Feline Obsessive-compulsive Disorder

It can be extremely frustrating for a kitty guardian when their cat starts acting “weird”; especially when there is no apparent reason for their bizarre behavior.

Oriental shorthair cat

Sir Hubble Pinkerton by Jo Singer

Several years ago, our white Oriental Shorthair began exhibiting some rather odd, compulsive behaviors which were very puzzling for my husband Marty and me. We started watching him like a hawk to try to get to the bottom of what was causing his very odd demeanor, and if, by chance, he was trying to communicate about something that might be bothering him.

Although Sir Hubble was eating, drinking and actively playing with his toys without any issues, at the same time on several occasions we noticed that he was pacing back and forth throughout the house in repetitive patterns. Sometimes his pacing was accompanied with his yowling at the top of his lungs.

We began observing his very odd habit when he was about to use a litter box located in the master bedroom. He would circle the bathtub ledge precisely three times prior to getting into the box. While it made no sense to us, it appeared that he was actually counting the number of times he circled the bathtub ledge before he felt safe enough to use the litter box. He started over grooming himself, often pulling out chunks of his fur.

Greatly concerned and totally stumped by his conduct, to find out what was ailing him, we took him to our veterinarian. Following a thorough physical exam including blood-work and a urine analysis to rule out any underlying medical condition causing his behavior, we waited in suspense for an answer. But when the perfectly normal results came in, we were rather stunned with our veterinarian’s diagnosis of OCD; obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Of course, I wondered what caused OCD in cats. Since I had never heard of this condition in felines, I felt compelled to learn more about this disorder. After much research I found that In fact, just like humans, cats can suffer with this condition.

According to the excellent article about Feline OCD on PetMD, symptoms of OCD in cats are “abnormal, recurrent actions that are out of context with the situations in which they occur”. Since the cat loses “control” over starting or stopping the behavior, it becomes compulsive and may even get in the way of normal functioning. Cats with OCD often display extended obsessive and excessive grooming, to the extent that hair is rubbed off, compulsive and repetitive motor, ingestive or even hallucinogenic behaviors for which there are no apparent reason.

Cats with OCD may often vocalize repetitively, (yowling) and suck and chew on certain fabrics; sometimes even swallowing them. They can exhibit behaviors such as paw shaking, running and chasing objects that are invisible, foot-chewing and tail-chasing. Both of the latter behaviors are considered self-directed aggression. . It is thought that this disorder has a genetic component with some breeds, especially the Siamese and other Asian breeds to be at higher risk for this condition.

Some of the causes that can cause cats to develop this condition are boredom, conflict or stress anxiety. Even the smallest change in a cat’s environment can suddenly trigger these behaviors in some kitties. Unfortunately, these behaviors can become habitual, and have nothing to do with what started them.

Again, just like humans with OCD, cats learn to cope with the troubling situations by using these compulsive actions. But as long as the cat is not injuring itself, these behaviors may actually be the most appropriate outlet for stress and conflict.

Treatment includes drug therapy in conjunction with behavior modification. By enriching a cat’s environment, offering appropriate hiding places and perches that OCD cats can use to escape a perceived threat are methods that lead to reducing anxiety and stress. It is highly suggested that guardians avoid rewarding their cat for these behaviors. Redirecting the cat’s negative behavior to a more positive one can be quite effective.

Although Sir Hubble continues to pace, to count the passes around the bathtub ledge and to have occasional bouts of yowling he is much calmer. The anti-anxiety medication prescribed by our veterinarian has also put an end to his self-mutilating over-grooming behavior.

Have you ever wondered if your kitty has a Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder? Tell us in a comment.


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Feline Obsessive-compulsive Disorder — 14 Comments

  1. Thanks for this article, Jo. I like the Oriental Shorthair but it is a cat that is closely linked to the modern Siamese cat and in respect of genetic diseases the Siamese cat, with the Persian cat, has the longest list.

    I think in some ways that your cat’s, possibly, nervous disposition is somehow linked to inherited traits.

    Although there are a number of pages on this website which deal with ancillary matters to OCD this is the 1st page strictly dedicated to OCD. Thanks Again.

    • Stop f*king the breeds, Michael. The Moggies deserve just as much.
      I know that you are not. 🙂 It needs to be stated again and again: we should not allow these organizations to continue the way that they do. Glorifying breeding purebreds. 🙁

    • Michael for sure! From what I have been reading, the Siamese and oriental breeds seem to be prone to OCD. What is very much of a relief however, is Dr. Hush Puppy- Sir Hubble’ older brother (same parents- born 9 months before Sir Hubble) has no “nervous” traits at all. He is one of the most laid back cats I have ever been owned by. Very little upsets him… but he has the most uncanny way of knowing who doesn’t like cats.. and totally ignores them or goes into another room.

