It’s no secret cats like to be clean, and if you share your home with a cat, you surely have seen him grooming on a daily basis. But what should you do if you think your cat might be grooming too much?
When your cat begins excessive licking, hair pulling or hair chewing obsessively, it is called psychogenic alopecia. Cats typically develop this type of compulsive disorder when they are less than 2 years of age. Any cat can develop obsessive grooming, but the Oriental breeds, such as Siamese cats, are especially prone to it. Also, female cats are more likely than males to suffer from psychogenic alopecia. Left untreated, obsessive grooming can lead to bald spots, which can turn into red irritated areas called hot spots.
If your cat is exhibiting this type of behavior, it is important to visit your veterinarian first. Your vet will be able to determine if a medical problem is causing this behavior.
Medical conditions that could be causing your cat’s obsessive grooming include:
Parasites are often the reason behind compulsive cat scratching or licking, but because your cat is such a meticulous groomer, it may be difficult to find any trace of fleas. If your cat is licking her lower back obsessively, fleas, ticks, mites or ringworm might be the reason for the excessive scratching, licking or chewing.
Whether related to food or the environment, allergies can cause cats to have itchy, irritated skin. Dry skin from forced air heat during the cold winter months or nutritional inadequacies might be causing your cat to have dry, flaky skin. This condition could be prompting her to lick in an effort to relieve the itchiness.
If your cat is licking or biting the same place over and over, he could be experiencing discomfort or pain in that spot. The licking or biting in this area is an attempt to alleviate the pain.
After your veterinarian has ruled out any medical condition, you will need to evaluate what could be causing your cat stress.
Compulsive disorders develop most often with indoor cats, who may experience less mental stimulation and physical exercise than their outdoor cousins. Indoor cats are often challenged with moving to a new home, remodeling, rearranging furniture, the introduction of a new pet or human family member and separation anxiety when a trusted family member is away. All of these changes can be stressful to your cat and could be the trigger that initiated her obsessive grooming.
Cats who live in multiple cat households also are more likely to face stressful situations, such as disputes over food, territory and the litter box.
There could be outside triggers causing your cat stress, such as strange cats outside the house or loud noises in the neighborhood (children playing, construction, sirens or even the garbage truck). Some of these triggers are beyond your control, but with a little creativity, you might be able to help alleviate the stress that is causing your cat problems.
Environmental enrichment is important for indoor-only cats. Your house cat thinks the same as his wildcat cousins. For this reason, he needs plenty of things to keep her mentally and physically engaged. You can accomplish this by providing climbing structures like a cat tree, places where she can perch and watch birds at feeders in the yard and hideaway spots for quiet time. Make sure you provide interactive toys that encourage your cat to hunt, pounce and play. Wand toys are a great way for you to interact with your cat. Try spending a minimum of 15 minutes every day engaging in play, whether a fun game of hide and seek or using one of her favorite toys.
Our cat Annie loves to learn tricks in the evening. Every night she comes to get us for her training sessions. She has learned to jump through a hoop, sit, and give us a high five. Annie and our other cat, Eddie, are both learning to walk with a harness and leash. We have many toys the cats love, and we place them into rotation so that the novelty factor stays in play.
Keeping the cats exercised and mentally stimulated makes for happier cats and owners. And as a bonus for us, when we wear the cats out during a vigorous play session, they allow us to sleep through the night.
Separation anxiety is heartbreaking for both cats and humans. If you are planning to be away from the home, leave out a pair of pajamas you have worn so your scent is on them.
Music therapy is an option you might investigate to help alleviate your cat’s stress. There are special melodies designed to reduce stress in a chaotic or changing environment. Musicians adjust the frequency to a cat’s auditory range and use a technique called sonic anchoring. These repetitive melodies can prove quite comforting to a cat who loves the consistency of the tone, tempo and pattern.
For triggers outside the home, such as a neighborhood cat or children playing, you might try to get your cat to move to another window. To move his attention away from the window, provide enrichment inside the home, such as an aquarium. You may find you need to cover the window with an opaque substance to block the visual cues your cat is getting from the outside activity. You might also try a pheromone plug-in, spray or collar to help calm your stressed cat.
Many times it is not possible to completely cure your cat from obsessive grooming, but with positive changes to your cat’s home environment, you may help reduce the frequency of the compulsive behavior. If you’re not able to help your cat through the over-grooming disorder, your veterinarian might consider drug therapy.
Change requires patience and it is often difficult to notice progress. You might consider keeping a journal of your cat’s behavior. This documentation will help you understand if the behavior modification is helping to reduce the number of times your cat is grooming and motivate you to continue with the therapies that are working.
While you may find yourself frustrated by your cat’s behavior, it is important not to punish your cat for his obsessive grooming. Punishment will simply increase his stress level and may even cause his obsessive licking to become more intense. Forcing your cat to wear a garment or Elizabethan collar to physically prevent your cat from grooming may also increase his anxiety.
Helping your cat reduce or stop grooming obsessively requires time and patience while you search for the source of stress that is causing your cat to lick. Reassure him with kindness and love when he is not grooming, making sure not to reward him while he is licking. Your cat may be in need of attention, so make sure you take the time to snuggle and love him every day.