Overgrooming, particularly in cats, is often a symptom of stress. This is partly why there is such an overlap between medical and behavioural causes – because any pain or itchiness, for example, will cause discomfort which will be stressful to the cat, causing them to groom themselves further as both an emotional coping strategy and to soothe the pain/itch.
Ruling out something more serious
Animals can sometimes lick excessively at body parts that are sore or painful, as well as due to parasite issues or skin conditions, so the first port of call should always be your vet. They may want to work alongside a clinical or veterinary behaviourist because there is a huge overlap between medical and behavioural causes of overgrooming and it often requires a multi-disciplinary approach.
Why else might my pet overgroom?
If all medical causes have been ruled out, stress might be the last remaining factor. Underlying stressors might not be obvious to us and may seem mild from our perspective, but cats can be very sensitive to changes to their routine or environment.
What might my cat find stressful?
The answer is, pretty much anything! It depends on the individual cat’s temperament and resilience to stress, as well as the number of stressors in their environment. Some cats might find redecorating the house stressful, the arrival of a new baby, neighbourhood cats in the area, new pets (or loss of an existing pet) in the home, visitors, or having to live with another cat in the household who is not part of their social group.
What can I do to help my cat feel less stressed?
The key is to try to identify what the stressors are and then attempting to reduce your cat’s exposure to these triggers. For example, if visitors are difficult for your cat, can you create a cat-friendly room with cosy hidey holes, high resting places, food, water and a litter tray and pop your cat in there before the visitor arrives?
If neighbourhood cats are the problem, make sure you have a microchip cat flap and prevent other cats from being able to get into your cat’s territory – opaque frosting on the windows and flowerpots on windowsills can also help reduce visibility of your cat to other cats, and help your cat feel safer in their home.
The general rule for ALL cats is to ensure they have loads of hiding places and climbing places around the home, as well as plenty of resources spread around the home. If you have more than one cat, aim to have one of everything (feeding locations, water locations, litter trays, scratch posts, high places, beds etc) per cat, plus an extra one. These need to be well distributed and not placed near each other.
Another way you can help make your cat feel more comfortable is by using Zylkene to help them settle a bit easier. Discover more here.