Grooming is an important part of a cat’s daily routine, it helps them stay clean and healthy.
However, over-grooming is relatively common in response to medical or environmental triggers.
Excessive grooming can cause bald patches, skin irritation and hairballs.
Common causes of over-grooming include stress, pain, allergies and infections.
While medication can help in some situations, developing consistent routines and ensuring your cat is physically and mentally stimulated will also go a long way in helping to stop this behaviour.
Signs of Over-Grooming
According to SPCA, a cat spends at least 5 hours a day grooming and cleaning themselves.
This may seem like a lot, particularly if you’re new to owning cats.
Signs of excessive grooming include:
- Hair loss
- Skin irritation including redness, rashes and scabs
- Grooming without purpose or grooming when it interrupts other activities
- Scratching excessively
- Discomfort/ irritability when scratching
Understanding Why Your Cat is Over-Grooming
If you think your cat is over-grooming, the first step is finding out what is causing this.
The cause will be either have behavioural or medical roots.
A trip to the veterinarian can help rule out medical problems and if the cause is pain, parasites, allergy or infection the vet will provide the appropriate medication to treat it.
Ask a Vet
If you are concerned about excessive grooming we recommend you speak with a vet ASAP. JustAnswer allows you to talk in real-time to veterinary experts for a small fee.
Common Causes of Over-Grooming:
The common causes of over-grooming can be separated into 5 categories:
1. External Parasites
One of the most common reasons a cat will groom excessively is the presence of parasites such as fleas.
If the fleas/ parasites are identified and treated quickly then the behaviour should be resolved within weeks.
If you are seeing irritation at the base of your cat’s tail it can be an indication of a flea allergy.
Similarly, hair loss and scabbing on your cat’s ears and neck can be an indication of ear mites.
Ensuring your cat has flea treatment regularly can help prevent fleas and mites.
2. Allergies & Infections
Your cat may be grooming excessively in response to an allergy to food, environmental substances or parasites.
For example, if your cat is chewing their paws it can be an indication of an allergic response or irritation to pollen.
Other causes can be something infectious such as ringworm.
If your cat has an infection or allergy they may need antibiotics, antihistamines or anti-inflammatory drugs as part of their treatment plan.
A vet can run the relevant tests to help identify the cause of the over-grooming.
If your cat is repeatedly licking in one area it may be because of pain or discomfort.
Licking could be your cat’s way of relieving themselves from pain.
Even if you cannot see the wound, there may be bruising or internal pain your cat is struggling with.
For example, if your cat is experiencing back pain they may over-groom a spot on their back.
If there does not seem to be a medical cause of the over-grooming it could have a psychological cause.
Stress or anxiety can cause a cat to lick themselves excessively.
This is called psychogenic alopecia which begins due to emotional or mental conflict or frustration and involves compulsively pulling out hair.
Some cats begin compulsively grooming in response to something stressful such as a change in the home.
A new family member, a new cat or dog, a change in furniture, a different schedule and moving home are all events a cat may find stressful.
Remember that cats are creatures of habit so even seemingly small changes can trigger a stress response.
Consider if there have been any environmental or social changes in the home which may have led to your cat over-grooming.
Cats can find self-grooming comforting and use it as a way to keep themselves calm.
However, this can develop and continue even after the stress has passed.
Keep a close eye on your cat to see if they continue to groom even when the stressful situation has passed.
Another possible cause is boredom, if your cat’s daily routine lacks enrichment or they spend a large portion of the day inside on their own they may overgroom to try to make up for the lack of stimulation.
Remember that cats are highly intelligent and need stimulation in their day to day lives.
How to Stop Over-Grooming
Once you have identified the cause or trigger then you can take steps to stop your cat from grooming excessively.
These tips will help keep your cat calm, happy and stress-free:
1. Develop routines
Develop a routine for your cat and try to ensure key events happen at around the same time each day.
Key events include feeding, playtime and exercising.
Cat’s love routine so this can help them feel more settled.
It is important to be as consistent as possible to help give your cat the stability they need.
If there is going to be a change to your cat’s routine, try to incorporate the change gradually to limit the stress they experience.
2. Provide Hiding Spots and Climbing Places
Giving your cat somewhere safe and secure to hide and rest will help them deal with any environmental changes.
It’s important they have a hiding place as without it your cat will struggle to relax after experiencing a stressful situation.
Think of your cat’s hiding spots as break rooms where they can go when they need to take a moment for themselves.
In addition to hiding spots, high spaces such as a cat tree will help to keep your cat active and will give them an elevated position to safely watch over the house.
A high spot can help your cat feel safe and secure.
3. Ensure Your Cat is Mentally and Physically Stimulated
You can increase environmental stimulation in the home by introducing new toys, new perching areas and increasing the amount of time you spend playing with your cat each day.
Receiving more attention from you can help relieve your cat’s stress.
If possible, giving your cat a safe outside space can help stimulate them and gives them an outlet for some of their natural behaviours such as hunting.
4. Remember to be Patient
Over-grooming can take around a month to resolve so be patient with your cat and don’t punish them for over-grooming.
It will also take time for the fur to grow back in the areas that have been impacted by hair loss.
Remember the behaviour may be a stress response and being impatient with them can just enhance the stress.
If the over-grooming is caused by parasites or allergies then medication will be necessary.
If the cause is stress or anxiety-related then anti-anxiety medication or calming sprays may be recommended by the vet too.
Hair Loss Without Excessive Grooming
If you have noticed your cat is losing hair but you have not seen them excessively grooming then the hair loss may be caused by something else.
Possible causes of hair loss include an unhealthy diet, disease and hormonal imbalance.
A trip to the vet will be necessary to diagnose the issue.