Do Stray Cats Clean Themselves? Surprising Info Here

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Although cats are infamous for their hygiene, it’s not uncommon to spot a visibly un-kept stray cat wandering around. This sight is bizarre to many, and it can be quite perplexing to understand why a cat would end up so dirty. So, do stray cats clean themselves?

While most cats will continue to keep themselves clean on the street, this commonly comes down to the quality of maternal care from birth, human care after that, and innate tendencies of the breed. Some strays may not be able to clean themselves or care for themselves independently.

It’s widely understood that domestic cats are thorough in cleaning and grooming themselves, but does that not apply to all cats? Many factors influence whether or not a cat may continue to clean itself after becoming a stray. Stick around to find out about strays and their cleaning habits and why some strays are cleaner than others.

Cat Cleaning Itself

How Do Cats Clean Themselves?

There are many reasons why cats clean themselves, and their cleaning habits are quite effective if done thoroughly through licking and cleaning techniques. This would highly depend on the care received since birth from the cat’s mother and human caregiver after being adopted into the family.

Speaking of human caregivers, learn if a stray cat will get attached to one person: Click Here.

When Do Cats Learn to Clean Themselves?

Mother cats will typically lick their kittens from birth, starting from when they are born. The eyes are licked and cleaned so that the kittens may open them fully, without any residue preventing proper development.

After this, the mother will ensure that they are kept clean and lick them to promote bodily functions such as excreting waste and suckling. The act of licking the young also builds a strong bond between the mother and child, providing comfort and affection to the kittens.

When Do Cats Start Cleaning Themselves?

At around 4 weeks, the kittens become more independent in a wide range of areas, and the mother will begin to provide less direct care. At this time, the kittens would have observed the mother’s actions and habits long enough and will begin to clean themselves for the same practical purposes.

This is known as ‘allogrooming’ and refers to the act of mutual grooming that cats will do with each other.

Learn more about how stray cats cat be affectionate in my article: Click Here.

Cat Mother Cleaning Kitten

Do Cats Really Get Clean When They Lick Themselves?

Cats use their comb-like paws, their sharp teeth, and their tongues’ rough surfaces for cleaning. Additionally, they use their paws to stimulate the oil glands in their heads which secrete their ‘perfume’ to the rest of the body.

Coupled with the fact that cats are flexible, they can reach areas of the body that would otherwise be awkward for most species to reach independently. Licking themselves makes cats incredibly efficient at keeping their bodies clean.

Why Do Cats Groom Themselves?

Cats may groom themselves at any point in time, which is often the confusing part for cat owners. It is often confusing as to why they begin licking themselves when they are already clean. But, in truth, the act of grooming is essential for health and care and is just as crucial as licking themselves for cleaning purposes.

Concerning cat health, we often talk about diseases associated with cats.  To learn more about if stray cats carry diseases, check out this article: Click Here.

What Does Cat Grooming Mean?

While cats cleaning themselves is mainly for hygiene purposes, the art of grooming is frequently for a range of other reasons. These grooming reasons include the care and maintenance of a healthy, shiny coat through the even distribution of skin oils, the act of stimulating circulation around the body, and the reduction or prevention of hairballs.

Grooming also reduces infection and allergies since the contaminant may live on the fur before reaching the skin. Of course, this is not effective for everything, and deworming is always needed in addition to several other precautions.

But, this is the cat’s attempt at protecting themselves. Grooming also regulates body temperature and assists the cat in cooling down through the evaporation of their saliva.

How Much Do Cats Need to Groom Themselves to Be Healthy?

While clean cats are always favorable, there is a limit to everything, and domestic cats typically spend between 30% and 50% of everyday grooming or cleaning themselves. If a cat is exceeding this standard, it may indicate underlying issues that cause compulsive grooming.

This includes fleas, parasites, stress, or even physiological and neurological disorders. Since grooming had been associated with comfort from birth, it can be performed as a safety net for the cat in times of stress and anxiety. But, excessive grooming can have harmful and even long-term effects.

One thing that grooming will not help with is if a cat has rabies.  Rabies is a scary disease, especially for stray cats.  Learn more in our article: Click Here.

Are Stray Cats Clean?

