The over-grooming cat problem is a pretty common one, but it may be very annoying because there is typically no quick fix. Over-grooming may have behavioral or medical roots. Many cats use behavioral over-grooming, also known as “psychogenic alopecia,” as a way to relieve stress. But after all other possible underlying medical explanations have been ruled out, this is a diagnosis of exclusion.
Medical Causes for Over-Grooming
Usually, medical conditions that make a cat itchy can induce them to brush themselves excessively. An allergy is one of the most typical reasons. Cats can experience allergies to food, fleas, or anything else in the environment, whether it be natural or not, just like people do. As a result, if your cat starts grooming himself more frequently or there are patches of missing or barbered fur (where chewed hair shafts have turned into stubble), it may be a sign that he is licking or plucking more frequently. Check your cat for fleas and look for any changes in his diet or environment.
A veterinarian can offer assistance in searching for flea evidence, suggest flea repellents, and go through potential diet trial choices. Allergy testing can be done by veterinarian dermatologists. The hypothesis that the cat has an allergy as the cause of his excessive grooming may occasionally be supported by a cat’s positive response to a trial with a steroid or antihistamine.
Infectious conditions like skin mites and fungus can also make cats scratch (ringworm). Cats who live inside are less likely to experience them, although it’s not impossible. To rule things out, your veterinarian can conduct skin scraping techniques and culture fungus samples.
Once all potential medical explanations have been ruled out, excessive grooming can be classified as a behavioral problem. A disease connected to stress is called psychogenic alopecia. The cats suddenly get obsessed with themselves and find it difficult to quit licking or gnawing on themselves. Cats frequently engage in this enjoyable and calming habit to help them calm down because brushing releases endorphins (hormones that make the cat happy).
There are countless potential sources of stress for cats. Anything new, moved, or altered in their environment could potentially irritate our feline friends because they are particularly sensitive to change. It’s crucial to keep in mind that stressors are unique to each cat because humans frequently struggle to even name the source of the stress. For cats with particular characteristics, a generally disorderly or dull home might be distressing. Even after the initial stressor has passed, what began as grooming as a kind of self-soothing for a particular circumstance can occasionally turn into OCD behavior.
Although they can groom anyplace, cats with psychogenic alopecia frequently concentrate on plucking or grooming their bellies, inner thighs, and strips along their front legs. Any cat can acquire psychogenic alopecia, though it could be more likely to do so in a cat who has a very high-strung nature. It is crucial to understand that many cats engage in this grooming when their owners are not looking. As a result, the actual over-grooming habit is sometimes overlooked and it may be assumed mistakenly that the cat’s fur is just shedding on its own. The cat shouldn’t be penalized if excessive grooming is observed because doing so would simply add to their tension.
Problems with Over-Grooming in Cats
The process of grooming itself can harm the skin for many cats who overgroom them. This can occasionally be mistaken for initial skin sores that develop on the cat and subsequently prompt it to lick, raising the question, “Which came first? The eosinophilic granuloma complex is a perfect example of a primary skin lesion that is very typical.
Although the exact etiology of these inflammatory lesions is uncertain, an allergy or immune-mediated factor is thought to be involved. A skin biopsy or the outcome of a steroid therapy trial may be used to diagnose these lesions. Additionally, skin biopsies can rule out a variety of other less frequent skin conditions in cats.
The skin may or may not develop a secondary bacterial infection, which occasionally requires treatment with topical or oral antibiotics, depending on the underlying cause of what is making him over-groom. It is frequently suggested that the cats wear an Elizabethan collar while their skin is being treated and the itch is being treated in order to stop the cycle of licking.
How to Diagnose Over-Grooming in Cats
In order to rule out any underlying metabolic problems like hyperthyroidism, general blood work is also typically advised. It’s crucial to assess the cat’s general health because any sickness could make the cat stressed out and cause them to overgroom. If a specific body part is the focus of excessive grooming, the underlying tissues should be examined for any potential discomfort, such as a joint with arthritis or a bladder infection.
When is Over-Grooming in Cats Not Normal?
It’s crucial to understand that grooming is natural and typical for cats, and that some cats may groom excessively. However, we would start to worry if the cat’s grooming activities kept him from performing his other regular tasks (eating, playing, interacting, and sleeping). Areas of baldness, harmed or shortened fur shafts, and discolored skin would all be cause for concern.
How to Treat Over-Grooming in Cats
Psychogenic alopecia can be attempted to be treated in a number of different ways. Remove the stressor first, if you can. It could require a lot of thought because it’s not always evident (to anyone but the cat). The provision of a wealth of environmental enrichment comes in second. This can take the shape of a plenty of toys, engaging play, and playmates (unless the playmates are the initiating source of stress).
Cats should also have access to a lot of suitable outlets for stretching and scratching, as well as a lot of cushy places to relax and hidden hiding locations. Make sure the cat’s day is as predictable as you can. Cats can also be calmed with synthetic pheromones, such as Feliway, which is available as a diffuser and spray. It imitates the pheromones that cats release to mark their territory and maintain their composure.
Anti-depressants and anxiety drugs may be combined with behavioral modification strategies in some severe cases of psychogenic alopecia. If the problem reaches this stage, it will probably be suggested that a behaviorist be contacted for extra advice and specific techniques that can be used at home. Once the cat feels balanced in their home life again, the ultimate goal is to wean the cat off of all drugs.
Psychogenic alopecia is a condition that is typically a lifelong problem, although the medical causes of excessive grooming in cats may typically be entirely treated or managed. These cats will always have a propensity to overgroom as a stress response. Their bald patches tend to appear and disappear, and over-grooming will wax and wane in intensity over time. Because of this, it’s critical to continuously be mindful of their sensitivities and to continually consider how to offer them access to an environment that’s enriched.