Cats are well-known for licking themselves clean, but what happens to all the loose hair and sand and mud and wet substances that they lick off themselves? Do they ingest everything? Do they cough up and vomit out a furball later with all of this? How is a cat's digestive system suited to handle all the inedible environmental substances?

I have a pet cat and I've never understood where all that she licks off herself is going.

  • $\begingroup$ It’s your cat. Watch it and tell us what you observe. Note that in English one preposition is enough — “off of” is too much. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 20:51
  • $\begingroup$ My cat's a feral but friendly cat. She visits me by herself, a couple of times a day and several times a week; meows, eats the food I provide, shows me a great deal of affection (sometimes even brings me mice), sits by my side and grooms herself to no end, even takes small naps. But when all is done, she just gets up and leaves. She's not a home cat, and I don't have a chance to watch her full habitual routine. $\endgroup$
    – SNag
    Commented Feb 10, 2020 at 7:19
  • $\begingroup$ Their digestive system breaks down all the substances it can break down and the rest is vomited or expelled within faeces $\endgroup$
    – francesco
    Commented Feb 18, 2020 at 10:10

1 Answer 1


Cat licking is partially to clean themselves (including of odors that might attract predators) but is also used as a cooling mechanism (they sweat little and so use evaporation of saliva as a cooling mechanism), socialization, and to help spread oils. Most hair in short haired cats passes through the digestive tract with no issue. Source The hair that is unable to pass through the cat will accumulate in the stomach and be coughed up as a hairball (generally every 1-2 weeks) source.

For more on a cat's digestive tract see here. Note also that the human digestive tract can manage all manner of weird things to and just allow it to 'pass through' and this is the 'default' behavior for many digestive tracts.


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