Stray cats are usually far less clean than domestic cats and even feral cats, who also live outdoors. However, it should be noted that not every stray cat is equally dirty or even dirty at all. Many influential factors contribute to strays’ cleanliness.

Do Stray Cats Clean Themselves?

Whether or not a stray cat will clean themselves will depend on several aspects and their innate tendencies, personality, and breed. When it comes to an understanding of why some cats are cleaner than others, there are plenty of factors to consider.

What Influences a Stray Cat’s Cleanliness?

The complexity of a stray living outdoors and trying to stay clean is mainly because of care from birth, which can be understood in depth when comparing a domestic cat and a feral cat’s upbringing.

Its mother should have raised a domestic cat until at least four weeks; then, it would have been cared for by a human. Their human may have groomed them, brushed them, bathed them, or taken them for professional grooming in addition to allogrooming.

This would have created a balance between self-grooming and the need to be groomed by their caregiver (cat mother and human).

Feral cats would have hopefully been raised by their feral mothers in the outdoors, where they would have learned how to clean and groom themselves. At around 4 weeks, the mother would begin to allow the kittens to become independent.

Additionally, there would be little to no assistance from humans meaning the cats would continue thorough allogrooming into adulthood, with improvement and practice.

Stray cats are found somewhere in the middle of this complexity. They would have had a partial upbringing of a domestic cat and would now be ‘expected’ to maintain the level of independence and allogrooming, which is evident in a feral cat.

For some cats, this will simply not be a practical adaption, and they will become dirty over time. For others, they may adapt and learn how to take on these roles on their own.

Additionally, the cat’s breed will play a role, and numerous substances are found outdoors, some of which should be avoided and others that can be cleaned with the right technique.

Feral cats would be aware of such factors, which would also allow them to stay cleaner. The act of ‘staying clean’ outdoors is far more useful than the knowledge of self-cleaning, and it does not always come down to which cat is better at allogrooming.

Do Stray Cats Groom Themselves?

Even though stray cats may not have the knowledge and ability to keep themselves clean without human intervention, they may still make attempts at grooming themselves. As mentioned above, there are various reasons for grooming that do not necessarily relate to cleanliness and relate more to comfort, emotion, and anxiety.

Particularly for a cat who had a life indoors, the outside world can be terrifying as it’s littered with fleas, parasites, and a range of discomforts. Since stress can even lead to excessive or compulsive grooming, and cats commonly use grooming to feel some sort of comfort and affection, they may groom themselves for some emotional security within the harsh environment.

They may also not be accustomed to certain climate conditions, such as harsh colds and scorching heat. The act of grooming assists in regulating body temperature, and it may be helpful for the cat to take advantage of these benefits in their situation. There are various scenarios where the stray cat may not clean themselves but may groom themselves.

Cat Under Grooming

Stray cats who do not lick themselves for cleaning and grooming purposes will suffer numerous side effects over time, in addition to the standard matted or tangled coat.

This includes a greasy fur coat, food and other particles being trapped in fur on the face or chest, a foul odor, paw stains from urine and other substances, and staining on the face around the eyes and nose.

While cats can learn allogrooming (social grooming) over time with practice and instinct, it’s important to understand that cleaning and grooming cats’ habits will largely depend on nature versus nurture.

Kittens taken from their mothers too young may not know how to clean themselves, much like stray cats taken away from their humans may only know how to partially clean themselves. If such a cat grows up and has kittens of its own, it will likely not clean them properly, and the behavior may continue into the next generation.


Video: Cats Licking Each Other

Stray cats do clean themselves, but sometimes they are not the best at it.  Stray cats will sometimes be part of colonies, and other cats may groom them as well (allogrooming). The care that cats get from their mothers is exceptionally important in teaching a cat to clean itself properly. Cats will usually start cleaning themselves by four weeks old.

If you enjoyed this article about stray cats, please check out a couple of other articles:

  • Do Stray Cats Bury Their Poop? The Best Smelly Answers: Click Here.
  • Will Stray Cats Drink Antifreeze? Scary Info Here: Click Here.

Christopher Carlson

I have an Domestic Shorthair Tabby named Charlotte. She is full of energy when she isn't sleeping most of the day. I share what I learn about cats on this site.

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