It is 100% normal for cats to groom on a daily basis, with an average of 50% of their waking time spent grooming themselves. Cat self-grooming is an important behaviour that helps cats remove dirt, loose hair and even parasites from their coat.
Your cat’s self-grooming habits may have become problematic if you notice excessive amounts of licking, biting, chewing or scratching. They can loose fur in strips along their back, belly or inner legs. An unusual amount of hairballs is often a sign of excessive grooming.
Here are some common reasons for excessive grooming in cats and what you can do to help
Why do Cats Overgroom?
Your veterinarian can help you to identify the underlying issues your cat might have that is causing it to excessively groom itself.
The most common health conditions that can cause your cat to overgroom are:
- Allergy or Infection
Irritated skin can be caused by an infection, an allergy to certain foods, parasites, or substances in the environment. Your cat’s fur-loss pattern may even hint at the source of the problem:
- Flea allergy: irritation at the base of the tail
- Ear mites: hair loss and scabbing on the neck and ears, matted hair near the ears from scratching.
- Allergic response to pollen: excessive chewing of the paw pads, leading to skin degradation
If you notice your cat licking one particular area of the body, it could be indicative that your cat is experiencing pain or discomfort.
For example, if you notice your cat consistently chewing/licking at its paw, it could be indicative that something is stuck in between its toes or in its paw pad, e.g. a grass seed.
Another example is disc disease, which can cause back pain so that your cat overgrooms a certain spot on their back, while a urinary tract infection or anal sac impaction may encourage excessive grooming of the genital or perineal area.
- Stress or boredom
It is thought that licking releases endorphins that help relieve anxiety, so when a stressed cat finds relief in licking, it can turn into a habit.
So, some cats use overgrooming as a way to cope with stress or boredom. Compulsive grooming, knwon as psychogenic alopecia, is usually triggered by a changed in the cat’s daily routine or environment, such as the arrival of a new family member or moving house. Cats are very observant and may even feed off our stress levels.
Lack of mental stimulation and enrichment can also lead to boredom for cats, as they are highly intelligent. This cause of overgrooming is especially common in indoor cats that are alone for a large portion of the day.
This condition can be seen in any breed but is most common in Siamese, Abyssinian, Burmese and Himalayan cats, due to their sensitive and attention-demanding dispositions.
How to Prevent and Stop Your Cat From Overgrooming
You first need to identify the underlying cause of your cat overgrooming.
Look for Medical Issues (Take your Cat to the Vet)
Your veterinarian can diagnose the root cause and provide medical treatment or advice for deterring the habit if it’s behavioural.
First, your veterinarian will need to rule out medical problems.
Infections or allergies can be treated with appropriate medications, which (depending on the cause) may include antibiotics, antihistamines, and/or anti-inflammatory drugs.
Keep your cat on flea medication year-round to help with flea allergies and ear mites.
If your cat is in pain, your vet can determine what’s causing it and how to manage the pain.
Maintain Routines to Reduce Stress
Cats love routine, so if the hair loss is stress-related, try to create a comfortable environment and a predictable schedule. Change the litter box at least once a day, and feed your kitty at the same times every day.
It’s best to incorporate changes gradually, such as the introduction of a new family member, to limit the amount of stress for your cat.
Provide Mental and Physical Stimulation
Be sure to provide environmental enrichment for your cat with cat trees, different types of toys, scratching posts and frequent opportunities to play. This will help your cat build confidence and distract her from overgrooming.
Try Cat Calming Medications and Products
Cats with persistent anxiety may benefit from anti-anxiety medications and/ore supplements. You will need a vet’s prescription for medications, and calming supplements are available over the counter in the form of treats.
You can also try sprays and diffusers that disperse synthetic cat pheromones. Talk to your vet about the best course of treatment.
Be Patient With Your Cat
Last, but not least, you need to be patient with your cat. If you see your cat licking excessively, don’t punish her or try to interfere. This will only add to your cat’s stress and make her overgrooming worse.
After you’ve sought out help and guidance from your vet, it may take a month or so for an overgrooming behaviour to resolve, and even longer for your cat’s fur to grow back.