Do Cats Actually Like the Taste of Themselves?

By Bill Hall

That bunk about cats being so clean is no more true than saying that all human beings are clean, though both creatures are known for taking baths.

That does not mean that all cats and humans regularly bathe, though it would be nice if some of them did -- especially a couple of the cats I could mention.

We have only one regular bather at our house now, not counting ourselves. Our tabby cat, Nellie, is a traditional, clean-looking cat with her white pristine patches. I say "clean-looking" cat, as opposed to "clean," because no cat, unless washed in a tub by a human being, is actually clean. Let's be frank about that. Cats who keep themselves clean are a myth. Licking yourself all over is not called keeping clean. It's called getting germy spit all over yourself.

That's what Nellie does. And just because she looks clean doesn't mean you would want to use her as a bandage if you cut yourself. Anybody who uses a cat as a bandage is asking for infection.

As a matter of fact, it is my understanding that there is no pretense among cats about that. They don't claim to be "taking a bath," as we ignorantly call it, nor keeping themselves clean. And they don't lick themselves all over because they taste so darned good.

Granted, that may be the logical assumption. You could rationally assume that, if a cat likes the taste of a fat, hairy little mammal like a mouse, that a cat -- being a fat hairy little mammal -- might like the taste of itself. You might rationally assume that when a cat is "bathing" it is actually using its own body as an appetizer before going out and looking for a real meal.

Not so. I have read in journals of unknown credibility that cats who lick themselves all over are actually ridding themselves of their own scent, lest it be wafted in the wind to a mouse or other prey. A cat washes to make it easier to sneak up on a mouse.

This probably explains why so many deer hunters are unsuccessful. They go out in the woods for a week without bathing. You could probably do a study proving that a hunter is more likely to sneak up on a deer and dispatch it on the first day of a hunting trip than later in the week when he has begun to ripen.

Cats apparently fight the same problem by licking all the scent off themselves. The only way you could get a deer hunter to do that is if he spilled beer on himself.

But sometimes I wonder if it's really true that cats are licking off their scent. It doesn't necessarily make sense. You would think that by now cats would have evolved to the point where, by natural selection, unscented cats have survived and scented cats are extinct.

Similarly, the mice should by now have evolved to the point, through the survival of the fittest, where they can smell cat spit. For every defense, Nature has an offense.

But maybe there is another explanation because it isn't true that all cats clean themselves. One of our cats, Penelope, doesn't stay much cleaner than a dog (which is not a compliment). And our Alfie, as well as the neighbor cat, Sydney, are pigs. Like a dog, they literally roll in the dirt, especially good, loose, dry, dusty dirt -- the kind that looks so attractive on a white couch.

For good measure, Alfie, who, if washed, is white, hangs out under old cars and usually has a few dark motor oil spots on his back. But it is no coincidence that Alfie and Sydney are smarter than the cleaner cats. They have learned, when it comes to the scent problem, that it is a lot faster and equally effective to roll in the dirt and forget about that nonsense of licking themselves all over.

That should work. That leaves them smelling like dirt. To a mouse, dirt must be the background smell of the outdoors. So if you're a mouse, how can you detect a cat coming through the outdoors if the cat smells like the outdoors?

Maybe human deer hunters would do better if they didn't just fester for days in their own sweat but took off their clothes (smelling of wool, cotton and polyester) and rolled in the dirt before hunting.

Meanwhile, somebody should drive those guys through a car wash with the windows open before they go home to their families. The scent of a hunter who has just spent a week in the woods is enough to gag a cat.



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