Over-Grooming in Cats – Know the Signs and How to Help
14 September, 2015
Tracy Stillman

Guest Post by Tracy Stillman of Pawesome Cats

Cats are naturally very clean, and we all know that they like to spend a lot of time grooming themselves! But what happens when normal grooming turns into something else?

Over-grooming, or ‘psychogenic alopecia’, is a stress-related condition and one of the most common compulsive disorders in cats. It’s often triggered by a stressful event or series of events, which prompt an emotional reaction – licking excessively. Cats are creatures of habit, so any change in their environment or daily routine (such as a new family member or moving house) can cause stress, and obsessive licking is just one way that cats soothe and calm themselves.

Signs of Over-Grooming in Cats

If your cat is grooming excessively, you’ll notice that his fur starts to come out, leaving bald patches in places. If he continues to groom parts of his body where there’s bare skin due to over-grooming, it can quickly become very sore, red and inflamed and scabs are not uncommon. Even if you don’t notice that your cat is excessively licking, grooming or chewing his skin (perhaps because he doesn’t do it when you’re home as he feels more relaxed), bald patches and broken skin are good first indications of an over-grooming problem.

What Causes Over-Grooming in Cats?

There are many reasons why cats groom excessively both emotional and medical.

  • Stress. In times of stress some cats take comfort in turning to a routine activity, like grooming, to try to normalize their feelings. As time goes on, the act of grooming becomes linked to a reduction in stress and it becomes a habit that they can’t break.
  • Boredom. If your cat has nothing else to occupy his time, and limited human interaction your cat may spend longer and longer grooming himself until it becomes a problem.
  • Physical or Medical Issue. If you cat has a flea allergy, dermatitis or another skin complaint, it could be that over-grooming is his way of trying to soothe the irritation. Similarly, if your cat has a painful area, licking that spot can provide comfort.
  • Breed Related. Some cat breeds are more prone to over-grooming than others, such as oriental breeds like Siamese and Abyssinian cats.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Over-Grooming in Cats

The first step is to take your over-grooming cat to the vet, where they’ll do some tests to rule out any medical issues. Your vet will probably take skin scrapings to test for physical ailments such as a fungal infection or flea allergy.

If the root of your cat’s over-grooming issue is purely a physical problem, your vet will probably prescribe antibiotics and anti-inflammatories to treat the symptoms, and your cat may need to wear a cone for a short period of time.


If there’s no underlying physical cause for your cat’s over-grooming, it’s likely to be caused by an emotional issue such as stress. You may also notice other signs of emotional distress such as a refusal to eat, wanting to hide or skittish and fearful behavior.

As a pet parent, you’ll need to try and figure out the cause of your cat’s stress. Did he start this behavior after a change to his routine, such as a new addition in your home (feline, canine or human)? If you can get to the root of the problem, you’ll be able to start working to reduce or remove the cause of his stress. Obviously, if it’s a new baby in the house, you can’t remove the cause of your cat’s stress, but you can help your cat to cope better with the change.

Most cats love human interaction, so make sure you spend plenty of time bonding with your cat including playtime with their favourite wand toy or laser pointer and activities like grooming (which can be very relaxing for both you and your cat). Also make sure that everything else about your cat’s routine stays constant, including regular feeding times and keeping the litter tray in the same position.

Environmental enrichment is also important, so make sure your cat has a cat tree and interactive toys. It’s also vital that your cat has high places or a room that he can escape to if you have a new puppy or human baby in the house. We all need a safe haven or a little ‘me’ time on occasion and your cat is no different.

Pawesome Cats shares cat-related articles to help you care for, understand and enjoy life with your cats. www.pawesomecats.com

Images: Takashi Hososhima / Karen Blaha via Flickr.


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