by Janine DeVault
We all know the saying “too much of a good thing,” and this certainly holds true when it comes to cat grooming. While it’s totally normal for cats to groom themselves regularly, there is such a thing as overgrooming, and it can lead to hair loss and skin irritation. A variety of factors can lead to overgrooming, ranging from allergies and stress to neurological disorders. And since overgrooming is always the symptom of a larger problem, it’s essential to determine the cause so you can treat the issue at its source.
What is Overgrooming?
So, how much is too much? Is your cat licking herself so frequently that she is beginning to lose hair, leave red, irritated patches on her skin, or develop sores on her body? Any of these symptoms constitute overgrooming. Regular grooming should leave fur and skin feeling clean and smooth. Overgrooming is detrimental and can create painful sores.
What Causes Overgrooming?
There are a number of reasons your cat might be inclined to over groom, including the following:
- Stressful events like bringing home a new pet, moving homes or even changing the litter box location
- Allergies to food, pollen or environmental allergens such as fragrances or cleaning products
- Infestation of fleas, ticks or ear mites
- Neurological disorders
- Pain associated with illness or infection, such as anal gland impaction or a urinary tract infection
According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, the area that your cat focuses her overgrooming on can help indicate what has triggered this behavior. For instance, cats who are overgrooming due to a flea infestation will usually concentrate their overgrooming efforts on the head of the tail. While this diagnosis method doesn’t work in every instance, it can be a good place to start.
How to Stop your Cat from Overgrooming
The first step to correcting overgrooming is determining the cause. While overgrooming isn’t 100% preventable, there is still plenty you can do to help avoid it. The following tips will help you avoid subjecting your cat to common situations that could trigger overgrooming.
Cats are creatures of habit who thrive on routine. When their routines are disrupted, even in seemingly minor ways, they can become stressed and anxious and may even experience physical illness. Grooming is a coping mechanism for cats, so a stressed cat is prone to overgrooming.
To help reduce your cat’s stress, try to adhere to a consistent routine. Feed her at the same time each day, and keep her food and water dishes in the same spots. Find a convenient place for her litter box and leave it there. Small adjustments to the routine are fine, but try to avoid making multiple massive changes all at once. And, if you know that a big life event (such as bringing home a new pet or a moving to a new house) is coming up, do your best to create a calm, peaceful environment for your cat throughout the transition period.
Use only natural products
Cats can be allergic to food, pollen and even certain household products. Just as in humans, allergies can cause excessive itching in cats, prompting them to over groom in an effort to alleviate the discomfort. If you suspect your cat is suffering from allergies, consult your veterinarian to determine what your cat’s specific sensitivities are. Consider switching your household cleaning products to natural ones, such as Skout’s Honor Stain & Odor products, as these tend to be much less abrasive for cats (and humans) who are sensitive to environmental allergens.
You may also want to adjust the grooming products you use on your cat, if you are using any. Skout’s Honor has a collection of all-natural and feline-friendly grooming products that are designed to soothe sensitive skin. The Probiotic Shampoo + Conditioner is designed to combat itching, odor, dryness, hotspots, yeast, and excessive shedding, while soothing and hydrating the skin. Additionally, the Probiotic Itch Relief spray is a great way to soothe chronic skin irritation and is much easier to apply if bathing your cat isn’t an option.
Follow a consistent flea and mite prevention protocol
Fleas and mites can cause uncontrollable itching which could trigger your cat to bite, scratch, and lick her fur excessively. In order to avoid subjecting her to this discomfort, be sure to follow a consistent flea and mite prevention routine. There are both medical and natural prevention methods, including flea collars, medications, flea baths and more. Speak to your vet about the best way to do this for your pet.
Overgrooming is a detrimental behavior triggered by a larger underlying problem. If you notice your cat chewing, licking, biting or scratching excessively, speak with your veterinarian to determine the possible causes.
While there are myriad triggers for overgrooming, creating a consistent routine, adhering to a flea prevention protocol, and using all-natural cleaning and grooming products around your home are simple methods you can try to prevent cat overgrooming.
Janine DeVault is a pet writer, animal rescue advocate and former celebrity dog walker. She has worked with a variety of pet-industry clients and specializes in writing pet lifestyle content. Janine lives in Canada with her rescue cat, Kesi.