Cats have a reputation for being very clean animals due to the countless hours that they spend grooming. The average cat will spend much of its day cleaning its fur, removing grease, dirt, and debris. The backward-facing barbs (papillae) on a cat’s tongue will also pull out any dead fur, allowing new hair to come through, while improving circulation to the skin.
Cats do all they can to stay clean. A cat will regularly groom its fur with sterile saliva to keep its fur clean and unscented. Cats will also bury their waste and clean up after eliminating. Of course, a cat will struggle to perform these tasks if it’s old, overweight, and arthritic.
A clean, sleek fur coat that’s free from scent is a sign of a healthy feline. If you care for your cat well, it should be clean and largely undetectable. If your cat is looking unkempt or dirty, there will be a good reason why.
Table of Contents:
- 1 Are Cats Clean Pets?
- 2 How Do Cats Clean Themselves?
- 3 How Clean are Cats’ Mouths?
- 4 Are Cats Clean After Pooping?
- 5 How To Keep Cats Clean
- 6 Are Houses with Cats Dirty?
Are Cats Clean Pets?
Cats are widely considered to be the cleanest of all domestic pets. This is because cats are passionate about grooming and self-care. Cats loathe feeling dirty. They also dislike emitting clear and unmistakable scents.
Cats are dedicated to grooming as a survival instinct. Cats are mesopredators. They hunt smaller prey, but know that they are not at the top of the food chain. This means that cats like to remain undetectable.
The main way a cat achieves this is by grooming. The cleaner a cat is, the less likely it is to release a scent. This, in turn, makes a cat difficult to track. You’ll notice that wild and feral cats often look immaculate.
If an outdoor cat gets particularly dirty, you will need to wash it. Unless your cat is old or immobile due to stiff joints, this will rarely be necessary.
Are Cats Cleaner Than Dogs?
Some dogs are very particular about their grooming and cleanliness. Equally, you may have a rare cat that is indifferent to hygiene. As a rule, cats are cleaner than dogs. Here’s why:
- Cats spend more time indoors. A dog on a walk will be exposed to mud.
- Dogs are usually larger animals and less concerned by predators. Canines are less driven to mask their presence.
- Dogs need professional grooming. Cats are happier to clean themselves.
- Domesticated cats usually eliminate indoors and hide the evidence. Dogs always pee and poop outside, rarely stopping to clean themselves.
Are Cats Cleaner Than Humans?
Based on the amount of time spent grooming, cats are more focused on cleaning than humans. Cats spend up to half their day cleaning themselves. Humans usually limit their showering or bathing to 1-2 times a day.
When people shower or bathe, we use a range of cosmetics. Shower gels, soaps, and antiperspirants will keep humans clean for a long time. Cats need to groom with much greater frequency. While a cat’s saliva is an effective cleaning agent, it has some obvious limitations.
Humans wear clothing to protect their skin from scents and staining. A cat’s fur is exposed to the elements all day.
People brush their teeth once or twice a day. Cats don’t. This means that cats may have food remnants in their mouth. Cats require the assistance of their owners and professionals in maintaining oral cleanliness.
How Do Cats Clean Themselves?
A cat’s primary method of staying clean its own saliva. A cat’s tongue has hollow papillae comparable to a hairbrush. Saliva is trapped within these papillae. The cat will lick its paws, transferring the saliva. The cat will then rub its paws all over itself. In doing so, the saliva is spread evenly.
This serves multiple purposes in keeping a cat clean. Saliva is akin to bathing with water. It may not sound hygienic by human standards, but it works for a cat. Saliva also cools a cat down on a hot day, preventing it from overheating and sweating.
This saliva evenly distributes oils on a cat’s fur. This means that skin oils cannot build up in one location. If this occurs, a cat’s fur starts to look matted and greasy. Also, the cat would start to produce an odor.
Healthy cats rarely lose interest in staying clean. Your cat is likely sick, physically incapable of grooming due to obesity or a degenerative joint condition, or has grown complacent.
How Clean are Cats’ Mouths?
A cat’s mouth is unclean. Cats do not brush their teeth, which means that food will rot. The build-up of bacteria could cause gum disease in cats. These bacteria can be harmful to humans. Bear this in mind if you like to show affection by kissing your cat.
To minimize the bacteria in a cat’s mouth, brush its teeth regularly. A cat’s teeth should be brushed with feline-specific toothpaste (not human toothpaste!) once a week. Most cats will resist this practice, at least initially.
How Clean are Cats’ Tongues?
A cat’s tongue is covered in tiny bristles, called papillae. These papillae trap all manner of foreign objects. This includes food shreds and shed fur.
If a cat hunts rodents/birds, bacteria and germs will remain trapped on the papillae. This means that a cat’s tongue is very unlikely to be clean.
Avoid letting a cat lick any open cuts. It’s a myth that cat saliva is a natural salve for human wounds. You’re likelier to grow sick than heal faster.
Are Cats Clean After Pooping?
Cats are careful to clean up after elimination. When a cat poops, it will bury any waste in the litter. This is a survival instinct, similar to the act of grooming. The cat does not want a predator to know it was nearby, and any poop/urine remnants can be an obvious giveaway.
