Sometimes, kitties will bathe themselves to the point of removing their own fur. Some even make themselves bleed from obsessive grooming. This issue should not be ignored!
Overgrooming is almost always caused by either stress or an underlying medical issue.
Your first line of defense is a visit to the veterinarian, to rule out any medical causes.
On the medical side of things, your cat may be dealing with fleas or skin parasites, bacterial infection, fungal infection (like ringworm), allergies, or food sensitivities. Consult your vet to figure out if any of these causes are present. The vet may ask you to try different foods, medications or treatments to isolate the cause of your cat’s obsessive behavior. Keep in mind that some medications (for other conditions) can have a side-effect of causing cats to obsessively groom.
Whether the cause is medical or behavioral, it is important to take care of it as soon as possible, as excessive grooming can become a habit and then very difficult to stop. Also, open sores can become infected, causing even greater problems for you and your cat.
If the problem is determined by you and your vet to be behaviorally motivated, it is essential to figure out what is triggering the obsessive behavior, since it is merely a symptom of the true problem. It is usually stress-related.
- Did you change your work schedule?
- Is there a new addition (dog, cat, baby, family member, etc.) to your household?
- Was there a death of a human or animal companion?
To help a stressed-out cat, provide a stable and predictable environment and schedule, as cats are creatures of habit and don’t like change.
Other potential stressors to consider:
- Is another cat (or other creature) in the household bothering him? This is especially worrisome if the antagonism occurs while the cat is trying to eat or use the litter box. Try to create a “safe zone” for this cat or feed him separately from the others if he nervously looks around while eating.
- Provide regular, scheduled play sessions (see our article on Play Therapy). Play is a huge stress-reliever for cats and should be a part of their daily routine. Two or more sessions of fifteen minutes each daily should be the minimum.
- Keep your own schedule (work, travel, etc.) as consistent as you possibly can.