Cats are known for being fastidious groomers that spend much of their awake time meticulously cleaning their fur. So what happens when their fur gets soiled with feces? Do cats clean poop off themselves or do they need human assistance? Read on to find out.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Most cats are fully capable of cleaning feces from their fur and will take care of this grooming need themselves without human intervention. Their rough tongue and flexibility allow them to reach all areas of their body for cleaning.

Cats Instinctively Groom Themselves

Cats spend 30-50% of waking hours grooming

It’s no secret that cats are fastidious groomers. In fact, they spend a whopping 30-50% of their waking hours meticulously grooming themselves! This instinctive behavior serves several important purposes for our feline friends.

Firstly, grooming helps cats regulate their body temperature. By licking their coats, cats spread saliva over their fur. As this saliva evaporates, it has a cooling effect which is vital in helping cats avoid overheating. Pretty nifty, right?

Grooming also enables cats to remove dirt, loose hair, and any other debris that may have become trapped in their coat. Their small hooked barbs on their tongues act as combs, helping tidy and untangle their fur.

This helps keep their coats looking silky smooth and is important for maintaining good hygiene.

Saliva helps breakdown dirt and oils

A cat’s saliva contains special enzymes that help to breakdown oils and dirt that accumulate on their skin and coat. As they lick and groom, these enzymes get spread over their fur, breaking down grease and grime so that it can be more easily removed.

Cats also have a very light level of oil production in their skin, meaning their coats tend not to get as greasy or dirty as quickly compared to dogs. But grooming still plays an important role in keeping their coats clean and removing any oily residue or dirt particles.

Interestingly, most cats loathe water and being immersed in it. Their fastidious grooming behaviors likely evolved in part to enable good hygiene without the need for getting drenched!

Grooming releases endorphins

In addition to the physical benefits, grooming provides psychological benefits too. The act of licking and grooming releases endorphins – “feel good” hormones that promote feelings of pleasure and relaxation.

So for cats, keeping clean is not just about looking good – it makes them feel good too! 😊 No wonder they spend so many of their waking hours indulging in these rewarding grooming sessions.

Grooming is also thought to be a comforting, calming activity for cats when they are feeling stressed or anxious. Plus, for mothers, it helps strengthen bonds with kittens as they clean and groom their little ones.

So while grooming serves many physical purposes, it provides psychological benefits too. It’s both a natural behavior cats are driven to perform and one that rewards them by triggering the release of pleasurable endorphins.

Cats Can Reach All Parts of Their Body

Flexible spine allows them to twist and turn

Cats have an extremely flexible spine that allows them to twist themselves into all kinds of positions to groom hard-to-reach areas (1). Their vertebrae are connected by elastic ligaments that permit a wide range of motion for bending and twisting (2).

A cat can curl itself into a tight ball or arch its back sharply to lick its stomach, back, and hindquarters. This flexibility serves them well for self-grooming.

Rough tongue can penetrate thick fur

A cat’s tongue feels like sandpaper thanks to tiny barbs called papillae. These small hooks snag loose fur and dirt trapped close to the cat’s skin. Their rough tongues allow cats to penetrate even long, thick fur coats to groom skin underneath (3).

Most cats spend 30-50% of their awake time self-grooming (4), needing to lick themselves frequently to keep their coats clean and free of mats.

Paws help with targeted spot cleaning

Cats often use their front and hind paws to supplement tongue grooming. Their paws allow for more targeted spot cleaning of ears, head, neck and other hard-to-lick places. Cats have scratchy tongue pads on the bottoms of their paws that they use to groom.

The sandpapery texture helps remove dead hair and skin (5). Their dexterous paws scrub and wipe away dirt their tongues can’t reach.

So with body flexibility allowing them to twist into all positions, rough tongues that penetrate thick fur, and helpful paws for focused spot cleaning, most cats are well equipped to clean all parts of themselves.

Cats Will Immediately Groom Away Feces

Cats have a strong dislike of soiled fur, which motivates them to begin cleaning immediately after defecation. Their fastidious grooming helps them remove feces and avoid predators detecting their presence.

Strong Dislike of Soiled Fur Motivates Cleaning

A cat’s first instinct after defecating is to clean themselves. Their strong sense of cleanliness leads them to immediately groom away any fecal matter sticking to their fur. Having feces on their coat goes against a cat’s innate desire to keep clean.

Cats spend 30-50% of their waking hours self-grooming to maintain clean fur and skin. Their rough tongue is ideal for removing dirt and loose hair. The saliva they spread during grooming has antibacterial properties to sanitize their coat.

So when a cat soils their fur, their natural impulse is to clean away the mess through intense licking and chewing.

Some experts theorize this hypervigilant cleaning stems from cats’ ancestry as desert dwellers in Africa. Limited water required them to stay fastidiously clean to avoid disease. This evolutionary origin infused modern cats with a compulsion for cleanliness, motivating them to instantly groom away feces.

Thorough Cleaning Helps Avoid Predators

In addition to disliking unclean fur, cats also groom thoroughly to remove feces and avoid predators detecting them. The strong scent of feces can attract other animals, like coyotes, so eliminating the smell is crucial.

