Possible Reasons for Cats Over-Grooming

Some of these reasons may include tapeworms, other parasites and possibly even food allergies.

Is your cat over-grooming? By:
Is your cat over-grooming? By: John Morton

Moonlight has brushed-velvet fur. She’s a rare lilac Abyssinian, darker than a fawn but lighter than a blue — and, yes, her coat really does have a soft, smoky mauve cast to it.

Moonlight also over-grooms.

It began shortly after her arrival. I had seen this behavior before and figured that she was simply stressed. After all, in a very short time she’d weaned her last litter, been spayed and flown all the way from Georgia.

Plus, she’d arrived here just a week before we lost Circe, our blue Aby, to kidney failure. So there was definitely a lot for her to be stressed about.

Why Would a Cat Over-Groom?

Moonlight was used to a grain-free cat food, and our cats weren’t. We ended up switching.

When it comes to feline food allergies, cat owners have a lot of opinions, some informed and others just speculation. “Be careful with fish,” suggests Wendy Ratza of The Abyssinian Club. She says, “My Abys have an allergy and, after researching it some, [I] found that many cats have fish allergies.”

It struck her as strange — even as counterintuitive, considering how much most cats seem to love seafood — but eliminating fish worked in her situation. She now feeds her Aby, Wren, Natural Balance Limited Ingredients Green Pea & Duck. Others swear by Iams, Taste of the Wild (venison) or Instinct Ltd.

Still, checking for food allergies is, as Patricia Ellis Tuohy, another member of the group, says, a tedious process. Your veterinarian can help you navigate the process.

Food hypersensitivity is considered one of the causes of feline miliary dermatitis, which The Cornell Book of Cats defines as “a disease complex” rather than a single disease. Flea bite hypersensitivity is another culprit. The result is typically either small scabs throughout the body or red rashes, and itchiness exists with both.

‘Tis the Season

Moonlight’s over-grooming has something of a seasonal element to it: It flares up every September just as the leaves start changing. My veterinarian believes this has to do with the fact that autumn in New England is vastly different from autumn down south. So Moonlight needs two methylprednisolone acetate shots to get her past Thanksgiving.

Interestingly enough, Lily, who belongs to my son Zeke’s friends from Maryland, had the same reaction to New England weather and also needed an injection.

Moonlight was stressed and over-grooming.
Moonlight was stressed and over-grooming.

Is It an Abyssinian Thing?

Not entirely. Other cats can and do over-groom. Lily, for instance, is an orange-and-white domestic shorthair.

However, there is a condition called psychogenic alopecia and dermatitis that shows up most frequently among Abys, Siamese, Burmese and Maine coons.

Sometimes the cause is organic:

  • Tapeworms and other parasites
  • Feline urologic syndrome (FUS)
  • Anal sac disease
  • Hypersensitive skin disease
  • Foreign bodies
  • Neurologic/musculoskeletal disease

But in some cases the cat seems to be obsessively licking or chewing her fur for no reason.

“In such cases,” The Cornell Book notes, “one can usually document a change in the cat’s lifestyle that preceded the skin problem, such as a change in environment, addition or loss of another family pet, addition or loss of people in the household, unusual confinement, etc.”

Phoenix, my male Aby, over-groomed when he arrived. So did Rory, one of our blue Abys, when a new kitten joined the household. And even though Moonlight is more of a seasonal over-groomer, she did kick into over-drive when Topaz, the group’s patriarch, died last fall. Perhaps some cats are indeed empaths.

Possible Treatments

You can always go with certain steroid injections or pills prescribed by your vet, because they’ll give the cat some relief. But they do need to be administered carefully. Pheromone and lavender chamomile calming collars are available as well. So are ThunderShirts for cats (a baby’s T-shirt works, too).

You can also give your pet lots of cuddling and attention. It won’t stop the cat over-grooming entirely, but it will soothe him/her. At least, that’s what Moonlight, Coqui, Wren, Lily and the other cats say.

As always, consult a veterinarian for health advice that’s catered to your cat’s needs.

T.J. Banks

View posts by T.J. Banks
T.J. Banks is the author of several books, including Catsong, a collection of her best cat stories, which was the winner of a Merial Human–Animal Bond Award. A contributing editor to laJoie, T.J. has received writing awards from the Cat Writers’ Association (CWA), ByLine and The Writing Self. Her writing has been widely anthologized.

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