Cats are avid groomers. They like to lick themselves clean on a
daily basis. When your furry feline licks itself, "feel good,"
neurotransmitters called endorphins are released into the brain.
This hormone makes self-grooming feel soothing and comforting. A
cat will often engage in self-grooming behaviors in the presence
of its owner. When the owner isn't visible, it may be stressed
and will resort to excessive licking behavior.
While it’s true that your kitty sleeps nearly 16 hours per day
and doesn’t have to face office politics, there are a number of
situations that can turn little Felix into a nervous wreck. When
cats are faced with too much pressure, it won’t develop into
ulcers as it does for humans. The resulting behavior is
What exactly is Over-Grooming?
In the absence of the owner, a cat may engage in over-grooming.
This is a psychological condition called psychogenic alopecia. It
is typically chronic caused by several stressors. Examples of
stressors include the following:
- death of the owner
- moving to a new home
- the arrival of a new family member (human or animal)
- changing the location of the litter box
- rearrangement of the furniture
- lack of enrichment in the environment
- living in a busy home
- changes in routine
Sometimes over-grooming may result due to an underlying medical
reason. An allergen in the environment might be causing little
Felix to over-itch. Cats also have allergies to fleas, certain
foods and other variables in the environment. If you suspect an
allergen is an underlying cause, it’s important to visit your
veterinarian. More importantly, if you see your cat engage in
over-grooming, do not punish it. It might exacerbate the
Signs of Over-Grooming
A short stubble that resembles a buzz cut will form in the area
where your cat engages in excessive licking. This usually occurs
in the inner thigh, foreleg, or belly. If the behavior is very
severe, then the underlying skin will appear red and damaged.
How to Stop or Prevent Over-Grooming?
In case you suspect over-grooming, visit your veterinarian. He or
she will confirm psychogenic alopecia and rule out other medical
conditions. While this is occurring, observe your little furball.
Figure out what is triggering his or her anxiety.
In the meantime, you can implement the following tips to soothe
your kitty’s anxiety over-grooming behavior:
- If your cat is affected by someone’s absence, place the
person’s blanket or shirt near the cat. The scent of the absent
person will provide little Felix with some comfort.
- Engage in play therapy. This is a superb stress reliever. Use
interactive games such as laser tag and chase-the-mouse.
Over-grooming is a sign of anxiety in cats. Help your feline feel
better by taking him to the veterinarian. A little tender, loving
care will also work wonders.
Why does my Cat groom itself?
You've probably noticed your kittens carefully grooming itself
throughout the day from time to time. This is perfectly natural
and something your cat picked up while it was a kitten mirroring
its mommy's grooming. From two weeks of age, they start to learn
how to groom themselves and start out their own grooming ritual
which continues well into adulthood.
Why cats groom
There’s a reason cats groom and it’s more than just keeping their
feline looks tip-top. Grooming for cats is important in keeping
their skin healthy. This is done through stimulating the
secretion of an oil known as sebum.When cats like their fur, this
helps lubricate and waterproof their fur, helping it shine. At
the same time, grooming also gets rid of loose hair, mats, and
cleans out any dirt or fleas.
Moreover, keep in mind that unlike humans’ cats are unable to
sweat to regulate their body temperature. You may notice dogs
panting but a cat panting usually means something is wrong, as
cats rely on saliva on their fur evaporating to help dissipate
heat and regulate their body temperature.
Now, not everything is functional when it comes to a cat
grooming. Expressing affection is also a reason why cats groom
other cats (and even sometimes humans!). It shows they trust the
other feline and is a ‘feel-good’ behavior.
Ultimately, grooming is also a good sign of health for your cat.
So if you do see your cat excessively grooming this can be a sign
of stress, and similarly if your cat isn’t grooming as much as it
should it may be sick or in pain. Either case, it’s good to pay a
visit to the vet for a check-up.
Your cat has its own grooming ritual
Every kitten starts to build their own grooming ritual and this
usually starts with the licking the mouth, chin, and whiskers.
After this, they'll start grooming their shoulders and forelegs,
followed by the hind legs, and genitals. Your cat will also use
their forepaw to help scrub while grooming and tend to switch
paws depending on which side of its body they are grooming. To
keep their claws clean you'll also see them scratching and
nibbling to help keep them clean and in shape.
There two specific types of grooming cats do that you need to be
Mutual Grooming is essentially grooming as a display of
affections. Cats will usually groom another cats head or neck
regions (usually hard to reach ones for the cat) as a sign of
comfort, companionship, trust, and love.
If your cat starts to groom you, understand that they’re
demonstrating trust and affection.
The other form of grooming is known as Displacement
Grooming. Cats usually groom themselves as a soothing mechanism
to help themselves feel better emotionally. However, when they
groom in odd situations, this is known as displacement grooming.
For example, when your cat is stressed or scared, to relieve the
anxiety and tension they may start grooming themselves in such a
In some ways, the grooming is a way to deal with conflict or
anxiety, with the act of grooming helping release chemicals in
cats that calm them down.
If you see your cat doing this, generally it’s fine and a normal
part of a cats life but there may be cases where your cat
overgrooms and starts to exhibit hair loss/bald spots as a
result. In such cases, it's good to seek a vets advice as your
cat may need some medication to relieve this displacement
With grooming, there’s also the chance your cat may not be
grooming enough. This could be a sign of issues such as
arthritis, pain, or dental problems. Kittens who are taken away
from their mothers too early may also not learn how to groom
themselves properly as well.
A good way to know if your cat isn’t cleaning themselves as much
as they should be, look for these signs such as a very greasy
coat or small pats of fur on your cats body or tail. Similarly,
if your cat has a foul smell and food on its face or body that
can also be a sign your cats stopped grooming itself.
Helping groom your cat
In such a scenario as the above, a good way to help is to brush
your cat more often to stimulate grooming, and when your cat is
grooming never interrupt it.
Now if your cat hasn’t groomed in a while, you may need to do
more than just brushing. You may need to give your cat a bath.
First brush your cat to remove any mat or dead hair.
Place your cat in a tub and provide some secure footing for it
with a rubber bath mat.
Fill the tub to about 3 or 4 inches of lukewarm water
Use a hose to gently wet your pet, making sure you’re not
spraying into your cats ears, eyes or nose.
Use some mild shampoo and gently massage your cat from head to
Rinse off using the hose and then pet your cat with a large towel
Ultimately, the takeaway to this is that grooming is a necessary
and natural part of cats life but always be on the lookout for
signs where your cat may be over-grooming or under-grooming. In
either case, if you’re worried consult a vet, and once in a while
give your cat a nice bath to help keep him/her clean and