How to Tell If Your Cat Is Over-Grooming
Cats can be a secretive bunch, not letting on when they're feeling ill. When your cat grooms herself more than usual, it could be a sign of something other than wanting to keep her coat tidy. While cats spend a lot of time removing dirt, loose hairs, and parasites from their bodies as a normal part of their behavior—longer-haired varieties devote more time to grooming than a short-haired breed—if you think something is amiss, let your veterinarian know. Your feline may be suffering from a medical condition like a painful urinary tract infection or a psychological reason, such as stress, which can happen if her world changes (you moved to a different house, for example).
Every behavioral change isn't cause for alarm, but it's smart to be aware of signs that your cat is over-grooming and needs help. Here are some signs to look for, according to experts.
Is she showing a loss of fur?
Usually, when cats are over-grooming due to stress, their appearance has changed. "Their fur is often broken so it's intact but shorter than it should be," says Dr. Gary Richter, DMV, medical director of the Holistic Veterinary Care and Rehabilitation Center in Oakland, California. "The term for this is 'barbering.' Occasionally you might see some mild redness but if there are scabs or a skin infection present, normally, this means there is something else going on like fleas or allergies." Affected parts include the skin on the belly, inner thighs, backs of the thighs, and sometimes on the sides of their abdomen.
Is she scratching nonstop?
Your cat may scratch, from irritation, until her skin bleeds. Itchiness is referred to by veterinary experts as pruritis. Other symptoms you might see include hair loss, scabs, inflammation of the skin, and bleeding skin lesions.
Is her grooming disrupts other activities?
Watch closely for behavioral changes: Your once-silly cat may show little or no interest in playtime and would rather groom all day.
Does she have an excessive amount of hair balls?
More cat hair balls—dead hair and digestive juices that your cat has swallowed and formed into a ball—than usual can be a sign of over-grooming. But, says Richter, it can also be an indication of digestive issues.
Treat and prevent your cat from over-grooming.
How long does it take for a cat to stop over-grooming once he's been treated? It depends on the cause. "Stress over-grooming can be difficult because it is, at its core, an emotional issue," says Dr. Richter. "Sometimes if a stressor is removed, they will get better but over-grooming is a self-soothing behavior so cats tend to want to keep doing it." If they are over-grooming due to something like an allergy or fleas, the behavior often stops once the underlying cause (and secondary infection, if there is one) is resolved.