Cat overgrooming - 3 main causes and how to stop it

Cat overgrooming occurs when a cat spends an excessive amount of time grooming itself. Overgrooming can lead to hair loss, wounds, and abrasions as well as skin irritations and infections. Cat overgrooming is usually an indication of other issues such as allergies, stress, or parasites. Read on to find out more about cat overgrooming and how to stop this behavior. 

cat overgrooming
Photo by Rana Sawalha on Unsplash

Why do cats lose hair because of allergies?

Just like people, cats too can have allergic reactions to food, medicine, dust, pollen, and even insect bites. In fact, allergies are one of the top reasons for cat hair loss. 

Cats lose hair because of allergies as they lick themselves to ease the itch and discomfort. The excessive licking, or overgrooming causes fur loss and even bald spots that can be pretty unsightly. 

However, most allergies are treatable and once you pinpoint the allergen, you can work to remove it from your cat’s environment. 

Monitor cat hair loss and allergies

General symptoms of allergies in cats include itchiness and scratching. The itchiness can occur in all areas, including eyes, back, base of tail, ears, belly, legs and paws. The constant itching leads to cat overgrooming and hair loss. 

If your cat is showing signs and symptoms of allergies including overgrooming and hair loss, you can monitor to see if it is due to one of the following: 

  • Flea Allergies - A great number of cats are allergic to fleas and experience incredible itchiness just after being bitten once or twice. Observe for licking, scratching or biting on the neck, belly, thighs and base of tail. 
  • Pollen - Cats can be allergic to weed, grass and tree pollen. These allergies can be seasonal or continuous. Affected cats may lick, bit and scratch their bodies. In adverse cases, there might be wounds and skin damage. You can check for pollen allergies with a skin or blood test by your vet. 
  • Household allergens - Household allergens such as dust, mold, and even washing chemicals. To eliminate household allergens, clean thoroughly and frequently as well as make sure that your house is well ventilated. 

Cat diet and allergies 

Cats can develop a food allergy at any time during their life. Food that is often associated with allergies includes fish, chicken, beef as well as dairy products. 

Cats with food allergies usually experience chronic itching and skin inflammation. Areas that are commonly affected include the belly, groin, armpits, face, ears, legs and paws. The itchiness is often a great source of discomfort and to ease it, cats over-groom themselves to the point of hair loss and wounds. This may lead to infections in the skin. 

If you suspect that your cat is allergic to something in its diet, then you will need to identify the problem causing food. 

Best food to eat for cat with allergies

The best way to deal with food allergies in a cat is to carry out a food trial. This involves giving your cat a special diet that is free from proteins that your cat has had before.  A food trial may include the following

Hydrolyzed protein diet

In this diet, the proteins that your cat receives are broken down into a size that is too small to be recognized by your cat’s immune system and therefore, will not trigger any allergic reactions. 

Novel protein diet

A novel protein diet is one that does not contain any ingredients that were in your cat’s previous food. If you are purchasing the food from the store, make sure that you check all ingredients before feeding your cat. You can try Petcube’s premium raw venison, duck, or wild kangaroo if your cat has not been previously exposed to these proteins. 

Petcubes Venison petcubes duck PetCubes wild kangaroo

A home cooked novel protein diet

This is similar to the novel protein diet, except that you are preparing your cat’s meals at home. 

Do remember to check with your veterinarian before starting your cat on a new type of food to ensure that your pet still receives all the nutrients that it needs. 

How to treat pain that leads to overgrooming

If your cat’s hair loss is due to pain that leads to over-grooming, then you will have to address the underlying cause. For example, if your cat is overgrooming due to chronic arthritis pain, then you will have to treat the disease that is causing the pain. Other causes of pain include feline lower urinary tract disease and injury. 

A trip to the vet is in order to treat the underlying cause if your cat is overgrooming due to pain. Your vet will know the best medication or therapy to treat your feline friend. 

How to treat cat fleas that lead to overgrooming

Cats will scratch, lick and groom themselves excessively to ease the itch caused by fleas. You can ease their discomfort by spotting, treating and destroying the fleas in your home. 

Depending on the color of your cat’s fur, you may actually be able to spot tiny bugs in your cat’s fur. You can also do a flea check by using a fine-toothed comb on your cat from head to tail. 

Once you know that you are dealing with cat fleas, you can use ‘spot-on’ treatments to keep the fleas away. You can check with your vet which product best suits your cat as well as how much and how often to apply it. A cat flea collar will also help. 

Your vet may also prescribe medicines to kill adult fleas on your cat to protect your kitty against future hatchings on its fur. 

Additionally, you will also have to make sure that your home is free of fleas. If you have pets other than your cat, make sure that they too get flea treatment. A few weeks of treatment and thorough cleaning should do the trick!

treat cat flea
Photo by Ashmit Gautam on Unsplash

How to treat stress that lead to overgrooming

Psychogenic alopecia occurs when cats overgroom themselves to the point of hair loss due to stress and anxiety. Cats may feel stressed for several reasons such as:

  • Changes in routine
  • Changes in environment
  • Absence of a family member due to death, divorce or long working hours etc
  • Arrival of a new family member
  • Arrival of a new pet
  • Moving house
  • Rearrangement of furniture
  • Chaotic household
  • Moving the litter box to another location
  • Absence or lack of environmental enrichment which may lead to boredom

If your cat is overgrooming due to stress and anxiety, your vet may prescribe anti-anxiety medication. In addition to the medication, here are a few steps you can take to help ease your cat’s stress:

  • Play therapy can help your cat relieve stress as well as associate the positive play experience with the new house, or new person. Interactive games that engage your cat are highly recommended.
  • If the stress is caused by an absence of someone from your household, the scent of an unwashed shirt or blanket belonging to the person may help ease your cat
  • If there is a new pet, introduce the new addition gradually. This helps ease stress for both the current cat and new pet. 
  • A cat pheromone diffuser that produces synthetic pheromones that are similar to what your cat produces naturally will help keep your cat calm. 

As psychogenic alopecia can recur throughout your cat’s life, you need to be aware of potential stressors that might cause anxiety in your cat. Overgrooming from psychogenic alopecia will usually resolve once your cat feels calmer. 

Conclusion

Cat overgrooming will lead to hair loss and bald patches. As such it is important that you do your level best to find out the underlying cause of cat losing hair. If you are unsure why your cat is engaging in this behavior, a visit to your vet will definitely help you to figure out the reason. Also, do remember to always check with your vet before starting any treatment or new diets for your cat.
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