Have you spotted a bald patch (or two) on your cat's body? Do you suspect your cat is losing hair to overgrooming? Cats are known for their dedication to grooming, but when is it too much? There's a fine line between normal grooming and overgrooming. Overgrooming is caused by several factors and can be both a physical and a psychological issue.
Let’s look at what overgrooming is and how to tell if your cat is overgrooming. We will also discuss some of the reasons cats will turn to excessive grooming and what you can do to help.
What is Overgrooming?
Overgrooming is exactly what it sounds like - when a cat is excessively grooming themselves to the point of injury or distress. Cat overgrooming can be caused by an underlying medical or psychological issue, such as stress, skin irritations, or anxiety. This excessive grooming could be in just one spot on their fur or all over their body.
How to Tell if Your Cat is Overgrooming
It may be hard to tell if your cat is overgrooming, especially since cats can spend nearly a third of their waking hours cleaning themselves! Nearly every cat parent has wondered if the extended bath their fluffy friend is giving themselves is normal or a little too long.
Here, let’s share some of the ways you can tell if your cat is overgrooming:
- They are grooming in certain areas for prolonged periods of time
- They are getting more hairballs
- Their grooming is interfering with other aspects of their life, such as eating or playing
- They have bald patches from too much grooming
- They have redness, rashes, or scabs from grooming
- They experience irritability or discomfort when grooming
Overgrooming can look like excessive licking or scratching.
5 of the Most Common Reasons for Overgrooming
Now that you know how to tell if your cat is overgrooming, let's look at some reasons why they might be going through this. There can be several reasons, including environmental, physical, and emotional challenges.
If your cat is overgrooming, the most obvious cause (because you can likely see it with your naked eye) might be skin irritation. Skin irritations in cats can happen from a change in diet, a change in stress, a reaction to a new shampoo or grooming product, allergies, and many more. If you notice that your cat has a skin irritation that they’re excessively grooming, contact your veterinarian to diagnose the problem.
Like skin irritations, fleas are probably one of the easiest causes of overgrooming to identify because you can see the fleas. Fleas are no fun for cats or humans and can lead to itchy skin and excessive grooming. Make sure to give your cats flea meds every month, even if they are indoor cats, to reduce the risk of fleas. Aside from fleas, another parasite that triggers cats to overgroom is mites.
Cats often groom when they’re in pain, which can lead to overgrooming. Most often, they groom in the spot that’s bothering them. For example, cats struggling with urinary issues like a urinary tract infection or feline idiopathic cystitis often lick their genitals excessively.
Stress & Anxiety
Grooming is calming to cats, which is why overgrooming is often a way to cope with stress or anxiety. Some vets believe that licking actually helps release endorphins, which can help calm a kitty down during a stressful time. If a cat is regularly stressed or anxious, they may groom to make themselves feel better, which can turn into a habit of overgrooming.
Like stress and anxiety, excessive grooming can also be a way that some cats deal with boredom. Just because cats sleep more than 18 hours a day doesn't mean exercise or mental stimulation isn’t necessary in a cat's routine. Without this, cats can get bored and become destructive, either to themselves or their environment.
What to do if Your Cat is Overgrooming
Understanding some of the most common reasons cats overgroom themselves is the first step in helping your kitty overcome this problematic behavior.
Take Them to the Vet
The first thing you should do if you think your cat is grooming excessively is to take them to the vet. The vet can help rule out some medical causes and narrow the search for what is really bothering your kitty.
For example, if you find that your cat has a rash that’s bothering them, the vet can recommend an oral or topical solution to help with the irritation. By examining your kitty, they may also be able to determine whether their itchy skin was caused by a change in diet, a change in environment, a grooming product, or other factors.
Another thing you can do to reduce excessive grooming and other anxious behavior is to reduce the stress in your cat’s environment. Reducing your cat’s stress has many benefits outside of helping prevent excessive grooming, but that’s an important one, too.
Here are some tips from cat behaviorists on helping reduce the stress in your cat’s environment:
- Make sure your cat has plenty of places to hide. This could include high perches, like a cat tower, and cozy beds tucked away. Cats like lots of levels to choose from.
- Use a pheromone diffuser, like FELIWAY. These diffusers emit a pheromone designed to help put your stressed cat at ease.
- Make sure all your litter boxes are clean. Always have one more cat litter box than the number of cats you have. And make sure to properly dispose the litter regularly. Learn how to dispose of cat litter.
- Always provide fresh drinking water and food that’s easy for your cat to access.
- Limit trips to the vet or groomer. If possible, have a vet come to your house instead!
- Make sure that your cat is getting enough physical and mental exercise. You should play with your feline friend for at least 30 minutes a day. Fun puzzles and training can help your cat exercise their mind, as well.
- Keep a routine, with meal times and playtime happening around the same time every day. Cats love routine!
- Talk to your vet about options for anti-anxiety medication if nothing seems to work and your cat is still grooming themselves too much and is stressed.
There’s a difference between a cat grooming themselves normally and a cat overgrooming themselves to the point of hair loss, skin lesions, and irritations. At first, this behavior might be hard to spot, but if you understand what overgrooming is and its symptoms, you’ll be able to identify this behavior in your cat.
Look for bald spots or other spots that are irritated. Notice if your cat’s grooming interferes with their other activities. Check to make sure they don’t have a skin rash or fleas. The best way to treat overgrooming is to identify the cause of the behavior, whether it’s environmental, physical, or psychological. Many times, cats will overgroom themselves if they’re stressed, anxious, or bored so make sure you provide a safe, engaging, and comforting environment for your pet.