Ever seen comic-strip icon Garfield polish his paws and coat after downing a panful of lasagna? Feline grooming habits are legendary. Cats sometimes even wash themselves after being petted, meticulously putting their fur in order just in case a human's touch has mussed a patch. They groom not only to clean, but to regulate body temperature and stimulate circulation. When a cat stops grooming, something's amiss in his world.
You can usually spot the signs quickly, as his once-silky coat will feel harsh or greasy. He may have small mats or knots of fur on his body or tail, and his feet may look stained from litter box residue or urine; such staining is especially noticeable on white or light-colored paws. If the cat is ill, he may have a foul, sour smell due to lack of grooming. Cats routinely wash after eating, so food particles around his face or chest half an hour after a meal indicate that yours is a distracted kitty.
Why No Grooming?
Pain or illness will cause a cat to lose interest in grooming. Aging cats may suffer from arthritis, which makes it painful for them to maneuver their bodies for cleaning; the simple act of grooming may also tire them out. Overweight cats have a hard time reaching the areas they want to clean, and are frustrated by their attempts.
A cat that's drooling and eating less than usual may have diseased gums, a toothache or mouth tumor, all of which make grooming uncomfortable. Or a lifestyle change that upsets him may also cause your cat to stop grooming.
Helping Kitty Out
You can try easing your cat's stress and encouraging him to start grooming again by taking up a brush or comb. An elderly or overweight cat that cannot groom on his own will especially benefit from your help. All cats shed, and a daily brushing or combing will remove the dead hair so his coat feels fresh. Once your cat experiences the gentle rhythm of your grooming tools, he may join you in cleaning his coat. If he's too hefty to reach his rear end or tummy on his own, give those areas particular attention. An older cat may become agitated by grooming, so respect his wishes and groom a little at a time when he tolerates it.
A vet visit to learn why your cat has stopped grooming should be an early, not last, response to the problem. The vet will determine what's going on in your cat's body, or emotions, and prescribe a solution, whether it's a dental cleaning, medication or a change in diet to address his weight, age, illness or digestive issue.
Once the stress, pain or poundage improves, Kitty will regain his pride in good grooming. My own Max, a white-and-black beauty who never skipped a meal and was proud of his lovely fur, suddenly began rejecting food, and abruptly stopped washing. The vet discovered pancreatitis rapidly invading his system. Max's remaining time included hand-fed doses of liquefied food and lots of brushing, which restored his mighty purr right up to the end.