How do I know when too much grooming is “too much?”
If your cat is licking and preening when it no longer serves a purpose, there could be something wrong causing your pet to over groom their fur. Be on the lookout for irritable, overzealous scratching, or grooming to the point of hairlessness. Along with this, you may also notice redness, or rashes on parts of your pet’s body without much fur. If you notice this kind of behavior, the sooner you move to correct it, the less likely it is that your pet will have to deal with wounds, and infection as a result of over grooming.
What are the causes of over grooming?
The number one cause of over grooming in cats is a flea infestation. Check your cat’s armpits and groin, and any other warm protected areas on their body for fleas. Also check their ears, and any other exposed areas of skin for sores, or bumps from flea bites. You may also see flea feces or “dirt.” If this does happen to be the cause of your cat’s tendency to over groom themselves, a quick trip to your vet for treatment should clear up both problems right away.
If this doesn’t seem to be the problem, your cat’s over grooming could be caused by something as simple as boredom from a lack of stimulation, but it could also be caused by something more serious such as a food allergy, an infection, or a parasite. So it is still important to seek help from the vet in order to determine the cause, and the most effective method of treatment.
Over grooming could also be a symptom of a condition known as Psychogenic Alopecia. Psychogenic Alopecia is a compulsion which causes your cat to over groom their coat. Grooming is a soothing activity for cats, and for that reason when they feel threatened or in a situation of conflict they may groom themselves to return to a state of calm. A normal, healthy cat can spend almost half of the day with their attention focused toward grooming themselves, but if the grooming becomes excessive there could be an environmental factor that has caused the animal to develop uncontrollable compulsive grooming habits. If you think this is the case, you can ask your vet to test your pet for Psychogenic Alopecia.
Here is a small list of some general causes for this condition:
- The addition of another cat
- Moving to a new home, or a change like a renovation in the home.
- Addition of a new family member or death of a loved one.
- Living in a chaotic environment
- Boredom or depression from a lack of environmental enrichment
- Confinement (such as hospitalization or boarding)
- Litter box problems
How can I treat my cat’s over grooming, and prevent it from happening again?
Over grooming caused by skin irritation can be cleared up using a topical cream or anti-inflammatory. Food related issues will require a change in your pet’s diet. This could be something easy, like adding fish oil to their food, but they may also be allergic to a certain ingredient in the food you give them, so you may need to try a few different brands of food to determine what works best with your cat’s system.
If your vet has determined that the cause of the over grooming is Psychogenic Alopecia then you should follow these steps to try and modify the behavior.
Firstly, many cats develop this compulsion as a response to chaos in their home. For this reason you should make sure that your cat’s daily routine is as normal as possible. That means feeding, and play that occurs around the same time of the day, every day.
It could be a lack of stimulation that is driving the cat to groom itself, because it is bored. You can prevent this by playing with your pet for 10-15 minutes each day. It is important to give your cat this kind of attention daily, so that they don’t become restless. This will also help to mitigate damage to your property
Avoid the urge to punish your cat when they over groom because this could contribute to your animal’s anxiety which may be a cause of their compulsion to lick. Try not to reward them when they don’t over groom themselves, as the attention could encourage the habit.
You can also try planting a small indoor garden of cat friendly plants and herbs, like Catnip, and Catmint. These plants produce a stimulant effect in cats when inhaled, but provide a more sedative effect when ingested. The inclusion of these plants in your home would be a good way to provide more stimulation in your cat’s environment, which will help to distract them from their compulsion to over groom.
While trying to train your cat not to over groom, you could try having them wear a garment that would prevent them from being able to access their fur. The Tulane's Closet Cat Post Surgery Onesie from Tui Cat Cover Ups is a great alternative to a plastic cone. The soft, breathable material the garment is made from is extremely comfortable, and easily washable. It covers your pet’s entire body to ensure that they are unable to worry any hot spots or painful areas that may result from over grooming. It is very simple to put on and take off of your pet, so you won’t have to worry about getting scratched up while trying to help.
The garment also features a potty cover, so your cat will still be able to use the litter box without the cover up interfering with their natural anatomy.
Lastly, if you’ve tried all of these steps and nothing seems to be working, consult your vet for any additional techniques for behavioral modification they might recommend. In the meantime, you may also need to put a barrier between your cat, and their skin to prevent access to sore areas. Instead of using a cone, which can be painful and can create more stress for your cat try using a surgical garment specially made for cats.