Over-grooming in Cats
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Cat overgrooming is a common behavioural disorder (otherwise known as psychogenic alopecia, or excessive grooming). It is an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and should be treated as such.
Grooming is a type of displacement behaviour (a behaviour which occurs when we adopt irrelevant behaviours unrelated to the situation causing the initial anxiety or stress). We all do this, for instance when we touch our hair or bite our nails. When the displacement behaviour becomes so commonplace that you find yourself doing it excessively and at times inconsistent with the periods of anxiety, then you are delving into what is considered to be an obsessive compulsive behaviour.
When cats start to exhibit OCD it is usually in the form of excessive grooming. Commonly cats will focus on grooming the abdomen and axilla or inguinal areas. Clinical signs of overgrooming is usually limited to traumatic alopecia, loss of hair in addition to signs of damage (broken damaged hair and irritated skin).
Reasons for cats licking fur off excessively?
Excessive grooming is considered to be a displacement compulsive disorder related to anxiety or stress. However, obviously there are many other potential causes (medical and otherwise) for the clinical signs and behaviour being exhibited so be sure to see your local veterinarian or behavioural specialist to confirm OCD as the cause of the over-grooming. Some of these other potential causes include infections (bacterial, parasitic, fungal), allergies and hormones.
Ways to treat excessive grooming in cats
Attempt to remove any and all potential stressors – i.e. other cats, neighbouring dogs, loud noises
Counter-condition your cat to deal with certain stressors, usually best achieved with reward based training
Enrich the environment with toys, exercise, and food puzzles to provide physical and mental exercise (helpful in reducing anxiety and compulsive behaviour)
Consider behavioural modification in combination with pharmaceutical assistance – particularly SSRI’s – such as fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft). If this is the final option, or you have come up short with ways to control the over-grooming, go visit your local veterinarian or behavioural specialist.
Over-grooming in cats
Excessive grooming is often reflective of anxiety and compulsive behaviour. If you address the underlying cause for the anxiety you are halfway towards fixing the problem. Try to implement some of the tips above. And don't forget, there are many medical reasons for this behaviour and it may be worth speaking to your local veterinarian before you immediately assume that you are dealing with a behavioural problem.