Are Cats Really as Clean as You Think?


Cats are known for being fastidious groomers. In fact, they devote nearly 50% of their waking hours to grooming and cleaning themselves.[1] With all that grooming and cleaning, cats are often considered to be very hygienic pets. But just how clean are cats really? Let’s explore the grooming and hygiene habits of cats to find out.



Cats Groom Themselves

Cats are fastidious groomers and spend a significant portion of their day tending to their hygiene. According to experts, cats spend approximately 30-50% of their waking hours grooming themselves.1 This frequent grooming is a natural behavior and instinct for cats to keep themselves clean and healthy.

Through their frequent self-grooming, cats are able to remove dirt, debris, and loose hair from their coat. Their scratchy tongue helps remove dead skin cells and distribute oils evenly across their fur to keep it slick and smooth. Grooming also enables cats to monitor their coat for any parasites or skin irritations that need tending to.

In addition to coat care, self-grooming allows cats to clean their ears, face, legs and tail. They are able to reach all areas of their body with their agile tongue and maintain excellent personal hygiene. Their dedication to grooming helps explain why cats often appear so clean compared to other animals.

Cats Have Antibacterial Saliva

Cats’ saliva contains antibacterial enzymes that help keep their mouths clean. According to some research, cats’ saliva contains compounds such as peptides that have antibacterial properties [1]. These compounds can help inhibit the growth of bacteria in a cat’s mouth.

When cats groom themselves by licking their fur and skin, their saliva spreads over their body. This helps disinfect small cuts or scratches and prevents infection. It also helps keep their coat clean and free of debris. So a cat’s saliva plays an important role in their overall hygiene and health.

Cats Bathe Themselves

Cats are fastidious groomers and regularly lick themselves clean. A cat’s tongue has hook-like papillae that act like a built-in brush, allowing them to groom themselves thoroughly (The Fluffy Kitty, 2018). When cats lick and groom, they deposit saliva over their coat. Their saliva contains enzymes that break down dirt, debris, and oils. This allows cats to effectively clean themselves by licking (The South African, 2023).

In addition to licking, cats will use their paws and claws to scratch and groom hard-to-reach spots. By licking themselves clean and using their paws and claws, most cats are able to keep their coats fresh and clean without the need for water bathing.

Cats Cover Their Waste

Cats have a natural instinct to bury their urine and feces. In the wild, cats will dig holes to cover up their potty necessities. Burying their waste serves multiple purposes – it helps conceal their presence from potential predators, prevents the spread of parasites, and reduces the chance their territory will smell like a litter box.

Cats follow a similar instinct indoors. After using the litter box, cats will instinctively “bury” their waste by scraping the litter with their paws or shoveling fresh litter on top with their nose. Cats are not the only species to bury their waste. Other animals like woodchucks and minks also conceal their feces underground for many of the same reasons cats do [1].

Cats Avoid Getting Dirty

Cats are meticulous groomers and typically avoid getting dirty or wet if they can help it. Their coats have special oils that help repel water and dirt, allowing them to stay clean with minimal bathing. According to the Four Paws Pet Care website, “Our feline friends are especially sensitive to the odors and chemicals found in water, so they don’t enjoy the smells lingering through their groomed coat.”

Cats prefer to groom themselves frequently throughout the day, licking their coats to distribute oils and remove any dirt or debris. Their rough tongues act as combs to neaten their fur. This frequent self-grooming means cats can often keep themselves quite clean without human assistance.

While cats don’t enjoy getting doused in water, they do drink water and even play with it when drinking. However, they generally avoid full immersion baths that would soak their coats. As the CCSPCA writes, “We’ve all heard the stereotype that cats hate water. We’ve been led to believe our furry feline friends want nothing to do with water.” This aversion to baths is likely because it disrupts the carefully groomed coat.

Overall, cats are tidy creatures that prefer to remain clean and groomed through frequent self-grooming behaviors, not external bathing. Their distaste for getting wet or dirty helps them maintain clean coats.

Cats Groom Each Other

When cats live together in groups or pairs, they will often groom each other. This social grooming strengthens the bond between cats and is a sign of friendship. According to AmeriVet, cats who groom each other are exhibiting social cohesion and companionship The grooming activity releases endorphins in both cats, creating a pleasurable and calming experience. It also allows cats to keep each other clean, removing dirt and distributing oils from their fur. Comfort Zone explains that allogrooming can help lower stress in cats as they provide comfort to each other through grooming

Cats Keep Parasites Away

Cats are meticulous groomers and their frequent self-bathing helps keep parasites like fleas and ticks at bay. When a cat grooms itself by licking its fur and scratching with its claws, this activity removes parasites that can live on the cat’s skin. Fleas and ticks latch onto cats when they go outside, and they can spread diseases and cause skin irritation. But luckily, nature has equipped cats with the instinct to lick and scratch themselves, dislodging the fleas and ticks from their coat. As cats groom, they ingest any parasites in their fur, effectively keeping themselves free of these nasty bugs. Their scratching and biting also kills the parasites. So cats’ innate grooming behaviors serves the important purpose of removing potentially harmful external parasites.

Cats Don’t Require Bathing

Cats are very effective at keeping themselves clean through self-grooming. Their rough tongue is used to lick dirt and debris from their coat. Cats also have slightly abrasive pads on their paws that help them wipe away dirt during grooming. This frequent self-grooming means that most cats rarely need baths.

According to Crossroads Animal Hospital in Gilbert, Arizona, “Most cats don’t like water. They are constantly grooming themselves. That said, sometimes they’ll need an actual bath.” But in general, indoor cats only need bathing every 6 months to a year.

As PetVet explains, “Indoor cats obviously need less baths than outdoor cats. Outdoor cats will need to be bathed whenever they are visibly dirty.” So while outdoor cats may need more frequent bathing, indoor cats who groom themselves regularly can go longer between baths.

Overall, because cats devote so much time to self-grooming, they are quite effective at cleaning themselves. Their natural cleaning behaviors mean that they rarely require the intervention of human-administered baths.


In summary, cats are in fact very clean animals. They have several innate behaviors and traits that contribute to their cleanliness.

Cats constantly groom themselves, licking their coats to remove dirt and distribute oils. Their saliva contains antibacterial properties to help keep their fur clean. When necessary, cats will bathe themselves by licking water onto their coat and then grooming. They are meticulous about covering their waste with litter or soil. Cats also avoid getting dirty and muddy in the first place by being careful where they walk.

Social cats will even groom each other as a bonding behavior and to help keep each other clean. Grooming helps cats remove parasites like fleas and ticks as well. Importantly, cats do not require bathing by humans to stay clean.

With all these instinctive habits and abilities, it is clear that cats have evolved as very clean animals able to keep themselves tidy and hygienic.

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