We love that our feline friends keep themselves groomed and clean on a daily basis. It’s one of our cats’ best assets. However, sometimes the grooming can become excessive. There are usually behavioral reasons or an underlying medical condition that causes our cats to become compulsive about nibbling their paws and/or grooming.
Over-grooming, or ‘psychogenic alopecia’, is a stress-related condition and one of the most common compulsive disorders in cats. It’s usually triggered by a stressful event or series of events, which prompt an emotional reaction – licking excessively.
Signs of excessive grooming in cats
If your cat is grooming excessively, you’ll notice that his fur starts to come out, leaving bald patches in places. If he continues to groom parts of his body where there’s bare skin due to over-grooming, it can quickly become very sore, red and inflamed and scabs are not uncommon. Even if you don’t notice that your cat is excessively licking, grooming or chewing his skin (perhaps because he doesn’t do it when you’re home as he feels more relaxed), bald patches and broken skin are good first indications of an over-grooming problem.
What causes excessive grooming in cats?
There are many reasons why cats groom excessively both emotional and medical.
Stress. In times of stress some cats take comfort in turning to a routine activity, like grooming, to try to normalize their feelings. As time goes on, the act of grooming becomes linked to a reduction in stress and it becomes a habit that they can’t break.
Boredom. If your cat has nothing else to occupy his time, and limited human interaction your cat may spend longer and longer grooming himself until it becomes a problem.
Physical or Medical Issue. If you cat has a flea allergy, dermatitis or another skin complaint, it could be that over-grooming is his way of trying to soothe the irritation. Similarly, if your cat has a painful area, licking that spot can provide comfort.
Breed Related. Some cat breeds are more prone to over-grooming than others, such as oriental breeds like Siamese and Abyssinian cats.
Diagnosis and treatment of over-grooming in cats
The first step is to take your over-grooming cat to the vet, where they’ll do some tests to rule out any medical issues.
If the root of your cat’s over-grooming issue is purely a physical problem, your vet will probably prescribe antibiotics and anti-inflammatories to treat the symptoms, and your cat may need to wear a cone for a short period of time.
If there’s no underlying physical cause for your cat’s over-grooming, it’s likely to be caused by an emotional issue such as stress. You may also notice other signs of emotional distress such as a refusal to eat, wanting to hide or skittish and fearful behavior.
Try to figure out when the excessive grooming started
It will be up to you to try to figure out the cause of your cat’s stress. Did your cat start this behavior after a change to his routine, such as a new addition in your home (cat, dog or a person? If you can get to the root of the problem, you’ll be able to start working to reduce or remove the cause of his stress. Obviously, if it’s a new baby in the house, you can’t remove the cause of your cat’s stress, but you can help your cat to cope better with the change.
Affection, play and enrichment can help curb excessive grooming
Most cats love human interaction, so make sure you spend plenty of time bonding with your cat including playtime with favorite toy, brush you cat and make sure your cat stays fulfilled. It is also important to make sure that everything else about your cat’s routine stays constant, including regular feeding times and keeping the litter tray in the same position. Cats like their routine!
Environmental enrichment is also important, so make sure your cat has a cat tree and interactive toys. It’s also vital that your cat has high places or a room that he can escape to if you have a new puppy or human baby in the house. We all need a safe haven or a little ‘me’ time on occasion and your cat is no different, especially if he or she is feeling stressed.
Once you find out why your cat is grooming excessively, it will be much easier to treat the condition. If anyone knows your cat, it is you! So try to think of when the excessive grooming started and why your cat might be doing this.