Cats are well-known for their cleanliness, licking their fur for hours each day. Sometimes though, your feline friend will take things too far and overgroom themself. Cat overgrooming can be a serious problem, leading to permanent skin damage. Excessive grooming has many causes, including allergies, infections, parasites, and mental distress brought on by changes in the cat’s environment. Depending on the cause and severity, you may be able to diagnose the root cause yourself, or you may need to seek a vet’s advice.
Fortunately, overgrooming is usually easy to treat with a combination of veterinary assistance, behavioral modification techniques, and holistic remedies. Read on to find out why cats overgroom and what you can do about it.
What is Cat Overgrooming?
Cats are neat freaks, so they clean themselves a lot. Cats typically spend up to 50% of their waking hours grooming. If your cat spends more than half their time cleaning themself, they may be overgrooming. However, unless you spend all day and night watching your cat, it can be hard to tell when they exceed that 50% mark. Frequency is not the best indicator of overgrooming – irritation and injury are.
A cat’s tongue is covered in tiny barbs called papillae that act like a hairbrush, removing loose hair and dirt. When cats overgroom, they can strip away so much hair that they create bald spots. The papillae can irritate a cat’s bare skin and even cause injury. This is the real danger of overgrooming.
Is It Common For Cats to Overgroom Themselves?
Overgrooming is not normal behavior for healthy cats. That being said, excessive grooming is one of the most common symptoms of discomfort and agitation in cats. Overgrooming means that something is amiss with your cat, but there is probably a simple explanation for this behavior.
What Causes Excessive Cat Grooming?
Before you can stop your cat’s compulsive grooming, you need to understand the underlying cause of their behavior. Many things can lead to overgrooming.
Cats can have an allergic response to various things, including certain foods, bug bites, and pollens. A veterinarian can test your cat for allergies and recommend effective treatments. Food allergies are usually managed with a hypoallergenic diet.
Atopy is a type of allergy caused by airborne irritants that provokes skin irritation in cats. It is a particularly common cause of overgrooming behavior. Felines with atopy should be converted into indoor-only cats to protect them from the airborne allergens outside.
Excessive grooming can be caused by infections that make a cat itchy. Potential underlying medical causes include:
- Disc disease: Like all mammals, cats have discs of cartilage between each vertebra of the spine. These discs act as shock absorbers and aid flexibility. If a disc swells or slips out of position, it can cause serious discomfort. Some cats try to deal with this by constantly licking their aching back.
- Bladder infection: If your cat has a bladder or urinary tract infection, they might start compulsively licking their genitals. Older female cats are particularly susceptible to UTIs. Fortunately, these infections are easy to treat. A vet may prescribe antibiotics or an alternative diet to correct the condition.
- Fungal infections: Fungal infections such as ringworm can cause itchiness in cats. Since fungi are mostly found in soil, outdoor cats are more vulnerable to infection. A vet can perform skin biopsies or fungal cultures to determine if fungi are causing your cat to overgroom.
Parasites can bite your cat and irritate its skin, making it extremely itchy. Cats who spend many hours outside are especially vulnerable to these pests. Here are some common feline parasites:
- Fleas: Fleas are one of the most common causes of excessive grooming. These pests multiply and spread fast because female fleas lay up to 50 eggs a day. Fleas are most common during the summer when the weather is warm.
- Lice: Lice also love to chew on cats, causing itchiness. Remember getting lice checks in school? You can do the same thing for your cat. Comb through their hair, looking for dark specks on their skin. Unlike fleas, lice thrive when the weather is cold.
- Skin Mites: Mites are microscopic parasites that burrow into the cat’s skin. They cause a condition called mange, which results in itchy and flaky skin. Mange can lead to permanent skin damage and scarring and even become fatal if left untreated.
- Ticks: Ticks are bigger than fleas, lice, and mites, making them much easier to spot. Adult ticks are around 1/8 of an inch long and brown. Ticks can carry Lyme disease, a serious condition that can cause fever, fatigue, and difficulty breathing. It can also affect a cat’s joints, heart, and nervous system.
Indoor cats are less likely to be exposed to parasites, but no place is entirely pest-proof. There are other ways that parasites can find their way to your cat.
How Parasites Migrate
- Other pets: Animals can easily transfer fleas to one another. If you also have a dog in the home, they can pick up parasites during their daily walks and bring them home to your cat. If you live in an apartment building or other housing with shared spaces, your neighbors’ pets can transfer parasites to your home.
- Used Furniture: If you buy used furniture or rugs from someone whose pet has fleas or mites, the pests are going to ride those items all the way home to your place. It’s fine to buy furniture or rugs secondhand (thrifty too!), but be sure to clean them thoroughly.
- New home: When you move to a new place, there might be parasites left behind by the previous tenants’ pets. It’s always a good idea to clean your new place before setting up all the furniture.
