Over Grooming In Cats
Finding A Cause For Our Cat's Overgrooming
It's normal for cats to spend a lot of their waking hours cleaning, but when a cat does more than the usual grooming, beyond the point of keeping clean and maintaining the coat to where patches of fur are removed, they are overgrooming.This is a problem that has occured on a number of occassions with our cat.
Squeaky the cat
Squeaky is an adorable cat that we adopted from a cat rescue centre over 5 years ago. She has provided us with an endless source of pleasure but also there have been periods of concern and worry because of her overgrooming. The first time she did it we were very concerned, not knowing what was causing the loss of fur. Under closer observation we noticed she was spending increasingly longer lengths of time focusing on certain areas of her body for cleaning though there were no visible skin problems. It got to the point where she was actually removing fur and starting to irritate and break her skin. This started a process of trying to work out why she was licking her fur too much so that we could find a way to prevent it.
Some cats are very sensitive too flea and tick bites. Just one bite can cause a reaction that causes a much longer irritation to the cat far outlasting the actual bite. We have reguarly kept our cat treated with topical flea protection, and regular combing with a flea comb has not shown any signs of fleas, though as it only takes one bite, it would be easy to miss it.
Food allergies are another possible reason for cats grooming too much. After researching cat foods we stopped buying cheaper brands and now feed her with a mixture of hypo-allergenic wet and dry foods. We also introduced a mixture of tinned fish and plain cooked chicken to reduce the amount of processed food she consumed. Squeaky is a great lover of cheese but we decided to cut out all other food stuffs such as her favourite cheese and others just in case she has an allergy or sensitivity to those.
The environment a cat lives in can cause irritation making her over-clean areas of her skin in an attempt to eliminate the discomfort. Indoors, we limited the amount and variety of cleaning products we use, using eco-friendly, non chemical products as much as possible. We increased in frequency how often we vaccumed and dusted and kept the house warm and well ventilated to minimise the irritants that can be harboured in dust and in the air. Our cat loves to play out the back of our house which is an area of other gardens, overgrown patches, marshland and farmers fields. Squeaky is very much a happy cat when outdoors,but we did trial a period of keeping her indoors. This didn't appear to have any improvement in her condition so, much to her obvious delight, she was once more allowed out to play again.
We were aware that keeping her in the house could add to her problem if it was as a result of of psychological reasons or a behavioural problem. Some cats will overgroom if they are unhappy or stressed, and this can become a habit more than anything else. Even when the initial cause of the irritaition that led to the overgrooming is stopped, the constant cleaning and pulling out fur can continue as an aquired habit.
Initially, we had Squeaky treated with steroids as recommended by her vet. This would work for several months and then she would start over grooming again. Reluctant to continue her on regular steroids for the rest of her life is what prompted us to identify the source of the problem and deal with that rather than through the use of steroids.
The measures we have taken do appear to have helped. She no longer has any bald patches on her back or sides and now only has some thinning areas on her front legs and hasn't received a steroid injection for nearly a year. We make a point of brushing her when she has been outside in case she has picked up anything in her fur that could irritate. We suspect that the over grooming of her front legs continues more as a habit but obviously can't be sure. Fortunately she doesn't groom to the point of damaging her skin on them and can easily be distracted from doing it. She continues to be a happy purring cat, enjoying lots of attention but with the freedom to have fun on her own outside.