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Cats have meticulous grooming habits, and it is not uncommon for them to groom themselves after being petted by their owners. There are several reasons why your cat might clean herself after you pet her: maintaining cleanliness, restoring her fur’s natural oils, and regulating her scent.
Cats spend approximately 30-50% of their waking hours grooming themselves. When you pet your cat, your hands may introduce dirt, dust, or other foreign substances to her fur. As a result, she may feel the need to clean herself to remove these particles and maintain her pristine appearance.
Petting your cat can also disrupt the distribution of natural oils in her fur. These oils, which are secreted by sebaceous glands, help keep her skin moisturized and her coat shiny. Moreover, cats have a strong sense of smell and communicate with one another through scent. They possess scent glands on various parts of their body, including their cheeks, head, and the base of their tail. When you pet your cat, your scent is transferred to her fur. Your cat may groom herself to restore her own scent and reestablish her unique olfactory signature. This can also be a form of territorial marking. Let’s find out more!
Why Do Cats Groom Themselves After Being Petted?
Understanding the motives behind your cat’s behavior is important, and rest assured, it is not attempting to offend you. While it may appear as if your cat is trying to remove any evidence of your touch, there are six distinct reasons your feline friend might groom itself after receiving your affection.
We will delve into each of these reasons in depth:
1. Removal and Reapplication of Scent
This behavior is rooted in the way cats communicate and establish their social hierarchy. Cats have scent glands located on various parts of their body, such as their cheeks, forehead, and around their mouth. When they groom themselves, they transfer the pheromones produced by these glands onto their fur, creating a unique scent profile that is essential for their social interactions.
The importance of scent marking in cats cannot be overstated. Scent marking is a crucial component of feline social behavior, contributing to the maintenance of social bonds and the establishment of territories. When humans pet their cats, they inadvertently leave their scent on the cat’s fur. This disruption of the cat’s scent profile may lead the cat to groom itself in order to remove the foreign scent and re-establish its own scent identity.
2. Establishing Personal Boundaries
Feline behavior is often centered around maintaining control over their own body and personal space. Grooming after being touched by a human is a way for cats to signal their boundaries and assert control over their physical autonomy. This behavior can be seen as a form of communication, allowing the cat to convey its preferences and assert its independence.
In addition to being solitary hunters, cats are territorial animals with a strong need for personal space. According to a study, the average territory size for an outdoor domestic cat is approximately 4.9 acres (2 hectares). This territorial instinct may manifest in the way cats react to being touched.
3. Self-soothing Behavior
Grooming is a calming activity for cats, as it stimulates the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. These chemicals help to alleviate stress and anxiety, making the cat feel more relaxed and content. By grooming themselves after being petted, cats engage in a self-soothing behavior that helps them regulate their emotions and cope with potentially stressful situations.
Research has demonstrated the importance of grooming in a cat’s emotional well-being. Cats experiencing stress or anxiety exhibited a significant increase in grooming behavior compared to those in a relaxed state. This suggests that grooming serves as a coping mechanism for cats, helping them to manage their emotions and maintain a sense of calm.
4. Tactile Stimulation
Cats possess specialized touch receptors called Merkel cells. These are highly sensitive to tactile stimuli. These cells are most concentrated in the hair-covered skin of cats, particularly in the whisker pads and around the lips. When a cat is petted, the pressure applied to their fur stimulates these Merkel cells, sending signals to the brain that can trigger a grooming reflex.
In addition to the role of Merkel cells in tactile stimulation, the act of petting a cat can create a static electrical charge on the surface of their fur. This charge can cause a mild discomfort or irritation for the cat, leading them to groom themselves to alleviate the sensation. By grooming, cats realign their fur, which helps to dissipate the static charge and restore their comfort.
5. Fur Maintenance
Cats have a natural instinct to keep their coat clean, tangle-free, and in good condition. When a human pets a cat, the act of stroking their fur can disarrange or mat the individual hairs. This may prompt the cat to groom itself in order to restore the proper alignment and condition of its coat.
A well-maintained coat is crucial for a cat’s survival and comfort. The coat provides warmth and insulation. It also serves as a protective layer against external elements, such as dirt, debris, and parasites.
