How Does Your Cat Groom Herself?

Cat Grooming Sequence

Cat Grooming Sequence. The start.

They say that cats groom themselves in a certain order. Always the same order. Self-grooming is called “autogrooming”. When a cat grooms another it is called “allogrooming“. Cat saliva has many benefits for the cat.

At one time, VG, an America friend, rented a place and the place came with a cat because she sort of asked for one! The landlord let her look after their cat.

That was a good thing because VG is one of us: a person who understands and loves cats. She is the lady who lives with and cares for a sweet female Maine Coon called “Tootsie“. Tootsie is sooo Main Coon and soooo lady-like. Whenever I see her I want to cuddle her. Anyway back to cat grooming….

VG says this about her “rental cat” whose name is Pookie:

Pookie, the “rental cat” groomed herself fastidiously every morning, after she had had “lap time”. What I found remarkable was that she always went to the same place – the arm of a fat chair in the living room, and that she always groomed herself in a very organized way.  Always the same sequence.  First one front leg (can’t remember which side), and then the other, proceeding along the leg the same way.  And, then, on to the next body part.  (it may or may not be relevant that she was short hair moggie). Etc.

Tootsie, on the other hand, is a totally random “groomer”.  Whenever the mood strikes her. And in no particular order of places. Oh, and Pookie would go from start to finish in one “sitting” so to speak. Tootsie, well, whatever, whenever.  Maybe 20 seconds, maybe a full 10 minutes. Random. Obviously, I found the difference between “grooming” for Pookie and for Tootsie remarkable, or I wouldn’t have gone on about it!

Hi VG, I have a story to tell about grooming. I can make Charlie groom himself. I can turn the switch on (and so can anyone else). It happens when he is on my bed resting against me. I like him to groom when he rests against me. So I put my hand on him and stroke him gently. I talk to him nicely and gently, as usual. These are the best moments of my day.

After about 3 minutes or so, he will start grooming. He starts at the place where my hand was placed, which is normally the shoulder area. Then he might move to the bottom area and then his legs and paws. He nibbles his paws and pulls off the old keratin sheath.

The reason why Charlie grooms where I have rested my hand is to:

  1. Redress the balance of scents on his fur;
  2. Taste my scent;
  3. Smooth his ruffled fur.

This is what the experts say¹.

Charlie is a very determined and active groomer. He does it with intensity and commitment. You can’t really stop him or distract him. After he has finished a long session he sighs as if to say, “Phew, that’s over for a while and it was quite hard”.

So, what is the classic autogrooming sequence? This is it²:

  1. Cat licks her lips…then she will…
  2. Wash one side of her head including ear, eye, cheek and chin after depositing saliva on one side of the paw that is the same side of the head that is to be washed.
  3. Do the same, washing the other side of the head after wetting the other paw.
  4. Groom front legs and shoulders.
  5. Groom the flanks.
  6. Groom the genitals.
  7. Wash the hind legs.
  8. Lick tail along its length.

Cats nibble fur where necessary. This is when the teeth help to make things feel right. The teeth are also used to sharpen up the claws.

How does your cat groom herself?


  1. Cat Watching page 26
  2. Cat Watching page 27
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How Does Your Cat Groom Herself? — 8 Comments

  1. Hi Michael! Just saw this. Great article, and great story about Charlie.

    I had not paid much attention to how cats groom themselves (orderly and such) until observing my “rental cat” Pookie. There were a lot of indoor days (howling snow and such) and it was fascinating to watch. Much better than TV. Not that I watch TV.

    The order you posted as the “classic” sequence certainly fits with Pookie’s behavior- even though I honestly can’t remember the sequence, it sounds “right”. And, certainly same as for Charlie- with intensity and commitment!

    Pookie was/ is short-haired cat, whereas Tootsie Maine coon is long-haired (course) and I wonder if this makes a difference. Tootsie undoubtedly gets various items tangled in her fur, whereas a short-haired cat would not have this problem. Maybe this explains the apparent “randomness”- she deals with problems on an as-need basis!

    What I didn’t say before is that there is one time when she is “orderly”- always such after devouring a meal- steps 1-3 you note above. Orderly and predictable. This, I’ve thought, is an adaptive response- probably genetically programmed for an important reason- I watch, and fancifully imagine Tootsie thinking “okay, gotta get rid of these food odors on my fur, the bits of food that got stuck on my whiskers, so I don’t smell like “food” to a predator.”

    • Yes, thanks VG for the “adaptive response” idea. I guess everything a cat does is for a reason and that reason ends up being about survival. The same for us. So if a cat starts at the head: eyes, whiskers, nose and ears, I suppose those are the most important bits of the cat in respect of survival and they need to be maintained in tip top condition more than the rest. Maybe that is the reason for the sequence in autogrooming.

      • Ah! An interesting extension of the idea! Not only to keep from “smelling like food”, but also keeping important bits in tip top condition. I like this idea a lot! Makes total sense.

  2. As for your Charlie story, making him groom himself, I will have to pay more attention to Tootsie’s behavior in responses to my “scritches” when she is near me on the bed. Certainly she sometimes grooms herself then, but I’d never computed that there could be a “cause and effect” sequence. Interesting!

  3. This is very interesting I am going to watch more closely and see how it goes with my cats. I know Red was a bit lazy about grooming so I would help him get the knots out regularly. I don’t remember what order he went in. I do notice that if you touch them after they groom (usually thats after they eat or wake up) that they re groom the are I touched.

    • I’ll like to hear on the sequence. I am sure the sequence is not set in stone. It must vary. But Desmond Morris, the author of Cat Watching knows his stuff so the source is good.

  4. Monty does not have a sequence, but he likes to groom himself by the back window or at the end of our bed, usually after eating or coming in from outside. Friday he got drenched playing outside in a downpour. He didn’t seem to mind. I had a hard time getting him inside. He groomed for a long time after that. Now his fur is so soft and silky, maybe from the rainwater or all the extra grooming.

    • I don’t think really cats feel rain because of their coat and it does help grooming. Perhaps cats are meant to be rained on sometimes. The wild cats are.

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