While it isn’t really something that we usually give a lot of thought to, all of us tend to follow a fairly set routine of how we wash when we get into the bath or the shower, in terms of the order that we wash in. Generally, we start from the head and work down-washing our hair first unless it’s not a hair washing day, then our face, torso, arms, and downwards, with our feet normally coming last.
Some people of course don’t follow this exact pattern-but if you think about it, the chances are that you can’t ever recall having got in the shower and deciding to change the order for no reason! Often, the pattern or order that we wash in is something that we picked up when we were children, as a result of the way that our parents washed us, and taught us to wash ourselves.
Cats too have a tendency to follow a specific order when they sit down to have a thorough wash-and again, this is something that rarely changes over time, or for any reason, and is just as unconscious as our own bathing behaviours!
In this article, we will look at cats and their body grooming order, how it goes, and why they might follow it. Read on to learn more.
When a litter of kittens is very young, they are physically unable to take care of their own needs such as grooming, nor do they know how to do it. The mother cat grooms and cleans her kittens during this time, starting from very soon after they are first born.
Mother cats like to keep their kittens very clean, and this actually helps them to avoid illness and infection when they are very young and vulnerable-and grooming with that harsh cat tongue also helps to stimulate the bowels to pass faeces, and helps to break the seal on the eyes so that they begin to open at a couple of weeks old.
By the time the litter is around a month old, they will have their eyes open, be able to toilet without manual stimulation, and be much more mobile and active. At around this time, they will also begin to start grooming themselves, and learn this by copying what their mother does, and by following her prompting.
Kittens that are hand reared or weaned very young and so, who do not have this opportunity to learn and observe will usually start grooming themselves over time, albeit a little later on-but adult cats that do not groom themselves other than due to a physical or medical problem are almost always those that were hand reared or weaned early, and who missed out on this stage of development.
The process of grooming for the cat achieves several objectives-it helps them to remove shed hair and avoid knots and tangles, and to remove dust, dirt and debris such as seeds and burs from the coat. It also spreads the sebum produced by the skin evenly across the whole of the coat, providing an extra layer of protection and making the fur shine, as well as avoiding congestion and greasy patches.
However, when it comes to how cats groom themselves, most cats start from the face and head and work downwards-and even if your cat follows a different pattern, you will probably notice that they don’t ever really deviate from that pattern by changing the order!
If you happen to catch your cat just before they start grooming rather than observing them when they are halfway through, you will probably see them start by washing their face, head and ears with their tongue and paws, moving back to their scruff and shoulders, then the front legs, then the abdomen and belly, and finally, the hind legs and tail.
Just as we don’t always have a bath or shower every time we need to clean up-most of us wash our hands a few times throughout the day, or wash our face or use hot water or a cloth to clean off dirt or muck we happen to have picked up-so do cats often just have a mini-wash!
If your cat suddenly decides that a certain area of the body is grubby or doesn’t feel right, they might simply carry out a small, localised wash of that area-or if your cat has an itch, they will scratch or tackle the itch, and then groom that spot to smooth the fur back down again.
Also, if you have just stroked or petted your cat or if they have come in from outside, they may well groom themselves immediately afterwards, to restore their familiar scent to its former status and remove or cover the scents they picked up along the way!