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.
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.