Cat's Meow

Overgrooming

October 01, 2019 / Cat's Meow / Leave a comment

Does your kitty have a bald belly? Or leg? Or a patch anywhere else?

Most cats spend a lot of time grooming, every day. Feline overgrooming is a condition where cats lick themselves to the extreme. This results in them losing fur in patches or clumps where skin becomes very visible.

Why does this happen?

Overgrooming is generally a symptom of either:

  • Pain
  • Itchiness
  • Stress

PAIN is usually internal. Whether it’s an arthritic joint, bladder stones, an inflammatory bowel or something else. Cats will lick over a site that is painful. Other symptoms of pain may include decreased activity, decreased social behaviour, or everyone's least favourite symptom - inappropriate elimination (urinating or defecating outside of the litterbox). Your vet may notice a painful spot, or a change in muscle condition on exam. The vet may also recommend some testing like bloodwork, x-rays or ultrasound to find the source of pain. Pain can be managed in a variety of ways, from weight loss and physiotherapy to prescription medications to hospitalization and/or surgery. It all depends on the underlying cause, so getting to the source is important!

ITCH is usually external. Allergies, skin infections, fleas and skin mites are the most likely causes here.  You can also see itchy cats with underlying endocrine diseases, like hyperthyroidism or diabetes. Other symptoms of itchiness can be excessive rubbing or scratching, or that your cat REALLY loves it when you give them a good scratch - think of the thumping paw on a dog when you scratch his belly. Itchy cats can do that, too. Your vet may notice an underlying rash, or evidence of flea dirt. Diagnostic testing may include things like a skin scrape and skin cytology using the microscope, bloodwork, diet trials and environmental allergy testing.

STRESS can be a diagnosis  of “exclusion” – meaning you’ve tried and we’ve already determined there is no pain or itchiness present. Some cats become stressed by changes in the home like visitors, construction or other pets. Other cats are stressed because they are indoors – while this seems like a pampered, safe and easy life to us, they actually wish for the ability to hunt prey and explore outside. Stressed cats can present a number of ways - whether they are bullies who beat up your other pets, or very timid cats who seem to be afraid of their own shadow. Some of these cats will also experience inappropriate elimination. Sometimes this can be treated with behaviour modification - regular playtime, some time outside on a leash and harness, more hiding places in the home - and sometimes stress is managed with a prescription diet and medications to help keep kitty more calm and happy. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to behavioural concerns, so sometimes there is some trial and error in the process of finding a solution. Have some patience and communicate with your kitty's healthcare team and together you can find what works best for your cat!

If you notice your kitty has a bald spot somewhere on their body, take them to see your veterinarian. The vet can work to find the cause based on the kitty’s lifestyle, their physical exam and maybe a few tests. The solution may be medication, a diet change, or a lifestyle change like going outside on a harness or scheduled regular playtime. 

Written by Dr. Kelly Rawlings

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