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Cats and Overgrooming: Causes, Signs, and How to Address It

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Cats have lots of quirky behaviors, many of which are perfectly normal signs of a healthy cat. As pet parents, some of those feline behaviors can cause us to wonder whether there’s a cause for concern. 

Take grooming, for example. Cats are notoriously meticulous about keeping themselves clean, hence the fact that they don’t typically need baths. While our cats’ independent hygiene routines are something to be appreciated, it’s important to note when your cat seems to be taking her grooming a bit too seriously.

Is your cat overgrooming? Keep reading to learn more about the common causes, signs, and ways to address overgrooming in cats. 

Cat Grooming 101

Cats learn how to groom themselves as kittens, and continue this habit throughout their lives. 

When your kitty uses her sandpaper-like tongue to lick her fur, she’s actually doing a few different things: 

  • Removing loose fur, dirt, debris, or pests with the tiny hooks on her tongue

  • Stimulating sebum production and spreading it around to promote healthy skin and a shiny coat

  • Keeping her fur from getting tangled and matted

  • Spreading saliva in order to cool off

  • Soothing herself (similar to kneading, which can be comforting) 

If you have multiple cats, you may even find them helping each other with those hard-to-reach spots—either as a means of practicality or as a way to show affection. 

What is Overgrooming in Cats? 

While regular grooming is a healthy feline habit, a cat who obsessively grooms herself could be a sign of something more than just an instinctive desire to stay clean. 

Overgrooming, as its name suggests, refers to excessive grooming in cats. An overgrooming cat will spend an abnormally high amount of time on self-grooming, often resulting in bald patches and even skin sores. You may even find yourself cleaning up more hairballs than usual due to your cat’s overgrooming habits. 

Causes of Cat Overgrooming

There are a few different causes for feline overgrooming, many of which fall into two categories: medical issues or behavioral issues. 

Medical issues, for example, can include itchy skin due to allergies, fleas, mites, or other skin conditions. Overgrooming in a specific area can also be a sign of internal discomfort. For example, if your kitty has urinary tract issues, she may spend a lot of time licking her genitals; if she has joint issues, she may compulsively lick the area in an attempt to find relief. 

Behavioral issues can include a few different factors: neurological issues, stress or anxiety, or even boredom. Perhaps your kitty doesn’t cope well with changes to her home environment or is finding the household to be a bit too chaotic for her liking. Maybe she doesn’t have a healthy outlet for her excess energy, such as a scratching post. Or, maybe she simply doesn’t get enough interaction and resorts to constant grooming as a form of stimulation. 

Signs Your Cat is Overgrooming 

It can be tough to know just how much grooming is too much. After all, cats can spend up to 50% of their waking hours grooming themselves! 

Some cats prefer to groom themselves in private, so you may not actually catch your kitty in the act of overgrooming. Over time, though, the evidence will make itself clear. 

Signs your cat is overgrooming include: 

  • Bald patches, typically on the front legs, inner thighs, and/or belly
  • A line or stripe of short stubble 
  • Red, sore skin
  • Abnormally frequent hairballs 
  • Biting, chewing, or scratching in addition to licking

Anytime you notice changes to your cat’s behavior or appearance, it’s a good idea to contact your vet to rule out something serious. 

Addressing Your Cat’s Overgrooming Tendencies 

The good news is that if your cat is overgrooming, there are some steps you can take to minimize the damage. 

For starters, talk to your vet to rule out any underlying health issues. Your vet should also be able to tell you whether the source of your cat’s behavior is a physical health issue or a mental health issue and advise you on the proper next steps. 

If the overgrooming is a result of stress, you’ll need to focus on calming your anxious cat. Keep your home as calm and quiet as possible, and your routine relatively predictable. If your cat is a new addition to your home, give her plenty of space and time to adjust to her new environment; the same applies when your cat is becoming acquainted with a new household member

Provide your kitty with plenty of enriching activities and healthy outlets, too. Set up a perch by a window, turn on videos designed for cats, play together using interactive toys such as lasers and wands, and invest in some independent puzzle toys as well. 

Support Skin and Coat Health with Pet Honesty

Support your cat’s skin and coat with Pet Honesty’s Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil for Cats. Made with sustainably caught salmon off the coast of Alaska, this salmon oil contains EPA, DHA, and Omega-3s that will support your kitty’s joints, heart, brain, coat, skin, and overall health. 

Simply pump the tasty oil directly into your cat’s food so she can reap the health-boosting benefits!