Overgrooming in cats can be quite a serious health problem. Cats can lick the fur off their bodies and don’t even stop there, sometimes. A cat can lick exposed skin raw to the point where it bleeds and becomes infected. Then the skin might itch. Your cat might scratch it and so the problem gets worse and worse.
This is what was happening to my cat, Charlie. There is a page on PoC in which I discuss the possible causes of overgrooming while searching for reasons.
I’d like briefly to write about how the problem was cured for Charlie. I am not saying that the cause and effect for Charlie will be the same for all cats. Compulsive grooming due to OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) behavior is about the emotions of individual cats and the circumstances under which individual cats live.
It is also unpleasant for a cat caretaker to watch this self-mutilation happening and be powerless to stop it. Well, I was able to stop it because it was my behavior that caused it. I would like to thank the support of the regular visitors to PoC and in this instance, particularly Ruth (Monty’s mom) who agreed that the source of the problem in the case of Charlie was stray cats coming into the Charlie’s home through a cat flap (cat door).
There are a lot of wandering and stray cats where I live and I tend to attract them because I can’t say no when they come for food. A stray cat is good at finding food and they often lose their fear of entering strange homes and eating cat food from cat bowls put down for the property owner’s cat or cats.
I knew that three cats were doing this; two tabbies who were siblings and a large, impressive grey cat. When Charlie first came to live in my home his coat was fine and there were no stray cats coming in.
After about 4 months of stray cats coming in Charlie started to groom excessively. He would also scratch himself. The scratching was in part due to a flea allergy although he had no fleas on him. I believe the scratching was also part of the obsessive grooming process. Cats do scratch when grooming and if they groom excessively they will scratch excessively too.
When the strays came in (on average about every other day) he would watch them from a high vantage point and occasionally try and see them off by growling etc. He is quite alpha in his behavior. I had to cat wrangle to avoid conflict.
Anyway to cut to the chase, on discussions in comments on PoC with the “troops” I decided to block up the cat flap. This meant a complete change in routine for Charlie and for me because he has always used the garden to go to the toilet. He now had to ask me to let him out and in. I am pleased to say that he learned fast. He makes sure he gets noticed and he stands on his hind legs if he needs to make a point. He also puts his head around the bedroom door and just asks to be let out.
The new regime has been in place for about 3 months and he grooms less and his coat has returned in most places or is returning. It is as straightforward as that.
Clearly the constant intrusion upon his territorial home range by stray cats was making him anxious. He had lost control of his home range because of what I was allowing to happen. He probably felt a need to be constantly vigilant to defend his home range. Self-grooming can be a reaction to stress for a cat as it is relaxing. It is a bit like nail-biting for humans. Also humans find comfort in OCD behavior as it is reassuring. It reaffirms that they have control in situations that are out of control.
It is nice to see a direct cause and effect and a complete cure of his OCD behavior. An added advantage is the fact that in winter the flea bite allergy is more or less eliminated as there are no fleas in cold England. The next hurdle will be summer, to see if we can keep fleas totally off him (even one bite from one flea can cause an allergic reaction) and therefore keep the itching away. Itching causes licking and scratching.
The flea bit allergy and OCD grooming are very similar in what you see by way of visible behavior in response, namely, overgrooming.