Grooming releases endorphins in cats. Endorphins are hormones made by the brain that create feelings of calm and happiness. They make grooming a pleasurable and relaxing ritual for cats. Agitated cats may seek relief in the form of excessive grooming. Overgrooming caused by mental distress is called psychogenic alopecia. Compulsive grooming can be a response to sudden changes in a cat’s environment, like these:
- A new pet or person in the household
- Moving to a new home
- Rearranging furniture
- Moving their litter box
- Other disruptions to the cat’s routine
Are Some Cat Breeds More Prone to Overgrooming?
It is widely believed that cats of Asian origin like the Siamese, Burmese, and Himalayan are more prone to overgrooming. However, no studies have been done to back up these claims. Ultimately, overgrooming is a risk in all cat breeds.
How Can I Tell If My Cat Is Overgrooming?
It would help if you watched your cat for these telltale signs of overgrooming:
- Bald patches: Excessive licking strips away a cat’s fur, leaving them with bald spots or patches of very short stubble. These usually show up on the cat’s paws, stomach, or inner thighs.
- Hairballs: Cats swallow a lot of loose hair when they groom. Cat’s cannot digest their hair, so they cough it back up in the form of hairballs. Most cats create one or two hairballs a month. If your kitty is coughing up more hairballs than usual, they may be overgrooming.
- Skin sores: Hair loss leaves a cat’s skin vulnerable. Excessively licking their bare skin with those barbed tongues can cause red sores to form. Sores are irritating in their own right and can cause a cat to lick the spot even more.
- Skin lesions: In extreme cases, a cat may bite itself and break the skin. If this happens, you should seek veterinary advice as soon as possible.
How Can I Get My Cat to Stop Overgrooming?
Naturally, you will want to implement proper cat care and do whatever you can to stop overgrooming and relieve your cat of its damaging effects. If their overgrooming has a physical cause, such as allergies or parasites, you should talk to a vet. Of course, this isn’t always the case. In cases of psychogenic alopecia, there is usually something in the home environment that is agitating the cat. There are many things cat owners can do to alleviate this.
Cats are creatures of habit. They need a reliably consistent environment, so try to feed them at the same time each day, clean out their litter box frequently, and show them the attention they crave. You can also play a role in your cat’s grooming routine by brushing them regularly. Brushing your cat helps to prevent hairballs, especially in breeds with long hair.
One of the easiest ways to stop your cat from overgrooming is to distract them. Toys, cat trees, scratching posts, and playtime with you can boost a cat’s mood and take their mind off whatever is agitating them.
Pheromones are chemical signals that many animals use to communicate. Each species produces its own unique pheromones. Have you ever noticed your cat rubbing its face on your furniture or directly on you? There’s a good reason for that. When a cat rubs its face on something, they spread their pheromones on that object.
When a cat marks something with pheromones, they leave a signal for itself. Pheromones serve as a reminder that the cat is in a safe and secure space. The practice of marking their territory also helps cats to feel a sense of ownership and control. In the wild, animals use pheromones to stake a claim to a certain area or object.
You can use synthetic pheromones to reinforce the message that the cat is in a safe and controlled environment. You can spread synthetic pheromones through sprays and plug-in diffusers. The increased presence of feline pheromones can soothe a distressed cat.
CBD is a natural compound found in hemp plants that can soothe and comfort an agitated cat. It supports your cat’s endocannabinoid system or ECS. The ECS plays an important role in the body, regulating many of the body’s functions, including sleep, immune response, and mood. HolistaPet offers a variety of CBD products for cats:
- Treats: Crunchy treats made from salmon and chicken are a popular way to administer CBD. Give your cat a CBD treat twice a day to promote calmness and curb overgrooming behavior. Besides, who doesn’t feel better after a tasty snack?
- Soft chews: Crunchy treats can be a challenge for older cats and those with dental issues, but don’t worry. CBD soft chews are easy on the teeth and offer the same benefits.
- CBD oil: This tincture combines the power of CBD with the benefits of hemp seed oil. Hemp seed oil is a superfood high in vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, and essential fatty acids. You can drop CBD oil directly into your cat’s mouth or add it to their favorite food.
- Capsules: CBD capsules also boast the power of hemp seeds. Made from 100% plant-based ingredients, each capsule contains a pre-measured amount of CBD, so dosing is a cinch.
- Catnip spray: We’ve combined CBD with a tried-and-true feline favorite: catnip! A spritz of catnip on a toy or scratching post can put your cat in a fun and playful mood. At the same time, the CBD works like aromatherapy, helping your cat stay calm.
Final Thoughts – Cat Overgrooming
Cats love grooming. It’s one of their most notable and widely admired traits. Cat owners love that their pets keep themselves clean on their own, saving both parties from an unpleasant trip to the bathtub. However, in rare circumstances, grooming can go too far.
Overgrooming can be caused by physical or mental distress, and its results can be devastating. Thankfully, excessive grooming is usually easy to treat. The key is to identify the issue early on and take appropriate action without delay. Know the signs and causes of overgrooming, and you’ll be able to help your cat kick this obsessive habit.
Read Next: Cat Shedding: What Causes It & When Should I Be Concerned?