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Why Cats Groom Themselves So Often

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Why Cats Constantly Wash
Photo of a cat grooming its foot

Photo of a cat grooming its foot

Photo Credit: © iStockPhoto/knape

Cats' Saliva

When I read the popular Book, "A Street Cat Named Bob," by James Bowen, I was taken aback by a comment he made that "cats' saliva also contains an antiseptic." As that was a new concept to me, I decided to do some research on cats' saliva, and one thing led to another, because cats' propensity for cleanliness is almost legendary.

While most dogs require frequent bathing, most cats (except purebred show cats) rarely do. They do an excellent job of keeping themselves clean, an enjoyable task taught to them practically from birth by their mothers. Actually, the queen's first job after giving birth is to remove the amniotic sac, then lick the kitten with her rough tongue to help stimulate its breathing. Later, when the kitten begins nursing, she will give the kitten's anus a "tongue massage" to help stimulate a bowel movement.

Is Cat Saliva Really Antiseptic?

The question really should be "is saliva antiseptic?" Actually, recent studies in The Netherlands have found certain histatins (proteins) in human saliva have healing qualities. There is so much speculation about dog saliva that it is dizzying. However, I like Dr. Marty Becker's take on canine saliva - that it is not antibacterial, but dogs' licking their wounds is healing for another reason. As quoted by ABC 20/20, he says "And they'll be licking that wound and you'll notice that the wound heals very fast … what that tongue does is it gets rid of the dead tissue."

It would make sense that cats' licking of their own wounds would operate much the same way as dogs. On the other hand, one article by Jennifer Viegas for The Daily Cat considers the possibility that certain enzymes in cats' saliva turns it into a "natural antibiotic."

However, cats' licking, biting, or scratching humans can transmit "cat scratch fever,"(Bartonella Henslae) which is a relatively mild infection, but can be more serious in immunocompromised individuals. As such, Bartonella Henslae is considered a Zoonotic Disease.

When Cat Saliva Turns to Drooling

Drooling can sometimes be a sign of intense happiness in a cat. However, the odor of bad breath when a cat drools is a warning sign of dental disease, most likely peridontal disease.

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