How much self-grooming is right for your cat?


Most cat owners may be well aware that their cats love licking and grooming themselves. But they're so secretive, it may be difficult to realize the extent to which they groom. Cynthia McManis, D.V.M., the owner of Just Cats Veterinary Services, told WebVet that grooming can take up around 50 percent of a cat's time awake each day.

Why do cats groom themselves so extensively?

The reason that cats spend so much time on their grooming isn't just to look good for you - it's an important part of their hygiene. Experts suspect that cats ensure that their bodies are food- and odor-free by licking themselves to keep potential predators away. Although indoor cats don't have any reason to worry about predators sniffing them out, this instinctual habit has survived.Additionally, grooming and licking help cats regulate body temperature. McManis explained that when cats want to cool down, they need to rely on saliva evaporating from their fur because most of their body doesn't sweat. To keep warm, they can adjust the amount of natural body oils on their skin to insulate their natural warmth. Grooming can also assist blood flow, have medicinal properties, be meditative and show friendship when done to another cats.

How much is too much?

Even though 50 percent of a cat's day is an enormous chunk of time, it's only an average. Some cats can go overboard with their grooming and spend even more time licking their hair. Overgrooming is a serious concern and can be a sign of several other conditions.William Miller, V.M.D., a professor Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, explained on his school's website that

overgrooming or licking is most commonly due to itchiness or pain

. While cats can't express their feelings as articulately as humans, their licking may be revealing how they feel. Miller advised that concentrated licking, especially around the anus or spine, may be a sign of pain. On the other hand, itchiness can be spread throughout more of the body. Allergies, fleas and skin damage are common causes of feline itchiness.This excessive, irregular licking may lead to hair loss, which is a clear warning sign that your cat may need your help. In addition to whatever issue is leading your cat to lick more, the bald skin leaves your feline friend in potential danger, Miller explained."Bald skin is more prone to sunburn, frostbite or other environmental insults," Miller said. "As long as the licking doesn't break the skin's surface, no infection will occur. If the cat gets more passionate about licking and abrades the skin surface [with its rough tongue], infection can occur. Infection will intensify the licking and a vicious cycle will be set up, resulting in a serious infection."Some cats don't overgroom because of physical problems, but rather as a way to deal with emotional issues. Psychogenic alopecia is a feline psychological disorder where cats lick themselves to the point of baldness due to stress. Usually, cats feel displacement or stress and develop psychogenic alopecia because grooming releases endorphins, making it a soothing, relaxing activity. Moving, getting a new cat, death of a family member, boring or small environments, and change in litter box location are all potential causes of this psychological condition.Some cats can be helped through environmental enrichment, cat expert Pam Johnson-Bennett explained on her website. While others may need certain medications or additional treatments that require a veterinarian visit.Although it can be hard to keep an eye on your furry feline friend at all times, if you notice excessive licking or hair loss, you should consider a veterinary consultation. It can be a sign of anything from parasites or a urinary infection to psychological distress.

How to Stop Your Cat From Over-Grooming?

If your cat's in the habit of over-grooming himself, you will notice patches of sparse or broken hair, complete loss of hair in certain areas and occasional damage to the skin. In extreme cases, your cat might bite or chew at its tail or feet, causing trauma that might necessitate partial amputation. If your cat is affected, he might pluck, chew or bite areas of skin or hair and the behavior can be quite difficult to interrupt.

Is it stress related?

Most of the over-grooming cases in cats are caused by a pain or skin problem. However, a lot of the cases have a major stress component. Cats tend to groom themselves to feel better in anxious or stressful situations. It can become a compulsive behavior if it is performed frequently and out of context, disrupting normal activity.A lot of oriental breeds are prone to developing stress-related problems and end up plucking their fur, but there has been no conclusive evidence on it so far. Your cat will groom any part of his body that he can reach with his tongue. The most commonly affected areas are the belly, the legs, the inside of the rear legs and across the lower torso.

Could it be a sign of illness?

There are a lot of diseases that lead to over-grooming, quite often in response to pain or intense itching. The most common cause is hypersensitivity to the saliva of fleas. Cats can also develop skin conditions in response to substances in the environment or in their diet. If fleas are the problem, use

medication or a topical cream

to get rid of the fleas.Cats with a urinary tract infection experience a lot of discomfort and pain in the bladder. They might end up over-grooming in the area where the pain is localized. The most common presentation is a bald patch on the lower belly, around the genitals or on the inside of the thighs.Hyperaesthesia is another possible cause. This condition is poorly understood and often manifests itself in a number of bizarre behaviors like skin twitching and random bouts of self-mutilation and intense grooming, often of the tail and the hind feet. There are many other probable causes behind over-grooming and your vet will be able to carry out the necessary tests, figure out the underlying cause and prescribe appropriate treatment.

What should you do if your cat is over-grooming?

As with any other sign of illness or behavioral problem, you must consult with your vet as soon as possible. He/she will treat your cat for the medical condition or refer you to an animal behaviorist who will be able to identify and address the stressors that may have exacerbated or triggered the problem.

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