Why Do Cats Lick Their Paws After Eating?

Why do Cats Lick Their Paws then Wipe Their Face?

Cats engage in this particular behavior as a part of their grooming routine. When cats lick their paws and then wipe their faces, they are essentially cleaning themselves, just like how humans might wash their faces. Their saliva acts as a natural cleaning agent, and their paws can reach into areas that their tongues can’t, such as around their eyes and ears. This grooming ritual serves several purposes: it removes dirt and debris, helps regulate body temperature, spreads natural oils over their fur, and even offers a sense of comfort and relaxation. This ritual is an inherent part of their daily routine, indicative of their high standards of personal hygiene. It also provides a moment of self-care, reducing stress and promoting overall well-being.

What are the main theories behind Cats Licking Their Paws in this way?

The main theories behind cats licking their paws are centered on hygiene and skin health. The first theory, ‘Cleaning their face’, suggests that this behavior is a part of the cat’s meticulous grooming process. Cats are known to be fastidious cleaners, and paw licking followed by face rubbing helps them clean hard-to-reach areas around their face, eyes, and ears, removing dirt and debris. It also serves to remove any food residue post-feeding.

The second theory, ‘Replacing essential oils’, relates to maintaining the health and integrity of their skin and coat. By licking their paws, cats stimulate the production of sebum – a natural oil produced by their skin glands. When they subsequently rub their licked paws over their bodies, they are effectively spreading this oil. The sebum not only moisturizes and protects their skin, but it also gives their coat a healthy shine. Moreover, each cat’s sebum carries a unique scent which can serve as a means of identification among other cats. Thus, through paw licking and grooming, cats are able to keep clean, maintain their coat’s health, and also affirm their individual identity.

Why do cats lick their front paws thoroughly after eating?

Cats licking their front paws thoroughly after eating is primarily a grooming behavior. Cats are meticulous animals when it comes to hygiene, and this act serves to clean any food particles or residues that may have stuck to their paws during feeding. It’s also a way for them to clean their face and mouth, as they often use their paws to wipe over these areas post-licking, removing any leftover bits of food or smells. This behavior is essentially a self-cleaning mechanism that keeps them tidy and also helps prevent the spread of bacteria or odors that might attract predators or pests. Moreover, this grooming ritual can provide a sense of comfort and security for cats, promoting a state of relaxation and contentment after their meal.

Could there be other reasons why cats lick themself in this way?

Yes, there are other reasons why cats might lick themselves beyond grooming and maintenance.

Stress and anxiety: Excessive licking can be a sign of stress or anxiety in cats. It’s a self-soothing behavior that may help them cope with their feelings.

Pain or discomfort: Cats may also lick a particular area on their body if it’s hurting or causing discomfort. This is often a sign of an underlying health issue, such as a skin condition, injury, or infection.

Fleas or parasites: Licking and grooming can help cats deal with fleas or other parasites. They will often focus on the infested areas in an attempt to remove the pests.

Allergies: Allergies, whether from food, environmental factors, or substances they’ve come into contact with, can cause itching and discomfort, leading to increased licking.

Boredom: Sometimes, cats may simply lick themselves out of boredom. It’s a behavior that can be distracting and time-consuming, effectively helping them pass the time.

Remember, while some grooming is normal, excessive licking can be a sign of an underlying issue and should be checked by a vet.

When do cats start this grooming process?

Cats typically begin their grooming habits at a very young age. Kittens start to groom themselves as early as a few weeks old, usually around 4 weeks. Before this time, their mother will lick them to keep them clean, stimulate urination and defecation, and provide comfort. As kittens start to mimic their mother’s behaviors, they begin to groom themselves and their siblings, learning the meticulous cleaning habits that they will continue throughout their lives. These early grooming practices play a crucial role in their socialization process, their hygiene, and their overall well-being.

When can this Licking become a problem?

While licking is a normal behavior in cats, it can become a problem when it is excessive or obsessive. Over-grooming, also known as psychogenic alopecia, is when a cat licks, chews, or scratches a particular area of their body so much that it leads to hair loss, skin lesions, or infections. This behavior can be caused by various factors, including stress, boredom, allergies, or underlying medical conditions such as hyperthyroidism, dermatitis, or pain.

Another concerning sign is if a cat is constantly licking a specific area, even if it does not lead to hair loss or skin damage. This could indicate that the cat is trying to soothe a specific pain or discomfort.

Additionally, sudden changes in grooming habits, such as a well-groomed cat suddenly neglecting to clean themselves or a cat who usually spends little time grooming suddenly spending a significant amount of time licking and cleaning, can be a cause for concern.

In any of these cases, it’s recommended to consult a vet. They can help determine whether the behavior is due to a medical issue that needs treatment or a behavioral problem that requires a change in the cat’s environment or routine.

Why do cats wipe their face?

Cats wipe their face as part of their grooming routine. This action serves several functions:

Cleaning: By wiping their face, cats can remove food particles and other debris from their fur. This cleaning behavior is particularly crucial after a meal to keep their facial fur clean.

Scent Marking: Cats have scent glands on different parts of their body, including around their mouth and cheeks. When cats wipe their face with their paws, they’re likely spreading their personal scent around. This scent marking can help them communicate with other cats and establish territorial boundaries.