      He picks up cat lovers like a magnet, and tends to jump on their shoulders- his favorite spot- so I have to prepare cat loving visitors for this possibility. LOL.

  2. My cat in Canada – Gigi the 1st – used to over groom. I didn’t know why. Now my Gigi here – Gigi the 2nd – is clearly, at times, bored, though much better now, and I wonder if she will start to become unhealthy because of it other than being a bit overweight.

    If I can’t solve it myself with hard work then I will consider giving her medication.

    • Marc, she doesn’t need medication. I sometimes would like to pull my hair out myself, after dealing with our species. 😉 Maybe those individuals need a reprieve, as does their cat. <3

  3. Jozef had a bit of OCD after Barbara’s John died, he started over grooming, Walter’s anxiety from his bad start in life flared up and he started spraying, thankfully with lots of tlc both got through it all. Some people don’t think a bereavement affects animals but it certainly does.

  4. You are so right, Ruth! Animals do grieve strongly- especially when they lose close companions- either human or a beloved animal friend.

  5. Why do think he developed these patterns, Jo? Shouldn’t you and your husband, Marty, intuited this immediately? Especially you, being a professional psychologist? I wonder. I am not criticizing you; I just expected more from you, after having read this article that you posted. 🙁

  6. Come on, ailurophiles, and all of those who don’t seem to know their beloved cats at all: look, listen, smell and watch! It WILL all make sense in the end. These elements are key: Look, Listen, Touch, Smell, and PLEASE pay attention. She/he deserves it. I cannot state this enough. Especially to you. 😉

  7. To be on subject with a slightly different twist. In March of last year I lost a dog ( Lori a 8 years old Keesh/chow) mix suddenly from fast moving cancer.Jo does know the awful things that happened at the emergency vet. In August my husband passed away after a very long illness. At the end of September my (16 year shepherd mix Molly) passed away after her body functions all gave out. All that remained in my home were the 7 cats and 1 Rottie mix. Cats were a little perplexed at all the changes. My Rottie Luger began compulsive licking nearly 24/7 which I knew was caused by the loss of his only male companion in the house and his 2 canine sisters. When the compulsion extended to him licking me I knew something had to be done. A trip to vet confirmed what I thought and prescribed Prozac for him.With in a few days he stopped licking all together but was still very lonely for canine company. He had never been without that since the day I got him at the age of about 8 months. So I went and scouted on line for a new companion for him. I got very lucky when a local rescue group was bringing up a couple dogs from Red Fern rescue in TN. His new companion is a 3 year old lab mix named Bianca who I call my southern belle. She had been in this rescue group pretty much all her life. They bonded immediately and to watch her come out of her shell and learn to enjoy freedom and having a loving brother is priceless. No more licking at all and they sleep together, play together. So yes I do believe in COPD in animals and it great to know it can be treated.
    OH please let me throw one more important thing here about prescription. The Walgreens in our neighborhood has a special insurance for pet prescriptions. The first one cost $81.00, but it was suggested I sign up for pet insurance for prescriptions. The second order was I believe $10.00. So please check with your local Walgreens about this program, it only costs about $35.00 per year. Well worth the money.

  8. Amy, thanks for that tip about medications! Target also has a lot of generics for $4 for 30 pills. Target also has a pet section, and the pharmacists with whom I have talked with seemed fairly up to date with these meds. All it requires is an rx and it is a done deal. I always “sniff” out for generics whenever possible.

    Amy- you certainly went through hell- and back- and I am so happy about the dogs and the resolution of his grief. That is a really happy ending and I was so thrilled to read about it again.

  9. OCD can cover many things done by cats but sometimes it isn’t OCD at all. Molly McButter was a compulsive groomer. It stared at about one year of age. She would groom herself bald on the backs of her legs and her tummy. There was a definite pattern to the grooming problem. After many tests and observations we were told OCD. I didn’t think that was the actual problem so I started watching her carefully. That is when we realized that a multi cat household was the problem. She was low in the pecking order and not prone to make her own niche in the household. At age 5 years we finally found a single cat home for her with senior citizens. All of her OCD disappeared. Now at age 9 years she is back here with us. She is fitting in well and no OCD symptoms. I am sure there are OCD cats out there. I just hope that the people they live with will carefully watch to make a true determination. Like you said Jo. Make sure you have everything checked out. For the cat’s sake.

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