Cats are fastidious self-groomers, which is their trademark trait that begins right after birth. Your cat may tend to clean its fur by licking the paws or chewing on itself for most of its waking hours.
While it’s typical for cats to groom, over-grooming isn’t, and it may be time to find a vet if it reaches the point of skin lesions, bald patches, and hairballs. However, you can help your feline friend to stop the constant licking and biting and prevent pain.
Check out why over-grooming happens and what you can do to help your cat.
What is Over-Grooming?
Most felines spend between 15 and 50 percent of their waking hours grooming themselves. However, your pet may be over-grooming if it starts spending unusually long hours licking and nibbling compulsively so much that it develops skin sores, inflammations, or hair loss.
Regular grooming allows the look good and “feel good,” but compulsive grooming could result from stress and discomfort. You may witness the incessant grooming sometimes, but there are signs to show as well.
Signs of Over-Grooming
Why Do Cats Over-Groom?
The two leading causes of compulsive grooming are medical and behavioral.
Behavioral over-grooming is a form of pervasive stress-relief mechanism that also causes psychogenic alopecia for most cats.
Psychogenic alopecia often causes felines to focus on grooming or plucking out hair from their bellies, inner thighs, or foreleg. It always appears as a line or stripe along the front legs, although they can also groom other places.
This condition can be chronic and is often prompted by several stressors, including permanent routine and environmental disruptions. It could be the absence of a particular family member, the inclusion of a stranger in the home, a perceived threat, or sudden conflict. It could be other cats too.
Cats are naturally solitary creatures and may not cope well in a multi-cat household or the presence of other felines in the neighborhood. It may not manifest as aggression towards other cats, and the feline may even happily snuggle or play, but your kitty friend could battle with stress and resort to compulsive grooming to feel calm.
Although the behavior may stop once you remove the threat, it can be difficult for your cat to have control over it and may continue long after you remove the threat. While psychogenic alopecia isn’t life-threatening, it is a diagnosis of exclusions only after your vet rules out all the potential underlying medical causes.
Medical Causes of Over-Grooming
Anything that causes your cat to feel itchy can change its grooming schedule, so it warrants medical attention. Some of these causes include:
Lice, fleas, mites, and ticks are nearly invisible creatures that may irritate the skin and cause itching, which triggers over-grooming. If irritation occurs at the tail’s base, it could be flea infestations, while hair loss and scabbing at the ears or necks could indicate mites.
The good thing is that you can stop compulsive grooming if you quickly identify and treat the parasites.
Infectious elements like fungus (ringworms) and skin mites can also cause itchiness, although they are uncommon in indoor-only cats. Your family vet can help rule this cause out by performing skin scraping and fungal cultures.
An over-grooming feline could be portraying an allergic response or irritation to food, parasites, or other environmental elements such as pollen and dust. Your feline may chew on its hairshafts or paws and require antihistamines, antibiotics, flea preventives, and inflammatory drugs as its treatment plan.
If your cat repeatedly grooms a specific area, it could be under pain or discomfort. The licking could be easing the pain.
9 Ways to Stop Your Cat from Over-Grooming
1. Take Your Cat to the Vet
You’ll require a vet to rule out underlying medical causes. The medical concerns include stress-related psychogenic alopecia, flea infestation, ringworm, bacteria, fungal infections, or metabolic conditions like hyperthyroidism.
The vet may need to evaluate the cat’s general health first since any illness can trigger stress in a kitty and lead to over-grooming. Physical examination, skin biopsies, and lab work can help the practitioner make a precise diagnosis.
And, the vet should evaluate the underlying body part for possible discomforts such as a bladder infection or arthritis in a joint if the cat tends to overgroom a specific body part.
2. Seek Help from a Behaviorist
Once you’ve ruled out medical concerns, you can now consider the over-grooming a behavioral issue. Grooming releases endorphins (feel-good hormones that make the cat happy) and may often make it partake in this pleasurable and relaxing ritual to calm itself.
For this reason, it may make it hard for the cat to stop over-grooming even when it’s no longer stressed. A cat behaviorist or vet can advise you on how you can influence your kitty to modify its behavior.
3. Try to Eliminate the Sources of Stress
You may need considerable thoughts for this step because the sources may not be obvious to you. Try to have the cat’s perspective and reflect on any issue that occurred before the compulsive grooming. Cats don’t love changes, so events like relocating, furniture rearrangement, new pet or family member, loss of a family member, boredom, and dietary change can trigger stress.
If you’ve moved to a new home, keep your feline in one room for some time before you gradually introduce it to the rest of the house. On the other hand, in case of a family member’s absence, keeping the person’s cloth or item around the cat gives the cat a familiar scent and alleviates stress.
4. Develop a Routine
Observe your kitty’s daily routine as much as possible, with key events such as playtime, feeding, and exercise happening around at the same time every day.
Felines thrive in routine and consistency because it provides the stability they need. If you intend to disrupt their routine, ensure you gradually accustom the pet to the changes to limit the stress and help them feel settled naturally.
5. Play Therapy
The next most important step is to offer plenty of environmental stimulation. The enrichments could be in the form of cat-nip toys, interactive playtime, new play centers, perching areas, outdoor time, and playmates (unless the playmates are sources of stress).
It would also be best to vary the activities to keep the feline more interested. Play therapy helps stimulates a cat and offers it an outlet for its natural traits like hunting.
6. Be Patient
While the medical causes for compulsive grooming can be treated or managed, behavioral over-grooming is most often lifelong. Your cat will always develop the tendency to overgroom when stressed, and their baldness and lesions can come and go over an extended period.
For this reason, it would be best to keep your cat’s insensitivities in mind and give it time to recover. It means that you shouldn’t use reward or punishment because it may cause more stress and ruin your relationship.
7. Provide Hiding Spaces, Climbing and Scratching Spots
Give your cat a serene place to hide, rest, and feel secure. A safe spot can act as the cat’s retirement or break room, where it can go for a personal time out to help it deal with the stressful situation.
It’s equally vital to offer climbing perches and scratching spots to keep the cat distracted. You can also offer it an elevated position for hiding spots to allow it safely watch over the house.
8. Use Synthetic Pheromones to Calm the Cat
A spray or a plug-in diffusing pheromone can help calm your cat and relieve stress. Feliway and other pheromone products mimic the facial scents that cats naturally produce when marking their territories. You can rub or spray it on objects to help the cat feel secure in its environment.
9. Drug Therapy
In some extreme behavioral grooming cases like psychogenic alopecia, a behaviorist can offer additional drug recommendations and specific methods you can conduct in your home.
Your practitioner may recommend anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications you should use alongside the behavioral modification techniques. The ultimate goal would be to eventually wean the cat off the treatment plan once it feels balanced and safe in its home life again.
Hair Loss Without Over-grooming?
Over-grooming may always present bald patches on a cat’s skin, but it may not be the only reason why the fur isn’t healthy. Other possible causes for baldness include alopecia or cat hair loss, disease, unhealthy diet, or hormonal imbalance. Check with your vet for a proper diagnosis and a recommendation of ways to treat it.
It’s common to have an over-grooming kitty, but it can be particularly frustrating because there’s no quick or easy solution to the problem. So, be patient, and consult your vet soon enough to help with the situation.
The bottom line is that compulsive grooming in cats is preventable, as long as you are keen on your feline’s insensitivities and offer it enough love and affection.
Featured Image Credit: SJ Duran, Shutterstock
- What is Over-Grooming?
- Signs of Over-Grooming
- Why Do Cats Over-Groom?
- 9 Ways to Stop Your Cat from Over-Grooming
- Hair Loss Without Over-grooming?