Health Maintenance: This grooming behavior helps stimulate the production and distribution of sebum, a skin oil that helps keep their fur smooth, shiny, and healthy.

Comfort: Face wiping can also provide comfort and relaxation for cats. It’s a self-soothing behavior that is part of their daily routine, providing a sense of familiarity and security.

Can a cat lick all areas of its face without its hand?

While cats are incredibly flexible creatures, they are not able to lick all areas of their face directly due to their physical structure. Cats can’t reach certain parts of their face, like their chin, cheeks, and around the eyes, with their tongue. Instead, they use their front paws as tools to clean these hard-to-reach areas.

The process usually involves the cat licking its front paw, then using the moistened paw to wipe or “wash” its face. The cat might use the paw to rub over its eyes, cheeks, and chin, effectively cleaning these areas. Once the paw cleaning is done, they will usually lick their paw clean again. This grooming ritual is one of the reasons why you often see cats licking their paws and then rubbing them over their face.

What could happen if a cat does not wipe their face?

If a cat neglects to clean its face, several issues could arise. Firstly, food and other debris could accumulate, causing discomfort, skin irritation, or even infection if not addressed. This accumulation could also lead to foul odors.

The cat’s fur around the face may become matted or sticky, causing further discomfort. In extreme cases, if the fur around the mouth or eyes is not properly cleaned, it could lead to more serious complications such as dental issues or eye infections.

Not grooming or wiping their face could also mean that the cat is not spreading its scent effectively, which could lead to changes in its behavior due to feeling insecure or less comfortable in its environment.

Moreover, a lack of grooming, including face wiping, could indicate an underlying health issue. Cats who are feeling unwell or who are in pain often neglect their grooming habits. If a normally fastidious cat suddenly stops grooming, it could be a sign that a visit to the vet is needed.

How often do cats lick their paws and wipe their face?

Cats are meticulous groomers and can spend up to 50% of their waking hours on grooming activities, which include licking their paws and wiping their face. It’s not unusual for a healthy cat to engage in this behavior multiple times a day.

Often, you’ll see them doing this after meals as a way to clean off any food residue. Additionally, it’s common for cats to groom, including paw licking and face wiping, during moments of downtime throughout the day, such as after playing, before settling down for a nap, or during moments of stress or anxiety as a self-soothing behavior.

However, the frequency can vary from cat to cat and can be influenced by factors such as the cat’s health, age, breed, and personal habits.

If a cat is excessively grooming, causing skin irritation, or hair loss, or conversely, if a normally clean cat is neglecting to groom itself, it could indicate a health or behavioral issue, and a vet should be consulted.

Should you still bathe a cat if it has already cleaned itself?

In general, cats are exceptionally good at keeping themselves clean through their regular grooming habits, including licking and wiping their bodies with their paws. Therefore, most indoor cats rarely need a full bath unless they have gotten into something particularly dirty or sticky, or if they have a medical condition that warrants regular bathing.

However, there are certain situations where bathing a cat can be beneficial:

If the cat has long hair that becomes easily matted or tangled, occasional baths may be necessary, in addition to regular brushing.

If the cat has come into contact with a substance that could be harmful if ingested during grooming, a bath may be required to remove the substance.

Some skin conditions might need therapeutic baths with specific shampoos as prescribed by a vet.

If a cat is unable to groom itself effectively due to old age, obesity, or illness, it may need assistance with cleaning.

Some breeds, such as the hairless Sphynx, require regular bathing because they lack the fur necessary to absorb the oils on their skin.

Why is it bad if a cat overgrooms itself?

Overgrooming, also known as psychogenic alopecia, can be harmful to a cat for several reasons. When a cat excessively licks, chews, or scratches a specific area, it can lead to hair loss, skin irritation, or even wounds. These wounds, if left untreated, can become infected, leading to more serious health problems.

Overgrooming can also be a sign of underlying issues. It may indicate that the cat is experiencing stress or anxiety. Excessive grooming is a self-soothing behavior that some cats engage in when they are feeling stressed.

Furthermore, overgrooming can be a symptom of physical health problems. Cats might overgroom an area that is causing them pain or discomfort in an attempt to soothe it. This can be caused by a wide range of health issues, including allergies, dermatitis, hormonal imbalances, or other more serious internal health problems.

Therefore, if you notice that your cat is overgrooming, it’s important to consult with a vet. They can help determine whether the behavior is due to a medical issue that needs treatment or a behavioral problem that requires a change in the cat’s environment or routine.


In conclusion, cats clean themselves after eating as part of their meticulous grooming routine, aiming to maintain cleanliness and hygiene. By licking their paws and wiping their face, cats remove any food residues and other particles that may have been accumulated during feeding. This ritual not only ensures cleanliness but also promotes health by preventing the spread of bacteria and the attraction of pests. Additionally, this behavior helps in spreading their scent and secreting essential oils onto their fur, which is important for their skin health and communication. Cats, being instinctively cautious and clean creatures, ensure to carry out this grooming practice regularly after meals, promoting a sense of comfort, security, and overall well-being. Nonetheless, while grooming is an essential part of a cat’s behavior, any unusual or excessive grooming should be monitored as it could indicate underlying health issues.

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