If a cat has a healthy diet, it should release firm stools. These will require limited cleaning and maintenance afterward. The cat will clean its own bottom using its tongue, though. This isn’t exactly hygienic.
If you notice dry feces around your cat’s bottom, clean it off manually. The cat’s strong sense of smell will detect the waste and will run around the home, trying to shake it off.
Dirty bottoms in cats are hazardous. As per the Journal of Parasitology, cats can shed Toxoplasma gondii cysts in waste, leading to toxoplasmosis. This condition can cause blindness in children and pregnant women.
How To Keep Cats Clean
Cats look after their own cleaning needs. There may come times that you need to step in, especially if you have a senior cat. If your cat has had surgery, or is unwell, it may also need help staying clean.
Keep your cat’s weight under control is key to keeping it clean. If your cat is carrying excess weight, it will struggle to groom because it cannot contort sufficiently. This leads to dirt becoming trapped in the fur. Your cat will also struggle to clean itself after elimination.
The standard weight for a house cat is circa 10 lbs. This does not consider the breed of the cat, though. A large cat, such as the Maine Coon, can weigh up to 18 lbs. A Munchkin cat should be well under 10 lbs.
You will always be able to tell if your cat is overweight. Just take a look. If the cat is not capable of cleaning itself, it will stop trying. This will lead to messy, dirty, and unkempt fur. The cat may also have a messy bottom.
Your cat will need to lose weight. This reduces the risk of diabetes or heart disease and restores a cat’s ability to clean itself. Restricting food intake remains the most impactful way to achieve this goal—substitute food for other activities that bring pleasure, such as play.
As discussed by the Journal of Nutrition, many owners fail to complete a full dietary course. Your cat will likely cry and beg for food.
As your cat grows older, arthritis becomes increasingly likely. Most cats that are over 10 will experience some level of degenerative joint disease. Unfortunately, as per Veterinary Surgery, this is not always identifiable by scans. Instead, look for these symptoms:
- Reluctance to move, such as running and jumping
- Eliminating outside the litter box
- Aggression when touched
- Loss of interest in play or hunting
An arthritic cat will find grooming difficult and painful. You will need to manage this discomfort. Ways to achieve this include:
- Massage of the joints
- Glucosamine sulfate supplements
- Low-sided litter trays for easy access
- Soft beds and cushions to aid relaxation and sleep
- Warmth on joints to ease stiffness and discomfort
- Painkilling medications, prescribed by a vet
There is no cure for arthritis. Over time, your cat will struggle more with mobility. This means that you’ll need to assist your cat with its grooming.
As cats grow older, you’ll need to help out with grooming. Every once in a while, run some wet wipes over your cat’s fur. These must be unscented and devoid of chemicals. You can use cat-specific wet wipes.
Brush your cat’s fur regularly as this will remove any excess hair. Aside from cleaning your cat, it will reduce the number of hairballs.
Does My Cat Need a Bath?
Most cats will never need a bath. A healthy, happy cat will clean itself. If you top this up with wet wipes, you’ll usually be OK. This is a relief, as many cats loathe water. Bath time will be ferociously resisted by cats.
Sometimes, a bath will be unavoidable. If your cat has rolled in the dirt, or neglects grooming for prolonged periods, bathing is the only option. You’ll need a cat-specific shampoo as felines have delicate skin. Shampoo for humans, or even other species of animal, will upset this natural pH.
Bathing a cat is not easy. Your cat will likely bite, scratch, and squirm to avoid water. Two pairs of hands will be useful. One of you can restrain the cat while the other completes the bathing.
Are Houses with Cats Dirty?
Keeping a cat indoors should not lead to a dirty home. A messy, dirty, or smelly house is usually due to human inaction. If you manage litter, shedding, and scent, a cat’s presence in your home can go unnoticed. Two factors, in particular, need your attention.
Managing your cat’s use of a litter tray is key to keeping your house clean. This involves changing cat litter every other day, and scooping and shuffling the litter multiple times a day. This will prevent it from clumping.
This will also prevent your cat from treading waste through the home. Dirty litter will stick to your cat’s paws. This will then be tracked into your carpet and soft furnishings. This is unsanitary, but can be easily avoided.
Be careful about overfilling litter. After a cat eliminates, it digs to bury the evidence. If there is too much litter in the tray, it will be kicked over the floor. If the problem persists, consider a hooded litter box.
Cats shed their fur in the spring. Shedding is a natural reaction to a cat’s circadian rhythms. Longhaired cats will likely shed more often.
When a cat’s body detects an absence of natural light, it assumes that winter is coming. This will encourage the cat to grow additional fur. This is so that the cat stays warm when temperatures plummet outside.
As the days get longer and Spring arrives, the cat no longer needs this extra fur and will start to shed. This will happen organically throughout the spring, but you can keep it under control by brushing your cat’s fur.
Be mindful of any visitors to your home with feline allergies. This fur contains dead skin cells, and it’s the dander that sparks an allergic reaction. As the cat cannot control its shedding, you’ll need to help out.
Cats spend more time cleaning themselves than other animals. According to the SPCA, cats spend about 5 hours grooming a day. If a cat is dirty or smelly, it may be sick or have a physical issue inhibiting its ability to wash. The most common explanations for this are weight gain and joint pain.