Our feline friends spend a lot of time laying around, napping and grooming themselves. In fact, cats can spend up to 50 percent of their time licking and grooming, which is why many cat owners don’t bat an eye when their cat appears to be bathing itself all day long.
However, some cats can cross over the border from normal, everyday grooming to obsessive, damaging habits without their owners noticing immediately. If, over time, you notice that your cat appears to be licking more often than normal, it could be a case of excessive grooming and will need to be monitored so you can fix the root of the problem.
Understanding excessive grooming
Excessive grooming is also referred to as obsessive or over-grooming and is a common compulsive behavior in cats. Your cat may lick some of the easiest places it can reach, including the abdomen, back, chest and inner legs. The following are some of the most common signs of obsessive grooming:
- Excessive licking
- Hair loss
Excessive grooming in cats can lead to a number of unfortunate side effects, including hair loss and baldness, skin wounds, bleeding, infections and scabs. If you notice any of these signs and symptoms on your cat, there is a good chance it is partaking in over-grooming.
There are a few different causes of excessive grooming, some of which are physical and others that are emotional:
- Allergies: If your cat is allergic to a particular type of food, medication, chemical or other allergen, it may break out in a rash or get itchy, inflamed skin. This is called atopic dermatitis. Cats may lick the itchy areas obsessively to scratch and soothe the area.
- Parasites: Parasites like fleas may be living on your cat’s skin and causing severe itchiness, which your cat may lick to provide relief. The licking involved with parasites might occur over the entire body, particularly on the neck.
- Pain: Skin wounds, bug bites and stings and other pain may prompt your cat to lick the painful area so much it begins to lose hair. This licking will often be centralized in one particular area of the body.
- Stress: In some situations, stress can trigger a behavioral disorder called psychogenic alopecia in cats. This disorder causes the cat to groom itself obsessively as a coping mechanism for stress, since licking releases endorphins and is a form of self-soothing. Major stress triggers like moving to a new house might cause the obsessive grooming behavior. Psychogenic alopecia is often accompanied by other behavioral changes like not eating and hiding.
How to curb the obsession
When you first notice your cat grooming itself obsessively, make sure it does not have any physical wounds and treat any existing ones as soon as possible. Then, it’s a good idea to take your cat to the vet to try and identify the root of the obsessive behavior. The vet will run a number of tests to examine your cat and determine whether the licking is a result of an allergy, parasite, pain or something else.
If an allergen is found to be the problem, you’ll need to help your cat avoid the allergen as much as possible. If your cat develops dermatological reactions in the future, you can treat them using topical creams, baths and medications.
If your cat has fleas or mites, your vet can recommend an appropriate treatment plan to remove the parasites and prevent them from attaching themselves to your cat in the future. Similarly, when pain is the cause of the licking, your vet will need to prescribe a plan for treatment depending on the injury or medical issue.
If all tests have been taken and the vet finds no medical solution to your cat’s over-grooming, the problem likely lies with stress and psychogenic alopecia. Treating the disorder will require you to work on reducing your cat’s level of stress in your home.
To do this, try to maintain a consistent schedule and home environment, including consistent mealtimes and furniture and litter box placement. Additionally, pay lots of attention to your cat to make sure you meet its emotional needs. Play with your cat, brush it and pet it often so it feels cared for and less anxious. Finally, you may need to introduce some natural and holistic medications and supplements into your cat’s diet to promote calming behaviors if the stress and anxiety are severe. Once the stress has been reduced, your cat should return to behaving normally and stop licking obsessively.
Get back to relaxing
Obsessive grooming can lead to a series of health problems that cause even more stress for your feline friend. If you notice signs of over-grooming, including bald spots and skin irritation, take your cat to the vet right away to identify the problem so your cat can get back to relaxing all day happily.