Every cat-loving person knows that their feline pets are very fastidious creatures. It would be very unusual if you do not to see your feline pet grooming itself. However, if the cat spends a large amount of time grooming itself to the point of being obsessive, it should send the alarm bells ringing. So, why is your cat overgrooming?
Determining Cat Overgrooming
There is no clear-cut definition of feline overgrooming. What a pet owner may consider as a sign of excessive grooming in cats can be a normal phenomenon in the eyes of another. Feline behaviorists say that cats often spend between 30 and 50 percent of their time grooming. As such, if your cat is awake 10 hours every day, then it can spend about 5 hours grooming itself and it will still be normal.
It is obvious that the problem here is not the behavior itself. The main concern of both veterinarians and pet owners is the resulting damage to the skin. Constant licking of a particular area can irritate the skin of the cat. This irritation can lead to tissue inflammation. It can loosen the attachment of the individual hair follicles and lead to hair loss. As such, one of the surest signs of excessive grooming in cats is patchy hair loss. You can also see redness on the skin as well as signs of swelling.
Skin irritation can also present other health problems. The resulting inflammation can lead to itching. The cat may have to ‘nibble’ on the skin in an effort to relieve the itching. This can cut the skin, allowing germs to enter and cause localized infection.
Possible Causes of Overgrooming in Cats
There are two principal causes of excessive grooming in cats. One is medical in origin, while the other is behavioral.
Excessive grooming in cats is almost always a sign of skin irritation. There are a number of health conditions that can irritate the skin.
If you see a cat overgrooming base of tail, for example, there is a possibility that it has fleas in this area. Fleas attach to the skin of pets, feeding on blood. This is how they grow and proliferate. These parasites damage the skin and cause localized tissue inflammation. Inflammation stimulates the release of certain substances that can cause intense itching. This is in addition to the tenderness or pain that may result from tissue damage.
Mites and ticks can also elicit the same kind of reaction in the cat’s skin. Although these ectoparasites are more common in dogs, they do occur in cats. Ticks can also damage the feline skin. They can also trigger an inflammatory response in the same way as fleas do. Mites, on the other hand, can elicit a superficial inflammatory reaction. There are also bloodsucking mites that can get on your pet.
Allergies can also make the skin itchy. Almost all types of allergic reaction can promote the release of pro-inflammatory substances. A good example of these substances is histamine. This substance can produce intense itching, in addition to other symptoms. Food allergies and seasonal allergies are two of the most common culprits of skin irritation in cats.
Any disease that can produce pain can also make a cat to groom itself in a more obsessive manner. Grooming is the cat’s way of soothing pain. One has to remember that our feline pets are very good at hiding their pain. Only when the pain is so severe that you can see your kitty to exhibit other manifestations. These can include increased vocalization, avoidance behavior, and irritability, among others.
A good example of this is feline arthritis. The inflammation of the cat’s joints can produce extreme pain. The cat will try to lick the inflamed joints to help relieve the pain.
It is also possible that cat overgrooming is secondary to a skin lesion. An example of this is eosinophilic granuloma complex. These lesions have an unknown origin. Some veterinarians say that it can be an immune-mediated response. Others say it can be because of an allergy. Whatever the case, such skin lesions can make the cat very uncomfortable. The only way it can comfort itself is by increasing the frequency and intensity of licking.
One can suspect behavioral issues if there are no medical reasons for causing the cat to lick itself obsessively. This can be more difficult to prove.
The prevailing assumption is that licking facilitates the release of neurotransmitters in the brain. Many of these neurotransmitters, called endorphins, can stimulate the release of other feel-good substances in the brain. This leads to the idea that self-grooming is the cat’s way of comforting itself.
Stress and anxiety are two of the most common behavioral causes of excessive feline grooming. While there are no objective tests that can help you determine the exact behavioral cause, you can always correlate the behavior to any changes in the cat’s life.
Most felines do not appreciate changes in their lives. They can become very uneasy and can display odd behaviors. As such, a cat grooming base of tail may not signal the presence of ectoparasites. It can be the feline pet’s way of calming itself.
If you brought home another cat without making the necessary introductions, your existing pet may feel very anxious. The same is true with the arrival of a baby or a visiting relative. These instances can make the cat uncomfortable. The pet will try to relax itself by increasing the frequency of its self-grooming.
Moving to a new house can also make cats very anxious. They think that a sudden change in environment can make them very vulnerable to predators. They may also feel that their resources are no longer available to them.
Sometimes, making small changes in the arrangement of your furnishings can be very unsettling for some feline pets. Rearranging the furniture can give them the idea that you are encroaching on their territory. This is something that no cat wants.
Relocating the cat’s litter box can also make the pet very anxious. Living in a household that is very noisy and chaotic can also be very stressful for these pets. And if the cat does not have access to enriching activities, it can also feel bored and stressed out.
Managing Excessive Feline Grooming
The management of cat overgrooming should always start with the identification of an underlying medical problem. Since one of the reasons why your cat may be obsessive about licking itself is because of skin irritation, the assessment should focus on identifying the cause of the irritation.
The presence of mites, fleas, ticks, and other ectoparasites can all lead to skin inflammation. One can check the animal’s skin for the presence of these parasites. If you are not familiar about how these organisms look, then a veterinarian can help. He can recommend appropriate antiparasitic preparations that you can give to your pet.
You can also institute an elimination diet to help rule out food allergies as the possible cause of the itching. This involves replacing the cat’s diet with a hypoallergenic diet, introduced in a gradual manner. As you switch the cat to its limited ingredient diet, you will have to watch out for any changes in the animal’s tendency to lick itself. This will help you determine if the overgrooming is food allergy-related.
Unfortunately, this will not answer other types of allergies that the cat may have. Veterinarians can perform allergy testing in cats. They can administer low-dose antihistamines or corticosteroids. If there is a reduction in the cat’s licking frequency, then you can say that its overgrooming behavior is related to an allergic reaction.
Laboratory tests can also help rule out other diseases that can contribute to skin irritation. If there are skin lesions, veterinarians can perform a skin biopsy.
In the event that the overgrooming tendencies of your cat is not due to a medical problem, then you can start thinking about behavioral therapy for cats.
Identify any changes in the cat’s life and in your household. There are cats that have separation anxiety, too. It would help if you leave behind a used clothing so that the cat can pick up your scent. This will make it feel calmer and more relaxed.
If you need to bring home a new cat, make sure to adhere to the principles of cat introductions. The process can take a very long time. However, this is necessary if you do not want to make your kitty anxious.
You can also use synthetic pheromones. These products can help calm your pet down. They have the same chemical characteristics as the natural pheromones that cats produce. You can rub these products on objects that your cat frequently uses. You can also spray these on objects.
Engaging your cat in more interactive activities can also help it manage its stress. It can also boost your feline friend’s self-confidence. You can use laser cat toys and lure toys to play with your cat.
Cat overgrooming can signal the presence of a medical condition. It can also be a sign that the cat is stressed out and very anxious. Either way, you should be able to help your cat by bringing it to a veterinarian.