Cats have evolved a specialized tongue structure, called papillae. These are small, backward-facing, hook-like structures that enable them to effectively comb their fur. They remove loose hairs and distribute natural oils across their coat. These oils help maintain the fur’s water-repellent properties. They also protect the skin from dryness and irritation.
6. Discomfort with Being Petted
Many cats enjoy being petted, but some individuals may feel uneasy or uncomfortable with certain types or levels of touch. Grooming after being petted can be a sign of discomfort. This indicates that the cat may not want to be touched or that it prefers a different approach to petting.
Several factors can contribute to a cat’s discomfort with being petted. Past experiences, such as rough handling, can lead to touch sensitivity or aversion. Medical conditions, like skin allergies or joint pain, can also make a cat more sensitive to touch. This causes them to feel discomfort when petted.
When a cat grooms itself after being touched, it may be trying to soothe the physical or emotional discomfort caused by the interaction. In such cases, it is essential for cat owners to observe their pet’s body language and preferences. They should adjust their approach to petting accordingly to ensure the cat’s comfort and well-being.
Where Do Cats Like to Be Petted?
Cats generally enjoy being petted, as it helps them bond with their owners and provides them with a sense of comfort and security. However, individual preferences may vary. Here’s a breakdown of how cats typically like to be petted:
- Head and Face: Many cats enjoy gentle strokes on their forehead, between their eyes, and around their cheeks. They have scent glands in these areas that release pheromones when rubbed, which can create a pleasant experience for them.
- Chin and Neck: Cats often appreciate gentle scratches under their chin and around their neck. These areas can be difficult for them to groom themselves, so your attention here can be particularly enjoyable.
- Base of Ears: The area behind and at the base of a cat’s ears is another popular spot for petting. Lightly rubbing or scratching this area can be very soothing for them.
- Along the Spine: Some cats enjoy being petted along their spine, from the base of their neck to the base of their tail. Be sure to use gentle pressure and avoid pressing down too hard, as their spine can be sensitive.
- Base of Tail: The area just above the base of the tail can be a favorite for some cats. Gently scratching or stroking this spot can lead to a positive reaction, like purring or even raising their tail.
- Chest and Belly: Petting a cat’s chest or belly can be a hit-or-miss situation. Some cats may enjoy it, while others may find it threatening or uncomfortable. Always observe your cat’s body language and proceed with caution when petting these areas.
How to Properly Pet a Cat
Before petting, first, you should watch for signs that the cat is open to interaction. A relaxed cat will have its tail up, ears forward, and may approach you with curiosity. Avoid attempting to pet a cat that is hissing, growling, or has its tail puffed up. These are signs of fear or aggression. Now, follow these steps:
- Approach the cat slowly: Move towards the cat at a slow and steady pace, while speaking to it in a calm and soothing voice. This helps the cat feel more at ease and lets it know that you’re not a threat.
- Offer your hand: Extend your hand towards the cat with your palm facing up and your fingers slightly curled. Allow the cat to sniff your hand and become familiar with your scent. This is an important step in establishing trust.
- Begin petting gently: Using your fingertips, gently stroke the cat in the direction of its fur. Start with short strokes near the cat’s head and gradually increase the length of your strokes as the cat becomes more comfortable.
- Observe the cat’s reaction: If the cat purrs, leans into your touch, or kneads with its paws, these are signs that it is enjoying the interaction. If the cat flattens its ears, flicks its tail, or moves away from your touch, it may be time to stop petting.
- Adjust your technique: If the cat seems to enjoy a particular area or type of stroke, continue to pet the cat in that manner. If the cat shows signs of discomfort, try a different spot or a lighter touch.
- Watch for overstimulation: Some cats may become overstimulated if petted for too long, leading to biting or scratching. To prevent this, periodically pause your petting to give the cat a break. If the cat appears restless or agitated, stop petting and give it space.
Becca The Crazy Cats Lady is an experienced and knoweldgeable cat owner with years of experience caring for a multi-cat household. She curates, writes and shares cat content at https://CrazyCatsLady.com.