Why Do Cats Clean Themselves Before They Sleep?

Why Kittens Clean Themselves Before Naptime

There’s nothing quite as cute as a sleepy kitten curled up in a fluffy ball for an afternoon cat nap. But before drifting off to dreamland, most kittens briskly groom themselves with their scratchy tongues.

This ritual of feline cleanliness before sleep is an instinctive behavior for domestic cats. While it may seem like simple pet hygiene on the surface, the grooming serves several biological and evolutionary purposes.

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Grooming is Natural Cat Behavior

Grooming is an inherent and instinctual behavior for domestic cats. Cats are fastidious by nature and grooming is a large part of their daily routine. According to Hill’s Pet Nutrition, cats begin grooming themselves as early as 4 weeks old. They will also start grooming their mother and littermates around this time.

Most cats will groom themselves multiple times throughout the day. This frequent self-grooming helps cats keep themselves clean. The grooming process stimulates oil producing glands in the skin and helps distribute those oils over the fur for conditioning. Mutual grooming with other cats is also an important social behavior for bonding and showing affection.

Cleans and Conditions the Coat

Regular grooming helps keep a cat’s coat clean, healthy, and shiny. As cats go about their daily activities, their fur can pick up dirt, debris, dander, and loose hairs. Grooming removes these particles and refreshes the coat.

Brushing or combing distributes natural oils from the cat’s skin over the length of the fur. These oils condition the coat and keep it soft and supple. Without grooming to spread the oils, the fur may become matted, tangled, and dry.

Frequent grooming also removes loose hairs so they don’t get trapped in the cat’s coat. Built-up loose fur can mat and felt together. Brushing thoroughly down to the skin lifts out dead hairs before they can cling to healthy fur.

By getting rid of dirt, debris, dander, and loose hair, regular grooming keeps the cat’s coat clean, shiny, and healthy. Combined with the distribution of natural oils, grooming conditions the fur and prevents matting.

Marking Scent

Cats have many scent glands located throughout their bodies that they use for communication. Some of the main scent glands are located on a cat’s cheeks, chin, lips, tail, and paws. When a cat grooms itself by licking and rubbing, it is spreading its unique scent from these glands onto its fur.

According to Wisconsin Pet Care, cats have special scent glands called interdigital glands between their toes that release pheromones when they scratch. Cats also have scent glands on their faces, including near their lips and cheeks. When a cat rubs its head on objects or people, it is leaving its scent behind.

Grooming before sleeping allows a cat to spread its natural scent thoroughly onto its fur. This scent communicates information about the cat to other animals and marks its territory. It is a key form of feline communication and identification.

Self-Soothing Ritual

Cats often groom themselves as a self-soothing ritual before sleeping. The act of licking and nibbling their fur releases endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that have a calming effect [1]. Grooming can relax cats and make them feel more comfortable before settling down to sleep. It serves as a calming routine that many cats find comforting.

According to The Spruce Pets, grooming behaviors may provide a distraction for anxious cats, similar to self-soothing behaviors in people like nail-biting or fidgeting [2]. If a cat is stressed or uneasy, focusing intently on grooming can produce a calming effect. The repetitive nature of licking and biting their fur helps comfort cats before sleep.

Overall, grooming before bedtime can be an important ritual for cats. The act of cleaning and smoothing out their coat has a soothing, stress-relieving effect. Releasing natural endorphins and focusing their attention relaxes cats and prepares them for a good night’s sleep.

Removing Odors

Cats have a powerful sense of smell and groom themselves to remove odors that could attract predators or signal sickness. According to Nature’s Miracle, cats’ saliva contains enzymes that help break down odor molecules in their fur and skin[1]. By licking themselves clean, cats eliminate odors from their environment that could give away their location. This is an instinctive survival mechanism to avoid predators detecting their scent.

Cats also groom to clean away strong odors that could indicate illness or skin infections. The antibacterial compounds in feline saliva help sanitize their coats. With their highly sensitive noses, odor control is important for a cat’s health and safety. Self-grooming before sleep allows cats to remove any potentially offensive odors that accumulated during the day, ensuring they smell fresh and clean for a good night’s rest.

Parasite Control

Self-grooming and bathing by cats helps to remove external parasites like fleas and ticks that may be present on their fur and skin (https://prestigepetresort.com/blog/how-grooming-can-help-identify-parasites-like-fleas-ticks-and-heartworms/). By licking and scratching themselves, cats are able to locate, dislodge and consume parasites before they attach and begin feeding. This is an important natural protective behavior to keep parasites away from vulnerable areas like their face, ears, paws and genitals.

Ingesting parasites also allows cats to develop immunity over time. When cats consume fleas and ticks through grooming, they ingest the antigens from these parasites which triggers an immune response. This exposure allows cats to build up antibodies against flea and tick saliva, making them less susceptible to flea allergy dermatitis and other parasite-related conditions (https://christiesdirect.com/blog/external-parasites-and-how-to-deal-with-them.html).

Regular grooming and bathing is an important supplement to other flea and tick prevention methods for cats. By frequently removing external parasites through self-grooming, cats are able to reduce parasite loads and minimize the risk of infestation (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25101561/). This natural behavior is an essential part of keeping cats comfortable, clean and parasite-free.


Cats are adept at regulating their body temperature through behaviors like spreading saliva over their coat and fluffing up their fur. As this article explains, cats cool themselves by spreading saliva over their coats before grooming. The saliva evaporates, pulling heat away from their bodies. Their fur also provides insulation – when it’s hot out, the hairs lie flat to allow heat to escape. But when it’s cold, cats fluff up their fur to trap warm air near the skin and retain body heat.

According to this source, a cat’s fur helps regulate their temperature in both hot and cold environments through these mechanisms. Grooming behaviors like licking saliva over the coat allows cats to finely control their temperature as needed.

Improves Sleep

Grooming before sleep helps cats relax and get comfortable before napping or settling in for the night. The soothing action of licking and cleaning their fur aids relaxation and eases tension. This grooming ritual signals to their bodies and minds that it’s time to unwind.

In addition, being clean enhances a cat’s ability to sleep soundly and comfortably. Greasy or dirty fur can cause skin irritation and disrupt rest. By removing dirt, loose hair, and oily secretions, cats keep their coats fresh and optimized for sleeping. Clean fur reduces skin irritation and discomfort that could otherwise interfere with quality sleep.

According to research, regular grooming improves breathing for cats with respiratory issues and enables better sleep during the daytime (Health Benefits Your Furry Pet Gets from Regular Cat Grooming). By clearing their airways, grooming makes it easier for cats to settle in for naps and deep sleep.


In conclusion, cats clean themselves before sleep for several important reasons related to their natural feline instincts and behaviors. Grooming helps clean and condition their coats, mark their scents, provide comfort through a self-soothing ritual, remove odors, and control parasites. It also assists with thermoregulation and improves the quality of their sleep. Cats are fastidious creatures by nature, so their grooming habits before sleep are simply a continuation of their regular meticulous cleaning throughout the day. Understanding why cats perform these innate cleaning behaviors provides insight into the fascinating rituals that are part of the daily life of our feline companions.

Cats have finely-tuned instincts honed over thousands of years of evolution. Their pre-sleep grooming provides physical and psychological benefits adapted for their survival and comfort. By respecting these innate behaviors and rhythms, we can better care for our cats’ needs and ensure they feel relaxed and content when settling in for a nap or a full night’s sleep.

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