What to Do About Cat Excessive Grooming Too Much Licking and Scratching Can Harm Your Cat

A Cat Grooming Herself
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Cats tend to groom a lot throughout the course of the day. Is there such a thing as too much grooming, though? Here's a list of reasons why your cat may be excessively grooming these days, and what you can do about it.

Grooming is a normal part of every catโ€™s life, but some cats take the behavior to the extreme and cause hair loss or skin damage. Because cats groom away a large portion of their day -- anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of it -- it can sometimes be difficult for a pet parent to become aware of the problem until they notice a physical manifestation of it, such as a bald spot or skin lesions.

You can keep your cat from reaching this point by keeping an eye on their grooming habits and taking note of licking, chewing, or scratching that is happening too often or goes on for too long. Read on to learn what you need to know about cat excessive grooming.

Causes of Cat Excessive Grooming

The causes of excessive grooming in cats can either be medical or psychological, and the grooming may be spread out over the entire body or focused on one specific area. Cats who excessively groom one area of the body are often referred to as โ€œfur mowers,โ€ and the location they are grooming can provide clues into the cause of the compulsion.

  • Allergies: If a cat is allergic to their food, fleas, or something in the environment, the allergic response may be itchy, irritated skin, and your cat may obsessively lick or scratch to try to relieve the discomfort. With allergies, your cat may obsessively groom their entire body, or they may focus on only the back or abdomen.

  • Parasites: Parasites such as fleas, ticks, mites, and roundworms can all cause itching and irritation, which may lead to excessive grooming. With fleas, you may see a focus on the base of the neck. With mites, you may see a focus on the ears and head.

  • Pain: If a cat is in pain because of a condition such as anal sac impaction or disc disease, they may lick or chew on the painful area incessantly.

  • Dry Skin: Does your catโ€™s excessive grooming start up when winter rolls around or when the heater is turned on? If so, they may be licking or scratching because of dry skin. Other common causes of dry skin include poor nutrition and allergies.

  • Stress: Cats are creatures of habit, and if something happens to interrupt their normal daily routine, it can result in stress. Moving to a new home, welcoming a new baby into the family, the loss of a family pet, or a change in their daily schedule can all cause a cat to seek out comfort through the familiar act of grooming. This is what is referred to as โ€œdisplacement behavior,โ€ and it serves to calm the catโ€™s anxiety. If left untreated, however, it can become habitual.

  • Boredom: Indoor cats who spend a large portion of the day alone or do not have adequate stimulation may turn to excessive grooming as a way to pass the time.

Treatment for Cat Excessive Grooming

Treating your catโ€™s excessive grooming is incredibly important. If left untreated, it can result in hair loss that exposes your catโ€™s skin to environmental harm or skin infections if the skin is broken during grooming.

The treatment for the behavior will always depend on the cause:

  • Parasite-induced scratching is treated by attacking the parasites. A flea control (or other parasite control) product should be started.

  • If allergies are suspected, your cat may undergo allergy testing at the veterinarian to determine the cause of their allergic reaction. Food allergies are treated by eliminating the irritating food from the catโ€™s diet, and any inhalant or contact allergens should be removed from their environment.  

  • Some severe cases of excessive grooming are treated with medications such as antibiotics to fight infection, antihistamines to treat allergic reactions, and steroids to ease inflammation. If the cause of your catโ€™s compulsive grooming is psychological, an anti-anxiety medication such as clomipramine or amitriptyline may be prescribed.

  • However, psychologically motivated excessive grooming is often successfully treated without medication. You can ease your catโ€™s stress by keeping their life very predictable -- feeding should happen at the same time every day, food and water bowls should stay in the same place, and the litter box should be changed on a schedule.

  • You can also reduce your catโ€™s stress or relieve their boredom by providing them with stimulating toys, scratch posts, cat condos, and plenty of love and attention. Just be sure to introduce any new toys or activities into their routine slowly so as not to compound their anxiety.

  • Behavior modification may also be useful for cats whose stress is caused by something specific (for example, separation anxiety).

If you are ever in doubt about whether your catโ€™s grooming has gone too far, itโ€™s always better to be safe than sorry and contact your veterinarian. They will let you know if your catโ€™s symptoms warrant an examination.

My Cat's Not Grooming 

Most cats are fastidious creatures and can spend up to half their waking hours engaged in grooming. However, some cats may need help with their grooming. Sometimes, due to age or breed traits, or because of a new medical condition, grooming may fall to the way side.

When your cat falls short in their own grooming, you can step in to help. Keeping your cat well groomed is important to their health and well being.

The Importance of Grooming

Cats learn to groom by watching their mothers clean themselves when they are kittens. If a cat was taken from their mother too soon or if their mother never learned grooming habits herself, a cat may need help staying well-groomed.

In addition, some older cats become unable to groom, like if they suffer from joint pain, or become overweight. Both conditions can make it difficult for a cat to get at the nooks and crannies where they used to spend so much time. Cats with medical problems may also find it hard to groom.

Finally, some cat breeds, particularly long-haired breeds, need help keeping their fur clean and tangle free.

Without help, cats who lack the ability or will to clean themselves can develop health problems. Cleaning not only keeps the skin free from dirt that may cause allergies and infections, it also helps to distribute the catโ€™s natural skin oils. These oils help keep the skin healthy and parasite free, and the coat shiny. Removal of excess hair through regular brushing also helps prevent hairballs.

Good grooming is also important for the ears, eyes, and teeth. The long hair of some cats can irritate a catโ€™s eyes and lead to inflammation. Dirty ears can be prone to infections and mites. Good oral health for your cat is also essential.

Grooming Tips

The following pointers will help your cat stay well groomed.

  • Brushing and Bathing:

    Cats that have trouble self-cleaning and all long-hair breeds should be brushed regularly, daily if possible. Most cats will enjoy being brushed, especially if they become used to it as kittens. Contrary to what you might think, some cats also like being bathed as long as you remain calm and you avoid getting water or soap in your petโ€™s face and eyes. Use a washcloth for these areas. If your cat has fleas, ask your vet for recommendations on flea shampoos. โ€œTear-freeโ€ shampoos are also available for sensitive cats. Supplements like Shed X Cat can be used to along with topical grooming products to provide nutritional support for a healthier skin and coat.

  • Ears and Eyes:

    Pet owners with long-hair cats should keep the hair trimmed around the eyes to prevent irritation. Also, make sure no discharge is leaking from the eyes, which can indicate health troubles and will require a vet trip. Some cats are prone to ear mites and infections. Special ear cleaning solutions can be obtained from your vet. If your catโ€™s ears become wet for some reason, gently towel them dry to keep infections at bay.

  • Teeth:

    Keeping your catโ€™s teeth and gums clean and disease free is one of the best things you can do for her health. Diseases that start in the mouth can lead to infections throughout the body. Also, your catโ€™s ability to chew their food is important to their digestion and nutrition. Cats with dental pain may refuse food, and begin to lose weight. Weekly tooth brushings are recommended. It may take a bit of practice for your cat to become comfortable with teeth cleaning. Remain calm and patient with your cat, and use special flavored cat toothpastes.

  • Claws:

    Cats need to keep their claws clean and most will spend time chewing and licking their paws. They also need to remove the sheaths that cover their claws, and this is an important reason for their scratching, whether on the couch or the scratching post. Regular cleaning, as well as trimming, of the claws will help your cat stay well groomed and will help your furniture stay in one piece. Your vet can teach you how to clip the claws, which is quite simple once youโ€™ve got the hang of it.
More on Cat Grooming

My Cat Is Not Grooming
The Cat Brush Buying Guide
Easiest Cats to Care For

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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