Grooming is a normal part of every cat’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
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
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
“fur mowers,” and the location they are grooming can provide
clues into the cause of the compulsion.
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
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.
Does your cat’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 “displacement behavior,” and it serves to calm
the cat’s anxiety. If left untreated, however, it can become
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 cat’s excessive grooming is incredibly important.
If left untreated, it can result in hair loss that exposes your
cat’s skin to environmental harm or skin infections if the skin
is broken during grooming.
The treatment for the behavior will always depend on
- 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 cat’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 cat’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 cat’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 cat’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 cat’s grooming has
gone too far, it’s always better to be safe than sorry and
contact your veterinarian. They will let you know if your cat’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 cat’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 cat’s eyes and lead to
inflammation. Dirty ears can be prone to infections
and mites. Good oral health
for your cat is also essential.
The following pointers will help your cat stay well groomed.
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 pet’s face and eyes. Use
a washcloth for these areas. If your cat has fleas, ask your
vet for recommendations on flea
shampoos. “Tear-free” 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
cat’s ears become wet for some reason, gently towel them dry
to keep infections at bay.
Keeping your cat’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 cat’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.
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.
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 you’ve got
the hang of it.
More on Cat Grooming
My Cat Is Not
The Cat Brush Buying
Easiest Cats to Care
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.