Excessive grooming in cats

Cats groom themselves a lot - and sometimes it can become excessive - why ?

It has been estimated that cats spend up to 50% of the time that they are awake grooming themselves. So grooming a lot may be normal behaviour not abnormal behaviour.

Normal grooming is helpful to maintain good clean hair coat, but grooming  serves several purposes in cats:

  • Removes dead hairs
  • Removes scurf and other debris collected in the coat
  • Cats lose body heat by licking, leaving saliva on their hair and skin which then evaporates producing a cooling effect
  • Grooming can be a "displacement behaviour" in cats - that is, when a cat is confused or frightened it may stop what it is doing and start grooming vigorously. Owners often notice this when a cat has had an encounter with a dominant, aggressive neighbourhood cat , or when a cat has been frightened by loud noises such as fireworks or thunder claps.

Excessive grooming might be present for a variety of reasons :

  • If the skin is itchy or irritable - eg if the cat has fleas, a skin allergy or other form of skin disease.
  • If the cat is being dominated by a neighbours cat, or it has been frightened by something else.
  • If the cat is too hot and is trying to lose body heat.
  • If the cat has foreign material on its coat -it will groom itself vigorously to remove it.

Increased grooming is not really a problem unless the cat develops excessive hair loss, or starts to bite the hairs off and damages the underlying skin by continual licking and chewing. Once the skin is damaged secondary problems can occur - for example infection may get into the damaged skin.

If the underlying cause can not be identified and self-trauma is being caused to the skin your veterinarian may need to prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs (eg. corticosteroids) to reduce any irritation and prevent excessive grooming behaviour. Sometimes an elizabethan collar is needed to stop the cat from damaging itself further. - (Health24, May 2011)

Source: Provet

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