Why Does My Cat Make Noises When Grooming?

Why does your cat sound like a vacuum cleaner?

The soothing, rhythmic sounds of a cat’s tongue scraping across their fur is a staple in many households. But between the slurps, smacks, and snorts your feline emits during grooming, you may wonder if that’s really your cat or a mini Dyson.

While strange, those odd noises are completely normal and stem from some fascinating cat behavior and biology. In this article, we’ll explore the various reasons cats make such a racket when tending to their hygiene.

Grooming Is Instinctual

Cats groom themselves instinctively for cleaning and comfort. In the wild, cats’ ancestors like lions, tigers, and leopards would lick their fur to remove dirt and debris. They also used their raspy tongues to distribute natural oils throughout their coat, keeping it slick and water-resistant.

This instinctual grooming behavior serves an important purpose, helping wild cats maintain the health of their coats. Matted, dirty fur can attract parasites and cause skin irritation. By regularly licking their coats clean, cats’ wild ancestors ensured their fur remained in prime condition.

Domestic cats retain this innate grooming impulse passed down from their wild forebears. When your cat licks its fur and scratches its nails through the coat, it is acting on ancient instincts to clean and care for its hair. The noises your cat makes while grooming signify focused attention on this maintenance task.

So next time your cat is noisily grooming itself, you can be assured it is just heeding the instincts of its ancestors and attending to its natural fur care needs.


Cats make various vocalizations while grooming to communicate different emotions. For example, purring often signifies contentment and relaxation during grooming, according to Purina. Purring occurs during inhalation and exhalation as the vocal cords vibrate rapidly. This soothing sound frequently arises while being petted or when nursing kittens.

However, cats may also vocalize displeasure during grooming, especially if stroking sensitive areas. They may meow, growl or hiss to signal discomfort or overstimulation. Owners should pay attention to these cues and avoid grooming in a way that irritates the cat, according to The Spruce Pets. Understanding feline vocalizations provides insight into a cat’s emotions and needs.


Cats often groom other cats during periods of social bonding. This mutual grooming helps strengthen social connections between cats. According to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, cats vocalize while grooming both themselves and others cats as a way to strengthen social bonds.

Vocalizations like purring, chirping and trilling while grooming helps cats strengthen their relationships and social bonds not just with other cats but also with their human owners. The vocalizations create positive associations during social grooming and bonding.


One common vocalization cats make while grooming is kneading or “making biscuits.” Kneading is when cats rhythmically push in and out with their front paws, alternating between left and right. According to Purina, this motion originally helped kittens stimulate milk production while nursing from their mothers. [1] The kneading motion persisted into adulthood as an instinctual behavior related to comfort and contentment.

WebMD explains that many cats will knead while showing affection or asking for food. [2] It may be a way for them to mark their territory and feel comfortable. Hill’s Pet Nutrition adds that cats often knead soft items like blankets, beds, or their owners. [3] Keeping your cat’s claws trimmed will help decrease any snags or scratches from kneading.

Taste and Smell

Cats have a strong sense of smell and taste. They have around 200 million odor-sensitive cells in their noses, compared to only 5 million in humans. This gives them a heightened ability to detect scents (Source).

When cats groom themselves, their saliva deposits scents onto their fur. Counterintuitively, cat saliva actually smells quite pleasant. The chemical composition of feline saliva interacts with the fur to produce a sweet, soothing scent (Source). This scent marking allows cats to identify each other and mark their territory.

So even though cat saliva by itself can smell off-putting to humans, the grooming process transforms that scent into something much more agreeable. This is why cats end up smelling quite nice after a thorough grooming session.

Teeth and Claws

Regular grooming helps maintain your cat’s teeth and claw health. As cats age, their teeth can accumulate tartar and plaque, potentially leading to dental disease. By grooming their teeth, cats are able to scrape off some of this buildup and keep their mouths cleaner. Cats also have a tendency to develop overgrown or ingrown claws that can be painful. Daily grooming allows cats to wear down their claws naturally. The noises that cats make while grooming their teeth and claws can come from the vibration of purring combined with the scraping sensation against their teeth and claws. Proper claw care is an important part of grooming to prevent issues.


The act of grooming provides a massage-like sensation for cats that stimulates blood circulation and relaxes muscles. When cats lick and nibble themselves, it serves as a full-body massage. The kneading motion cats make with their paws during grooming also massages their muscles. Cats have rows of sensitive nerve endings around their face, neck, base of their tail, and along their spine, so when they groom these areas it creates feelings of comfort and pleasure.

Some cat owners use specialized grooming tools designed to massage cats during grooming sessions. These include corner self-groomer brushes, textured grooming mats, and handheld massagers. The massaging sensation from these tools mimics the natural grooming process and provides stimulation cats enjoy. Owners should introduce grooming tools slowly and watch for signs their cat is uncomfortable or overstimulated.

Grooming serves as a natural massage that provides cats physical and emotional comfort. The massaging motion relaxes muscles, stimulates circulation, and creates enjoyable sensations for cats.

When to Worry

Excessive grooming or vocalizations can signal stress or pain in cats. As Bond Vet notes, overgrooming behaviors like licking, biting, or scratching can lead to skin irritation or hair loss. Persistent overgrooming is not normal and may indicate an underlying medical issue. Likewise, as described by WagWalking, excessive vocalizations like constant meowing or yowling could signify illness, injury, or other problems.

If your cat is displaying excessive grooming habits or vocalizations, it’s best to consult a veterinarian. A vet can check for skin problems, parasites, allergies, arthritis, dental issues, or other conditions causing discomfort. They can also assess for signs of stress, anxiety, or cognitive decline that may be leading to these behavioral changes. With an exam and diagnostic testing, your vet can get to the root cause and provide appropriate treatment to help your cat feel better.


In summary, there are several main reasons why cats make noises when grooming themselves or others. First, grooming is an instinctual behavior for cats that helps them bond and communicate. The act of licking and nibbling releases endorphins and relaxes cats. Kneading while grooming or being groomed also releases feel-good hormones. Cats use grooming noises and motions to show care and affection.

Additionally, cats have a strong sense of taste and smell, so they make noises when investigating scents during grooming. They also purr from the physical sensation and massage of grooming. Vocalizations can signal contentment or get a companion to reciprocate. Of course, sometimes vocalizations during grooming can indicate pain or distress, so it’s important to pay attention to the type of sounds your cat makes. Overall, the noises cats make while grooming are a normal part of their communication and bonding behaviors.

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