will typically spend more time cleaning the rest of their body as they are more likely to pick up dirt and other foreign materials. It is not typical for a cat to groom their tummy, back, tail or anal area because these may be difficult to reach and doing so prevents the cat from keeping an eye out for danger that may suddenly come his way.
Cats will also groom at specific times of day. Typically after a meal is a common time to groom as it helps get food particles off the face. A cat may groom their paws or lower regions after using the litter box to cleanse or remove kitty sand that can be irritating.
Pay attention to excessive grooming especially if it is in one area. It can be a sign of skin problems, fleas or flea allergies, impacted gland, pain or other issues. Keep an eye on male cats that spend a lot of time licking their penis. This could be the result of a urinary infection or blockage which can be fatal. If your male cat is doing this take him immediately to your veterinarian or emergency veterinary hospital. Female cats will also lick excessively around their genital area if they have a urinary tract infection . While not as life threatening as a blocked male cat it should be treated as quickly as possible to not only stop the pain you cat if feeling but to prevent and further infection.
If your cat is licking and grooming excessively to the point where hair is falling out and the skin becomes red and irritated first rule out any medical issues by visiting your veterinarian. If there is nothing wrong medically it could be a behavioral issue and you will want to contact an animal behaviorist. Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation.
While cats do spend quite a bit of time grooming, overly cleaning can be a sign of a medical or behavioral disorder. Pay close attention to your cat’s normal grooming habits so you can quickly recognize that which is abnormal. Keep in mind that grooming is a normal and sometimes soothing behavior that helps keep your cat sparkling and happy.