Cats lick themselves every day. While that sounds like a lot on the surface, they do it because they are grooming themselves. This is just another reason cats are such great pets – they don’t stink (in most cases).
Some cats, however, take the grooming into high gear for a number of reasons. These reasons range in severity, but none of them are healthy. Regardless of why you may think they are doing it, when your cat is overgrooming, you need to take them to the vet.
Overgrooming is something that can worsen over time as your cat removes large swathes of fur and essentially gets to licking their bare skin. Cat tongues are barbed and can do some real damage over time.
Initial irritations can spur them into licking, the licking then causes more irritation, encouraging more licking, and the cycle repeats.
What are the reasons for cats over licking areas of their skin? There are several potential causes for the behaviour.
Fleas and Other Parasites
A cat that’s scratching compulsively should first be checked for fleas. Due to their cleanliness and routine grooming, your cat may be quite good at removing all traces of the critters. If you see them obsessively grooming their lower back, this could be a sign of fleas. Additionally, scabs can also be an indicator.
Other parasites can cause your cat to itch. If you notice your cat suffering and are unsure of the cause, the vet can determine what types of parasites may be bothering them and provide appropriate treatment.
Our cats get allergies similarly to humans. Allergies are not fun and can present in a cat in a number of different symptoms. Some allergies can be triggered by the environment, such as the changing of the seasons, while other allergies can be from contact with foods or surfaces. Some cat allergies present as watery eyes, sneezing, and itchy skin.
If you are worried about your cat having allergic reactions to things in your home, contact your vet before it turns into obsessive licking.
This is the reason it is so important to address overgrooming as soon as it becomes an issue. The act of overgrooming can cause the skin to become dry and uncomfortable. Sometimes it becomes itchy or painful, and this causes the cat to want to lick it to relieve the discomfort, and the cycle just gets worse and worse. Dry skin can also start as a result of environmental factors such as dry winter air or a bad diet.
An injured cat will attempt to lick the area causing them pain or discomfort. As an owner, it should be obvious to you when your cat is injured, especially if they are over licking the area. If it is pain caused by something else, such as old age, arthritis, or something else, it may not be as obvious. Try to pay attention to their behaviour and get them to a vet when you feel necessary.
Cats who are bored, stressed, experiencing a major change to their environment, or perhaps a new addition to the family, have been known to overgroom. Treated as a coping mechanism, these cats usually start overgrooming to deal with the stress, and it then becomes a physical issue as they remove their hair and irritate the skin.
Indoor cats experience this sort of overgrooming in far greater numbers than outdoor cats. Whether it’s the change in environment (going from outdoor to indoor), or a change in the environment (a baby is born, new cat, new dog), we can’t always know 100% for sure. Your vet can help you work through some treatments for your cat, to help lower their stress and get them over their overgrooming issues.
As an indoor cat owner, it is up to you to ensure they are stimulated in a healthy way and are not simply serving time in our houses.