Cats may begin overgrooming for psychological or medical reasons. Today, our Cincinnati vets explain why cats may overgroom, and how you can end their excessive grooming.
Overgrooming in Cats
Overgrooming is when cats spend an unusually large amount of time grooming themselves. When cats groom themselves too much, it can lead to fur loss and skin sores.
When cats lick themselves, natural neurotransmitters (endorphins) made by the brain get released. These endorphins make the self-grooming sensation feel comforting to your cat. Therefore, if your kitty is stressed, they may try to comfort themselves by grooming.
Lots of cat owners say they don't catch their cats excessively grooming, but this could be because their cats feel comfortable with them there and don't feel the need to obsessively groom. However, when the owners leave the room the cat may start grooming again.
If you catch your kitty overgrooming, don't punish them, this will only make your cat feel more stressed and could make the issue worse.
Causes of Overgrooming in Cats
Cats may overgroom for both physiological and medical reasons. When a physicological issue such as stress is causing a cat's overgrooming, it is called psychogenic alopecia.
Stress is the most common cause of overgrooming in cats. The type of stress that results in psychogenic alopecia is most likely chronic and caused by various stressors like a permanent change in your cat's environment and routine. Other stressors that could be triggering your cat's excessive grooming include:
- Being in a chaotic household
- The rearrangement of furniture
- A family member moving away
- Being gone for longer hours
- Kitty litter being moved
- A new animal in the home
- Moving to a new home
- A death in the family
Your kitty may also be overgrooming for medical reasons such as:
- A wound on their skin
- Trying to relieve an itch
- Bacterial or fungal infections
Try to evaluate any changes you have made to your cat's food or environment to determine why they may be overgrooming. If you think their increase in grooming is the result of an allergy, contact your vet or a veterinary dermatologist who will be able to test your cat for any allergies.
Signs of Cat Overgrooming
If your cat is excessively grooming, you will notice a stripe or line that resembles a cat buzzcut on your cat's body. However, these overgrooming marks are most often found on a cat's belly, at the base of their tail, on the foreleg, and inner thigh. If your cat's grooming habit is serious, its skin may also be sore, red, or/and damaged.
Stopping Your Cat From Overgrooming
If you notice your cat overgrooming, the first thing you should do is make an appointment with your vet so they can rule out any underlying medical conditions.
At your cat's appointment, your vet may conduct a series of tests to find the source of your pet's grooming, such as a complete physical examination, a skin biopsy, or other laboratory tests. The treatment your vet prescribes will depend on your pet's specific condition.
While you wait for your appointment, try to figure out if there is anything that could be making your cat anxious and eliminate the stressor. If you find the stressor, remove it from your cat's environment, and your kitty's excessive grooming may gradually go away. Your veterinarian can offer tips on how you can eliminate the source of your cat's stress.
In situations where a medical diagnosis can't be made, your vet might prescribe anti-anxiety drug therapy to help stop your cat's excessive licking. Your kitty will most likely need to be on this medication long enough to help them manage their stress. If your vet does prescribe these medications, you need to follow their instructions very carefully. You will also need time and patience to see this treatment take effect.
You should also know that the treatments for psychogenic alopecia aren't always permanent. Your cat's overgrooming habits could resurface at any time, this could be a sign that your kitty is stressed again.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.