Does a Cat Clean Itself Because of Instinct or Learned Behavior?

Cats are famous for their meticulous ways.
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One of the joys of owning a cat is the sheer convenience -- most of the time. Cats are, as a rule, immaculately clean creatures that spend many of their waking hours grooming. Although a dog may call for regular bathing, the same doesn't usually apply to felines.

Instinct or Learned?

Unlike the use of a litter box, grooming isn't usually an innate behavior for cats. Rather than by instinct, kittens learn about hygiene and cleanliness through copying mama. Right after kittens are born, queen cats begin their multitasking licking duties. Not only does licking kittens clean them, but according to the ASPCA, the activity also offers relaxation and encourages the wee ones to eliminate.


When a mother cat first grooms her kittens straight after birth, she licks them clean of the several membranous layers and afterbirth substances. In the many grooming sessions she offers them after the first one, she grooms her kittens not only for cleanliness, but also to reintroduce to them her smell.


Once kitties learn about cleanliness from mama -- who, we all know, knows best -- they start to self-groom. The self-cleaning stage starts when a kitten is 1 month old or slightly younger. Not long after, kittens begin to groom their siblings and also mama. This loving social interaction process is known as "allogrooming." It not only helps get the family clean, but also works to bring everyone closer. Aww!

Lack of Interest

Some cats tend to lose interest in grooming along with the normal aging process. This is not unusual. Because of that possibility, many senior cats' coats may not look as shiny and soft as their younger counterparts, although there certainly are exceptions. Elder cats often have matted and tangled coats in comparison with the younger ones. Also, felines that are stressed out or anxious sometimes neglect their grooming duties.

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