Cats have a powerful sense of smell, so lingering fecal odors bother them. By licking away all traces of feces from their hindquarters and tail, cats prevent predators from being drawn to them by the scent. Their saliva also helps neutralize and mask any remaining odors.

Outdoors, fecal scents on a cat’s fur could allow predators to track them back to their den. So meticulous cleaning after defecating helps cats survive by erasing any evidence of their presence from their surroundings.

May Excessively Over-groom Affected Area

While grooming away feces is normal, some cats excessively over-groom the affected area. This can occur if fecal matter sticks to the fur around their hindquarters.

Cats can develop irritated skin from obsessively licking to clean an area. The area may appear red or swollen.Feline over-grooming usually indicates an underlying issue like:

  • Pain or itching from parasites, infections, or skin conditions
  • Stress, anxiety, or compulsive disorders
  • Gastrointestinal issues like inflammatory bowel disease or food allergies causing loose stools that stick to fur more easily
  • If over-grooming occurs, a vet should examine the cat to diagnose and treat the underlying problem. Addressing the root cause will stop obsessive licking and chewing of the affected skin area.

    When Human Assistance May Be Needed

    Elderly or disabled cats with limited mobility

    As cats grow older or develop disabilities, they may struggle to twist, bend, and stretch to reach all areas that need grooming. An elderly or disabled cat may end up with dried feces stuck in hard-to-reach places if they cannot properly clean themselves.

    According to the ASPCA, you should check your senior or disabled cat’s coat every day. Look for dirty areas they cannot clean themselves, especially around the rear. Gently wipe any dried feces away with a warm, wet cloth. Trim longer fur in areas prone to soiling.

    This assists your cat with self-grooming.

    Long-haired cats with feces stuck in fur

    The luscious locks of long-haired cat breeds like Persians and Himalayans can become matted with feces. Their long fur wraps around stool, trapping it against the skin.

    Preventive Vet recommends checking and brushing a long-haired cat’s coat daily. Look for small clumps of fur that may be hiding stuck feces. Carefully cut out stubborn mats holding feces against the skin. Then bathe your cat to gently wash the remaining area clean.

    Kittens under 6 months still learning to groom

    Young kittens are still perfecting their grooming skills. So you may sometimes find stool stuck to a kitten’s fluffy baby fur. Groom your kitten after every meal to help teach grooming skills.

    The American Animal Hospital Association notes that kittens also learn to groom themselves properly by copying mom and litter mates. If you adopted an orphaned kitten, they may need more assistance. Check for potty messes and carefully wipe the kitten clean until their skills improve.

    How to Clean a Cat That Can’t Groom Itself

    Use unscented baby wipes for gentle cleaning

    Cats that are unable to properly groom themselves can quickly become matted and soiled. Using unscented baby wipes is a gentle way to clean areas the cat cannot reach. Focus on the hindquarters, tails, legs, neck and stomach. Be very gentle, especially around sores or tender areas.

    The aloe vera and vitamin E in many baby wipes can also help soothe irritated skin. Just be sure to use wipes without alcohol or fragrances, as this can further irritate the skin.

    Trim matted fur around soiled area if needed

    Sometimes feces can get trapped in matted fur around the hindquarters. Trying to wipe this away will be painful and ineffective. Instead, use small, sharp scissors or clippers designed for pets to carefully trim away the matted fur around the soiled area.

    Removing the mats allows you to gently clean the skin beneath. Be extremely careful not to nick the skin when trimming mats. Work slowly and check often. This may be easier with a helper holding and soothing the cat.

    Give a warm bath focusing just on affected area

    For cats that cannot groom themselves, sometimes a warm bath is needed to truly get them clean. Focus just on washing the affected areas, such as the hindquarters and tail. Avoid getting water near the face and ears. Use a gentle pet shampoo and washcloth to gently clean.

    Rinse thoroughly with warm water, avoiding the face and ears. Be prepared for the cat to dislike the bathing process. Having an assistant help hold and calm the cat can make it easier. The key is to be as gentle and quick as possible.

    Dry thoroughly and brush fur to restore neat appearance

    After bathing, it is important to gently and thoroughly dry the cat’s fur. Use a clean towel to pat dry, being extra gentle around tender areas. Use a pet hair dryer on a low, cool setting if needed to fully dry the coat.

    Next, use a soft bristle brush to brush out the coat, distributing natural oils and restoring a neat appearance. Grooming by brushing removes dead hairs and dirt and stimulates circulation. Finish by using a wide-tooth comb to detangle and neaten the fur.

    With a bit of help from you, even cats that can’t groom themselves can stay clean and comfortable.


    In summary, most healthy cats are fully capable of removing feces from their coats through their natural and meticulous grooming habits. Their bodies are adapted to allow them to twist, turn and bend to reach all areas.

    While human assistance may rarely be needed for elderly, disabled or very young cats, you can generally trust that your cat will take care of cleaning up any soiled mess on its own.

    Similar Posts