I’ll tell you why my cat overgrooms. I am writing about Charlie my three-legged cat. When I first adopted him after my mother died, I did notice that he had a slightly bald patch on his stomach. I thought nothing of it. For the first year I did notice that he groomed with a passion. He would groom himself for about half an hour non-stop. This did not seem out of the ordinary for me. He was just a cat that groomed a bit more than usual.
Then gradually I noticed that he was losing fur around his thighs, on this lower legs and on his back. In one area on this upper back he had licked himself so much the fur had been totally removed and part of the skin too. It was becoming bloody. That was a warning sign for me that he had a serious problem. Off to vet we went.
Occasionally he would scratch around his neck. The obvious cause of scratching was fleas. But he is on Frontline drops because I let him go outside. He has no fleas. I check regularly and groom him myself regularly with a flea comb. His vet confirmed that he is flea free.
- Bare patches of fur on legs and lower back. His fur has grown back on this stomach. There was some loss of fur at the base of his ears too.
- No fur, no top layer of skin in a patch near his shoulders where he had licked to much.
- Scratching around the neck and shoulders.
- When I groom him with a flea comb the skin felt rough (through the comb) in certain places. Inspection revealed small red bumps which have subsided.
My self-diagnosis was that Charlie has some Siamese cat in him. You can tell by the long face and the loud Siamese voice. Siamese cats have probably the longest list of genetically inherited illnesses of all the purebred cats. This may not be important but Charlie may have inherited some of the frailties in his mentality from the Siamese cat. This has resulted in a propensity towards obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD can be caused by stress and if a cat tends to be stressed he may start overgrooming as a symptom of OCD.
So, for me one reason why my cat overgrooms is that he has a tendency towards OCD. It is not a stand out problem. He just tends towards that condition. I say one reason because like lots of medical stuff there is often more than one thing going on.
Flea Bite Allergy
Another reason for overgrooming is the flea bit allergy. The allergy to the flea bite is an allergy to the stuff, whatever it is, that the flea puts into the cat’s blood when it bites the cat. Cats can develop an allergy to this allergen over a long time. That is, initially the cat has no problem with a flea bite and then gradually the body becomes sensitized to it and one day the cat becomes firmly allergic to it. It’s a bit like a factory worker working with a material for years without any problem and suddenly he develops a bad rash.
Charlie has no fleas and has Frontline drops so how can he get bitten? Well, it only takes one flea to jump on, bite him, die because of the Frontline chemical and then drop off. No fleas but bitten nonetheless.
The truth is that it is almost impossible to guarantee no fleas on your cat even if he is an indoor cat. For example a person can go outside and pick up a flea and walk it into the house. Unless you have a completely sealed environment there is always the possibility of a cat picking up a flea.
This is depressing because if a cat has become allergic to the flea bite and there is no way of absolutely stopping him being bitten you have a permanent problem on your hands. There is not way to resolve it.
The third reason why my cat overgrooms is because he likes to groom more than average. It makes him feel better. It might not be so bad as to call it OCD but bad enough to remove fur rather than improve fur! Of course cats that tend towards nervousness are probably more inclined to develop OCD. There is an overlap.
One reason for nervousness is a stressful environment. That means the home where he lives has stressful characteristics. I am convinced that Charlie is not stressed. He has a very nice home where he totally loved for hours on end. He spends all night being cuddled sometimes. He has a safe garden to go out into and all seems good for a domestic cat. There is one thing that is wrong and which I might tackle. A stray cat comes in through the cat flap (cat door) occasionally to eat. Charlie does not get on with this cat. However, sometimes Charlie just sleeps through the cat’s visit so I don’t see that causing stress. However, in an ideal world the stray cat should be barred from Charlie’s home. I am working on that.
One thing I have done is to change his food. This what I call “a ticking the boxes exercise”. That is, there is a requirement to get rid of all possible other sources of an allergen. The trouble with food allergies is that you really need to do a thorough scientific test to find out what food a cat is allergic to. That is troublesome and it may not produce a result.
You can buy hypoallergenic cat food but that might not produce a result either. Hypoallergenic cat food is meant to be food that has potential allergens removed from it.
What I have done is to change his food from a middle ranking cat wet food – Whiskas and Felix – to a high quality wet cat food – Hills. I am currently buying it at my vet’s clinic but you can buy it online for a little less. It is very expensive. However, I have seen a difference in his coat condition. I think it feels better. His coat is less dry and harsh. It feels more silky. I don’t think he has an allergy to something in his cat food but he just might and it is worth ticking those boxes.
One final aspect of this difficult medical condition is that it may be multifaceted as mentioned. Charlie is a poor drinking. I don’t think I have ever seen him drink! That might sound odd. However, cats don’t need a lot of water and wet cat food is 80% water anyway. But his apparent dislike of water may be exacerbating his skin condition, making it dryer. It might be a good idea to put some clear water bowls in different parts of the home so he has to find it. Clear bowls may be better than opaque bowls as they make the water look more like it does in a stream. This is an attempt to tap into the wild cat that is in all domestic cats.
The cause of overgrooming can be multifaceted. The flea bite allergy is a tough problem to crack and a worry. In the USA when there is no real “cure” to OCD some vets might recommend tranquillizers. In the UK vets are more reluctant to prescribe these drugs. My personal view is that to keep a cat on tranquillizers is worse that a cat that overgrooms. I would rather my cat have a threadbare appearance than be drugged up.
However, Charlie’s vet has given him a jab that I think is a steroid type drug. This lasts for about 5 weeks and it has helped a bit. When the five weeks are up I intend to give Charlie some anti-histamine pills. Apparently these have limited success but are worth trying, I believe. Plus I’ll be doing the other things mentioned above.