Why is my cat overgrooming?
We all know cats are clean animals and love to groom themselves. But what do you do if your cat is overgrooming?
There are many reasons why your cat is overgrooming. You should watch out for this as it often means more than your cat wants to be super clean – it could be an indication of a problem.
Your cat may lick so much that they lose hair and have a bald patch on their body and this can lead to sores and rawness. Cat’s tongues are very rough, and the constant licking can do a lot of damage to the skin.
Cat overgrooming for no reason should not be confused with psychogenic alopecia, which is a medical condition that causes a cat to lose their hair without licking.
What are the causes of cat overgrooming?
Cats get stressed just like people do. They don´t always adapt well to change or can sense if something isn´t right in your life. If the routine in your household is different your cat is likely to show signs of stress, such as overgrooming. They will lick any area they can reach consistently, so watch out for signs of your cat overgrooming its belly, tummy or legs.
It is believed that when a cat licks not just to clean itself, it is taking comfort from the release of endorphins, the happy chemicals which can help relieve anxiety. This scenario is similar to the body’s reaction when humans take antidepressants – they can make us feel better temporarily. But for both cats and humans, endorphins are just masking the problem so it is important to discover the cause.
Some of the common causes of stress overgrooming include:
- Moving home – a cat will often try to return to the old location, even if is miles away.
- A new baby – this little human being makes a lot of noise and seems to get all the attention.
- Another cat or dog – your cat is used to being number one and may find the playmate you thought they’d love is a problem for them.
- Moving furniture around – your cat gets used to where they can snuggle up and if you move things they may get confused.
- A different timetable – cats are creatures of habit and get used to when you are out or at home. While they are fiercely independent they do like to know you’re there for them in the background. If you start coming and going at different times they’ll notice.
- Boredom – whilst cats are independent, they do need to play and have mental and physical stimulation. Giving them toys, a cat house and a scratching post will keep them busy, as will petting and talking to them. Some cats will even entertain themselves with a cardboard box or toilet roll inners.
- A change in routine – making feeding time earlier or later could make your cat feel stressed as they are creatures of habit.
Your cat may also be grooming themselves too much as they have a medical condition. This is something to look out for and one of the first signs they are unwell.
Possible reasons could be:
- Parasites such as fleas, ticks or mites, will make your cat’s skin incredibly itchy. This is likely to show as a cat overgrooming at the base of the tail which is especially where fleas are located. If you notice any of these on your cat (some are too small to see easily and you will have to carry out a close examination), you should give it the appropriate treatment, which can be supplied by your vet. Other animals in the household and bedding should also be treated to prevent reinfection.
- Allergies, similar to those in humans. A cat overgrooming allergy could be due to you introducing a new food into their diet, itching caused by pollen at certain times of the year or dust mites. It could also be due to a new kind of litter or an allergic reaction to the fabric of a new bed or blanket. To work out what could be the cause of the problem consider what is new in your cat’s life.
- Feline lower urinary tract disease which causes pain and the cat to lick their lower belly and genital area.
- If your pet has had an operation this could lead to cat overgrooming after surgery. Their instinct is to lick the wound to help it heal, but this could be counterproductive.
For a cat overgrooming its hind legs, this could be a sign they are in pain. They may have been struck by a car or injured themselves in another way without you realising.
Another reason for this habit could be hyperthyroidism. Your cat has two thyroid glands that are responsible for the metabolism of the body, just as in humans. If the thyroid gland stops working properly the metabolic rate speeds up which causes the heart to work harder.
This is a serious condition that may first show if your cat collapses. Your vet will be able to check if your cat is suffering from feline hyperthyroidism and recommend the right treatment such as medication, a low iodine diet or surgery on the thyroid gland.
Whether your cat is overgrooming its front legs or another part of its body, this can lead to sores and cat overgrooming scabs. A vicious circle arises as the cycle of licking takes place and the skin never heals. This is when you need to intervene and take your cat to a vet as the grooming could lead to an infection.
The vet will likely give your cat a topical or oral antibiotic which will help clear up a cat’s overgrooming sores. They may also give them an antihistamine to stop any itching. Your cat may need to wear a collar for a few days to stop the habit of licking.
In some cases, the vet will prescribe steroids, which can have strong side effects if given to your cat regularly, particularly over a period of years. There is a risk of weight gain, diabetes, increased urination and liver swelling. If your cat is given steroids it is essential you only give them for a short period to avoid long-term health problems.
How to stop your cat from overgrooming
If you are unsure why your cat is overgrooming you should take it to the vet to rule out any underlying medical conditions. Tricks to try at home are:
- Leaving an item of clothing that smells of you in the cat’s bed, especially if you have to leave them home alone for long periods.
- Introducing changes slowly and ensuring your cat still feels like they’re number one in your life. This can be as simple as playing with them more and rewarding them with treats if you move home to playing recordings of a baby crying so they get used to the noise.
Note: you should never leave your cat alone with a newborn as they could enter the cot or pram and suffocate the baby.
Using a calming spray designed for cats that has a relaxing scent and can make them feel at ease.
It is very important to look out for the signs of cats licking incessantly and to address the causes of cat overgrooming as if left this can lead to serious trauma.
To deal with or prevent overgrooming you could try including Lactium® in your cat’s diet, which is known to have calming properties.
A much gentler alternative to pet tranquilisers, this milk derivative is a natural way to treat a cat’s anxiety and can help them deal with any stress they are feeling.