It might be convenient to bracket cat overgrooming into three reasons (a) itchiness (b) pain (c) stress and anxiety.
A cat who licks and therefore is overgrowing all over is probably trying to reduce itchiness on the skin. This might be due to an allergy (perhaps food or environmental and hard to resolve, I think) or a skin problem, perhaps a dermatological problem (e.g. flea bite allergy) or skin parasite.
A cat who licks a specific area might be trying to alleviate pain in that area. This may apply to a leg or paw which has been injured in a fall or perhaps pain in the abdomen causing the cat to lick his belly.
Both the above might need veterinary intervention.
Thirdly, a cat might persistently groom an easy to reach place causing the fur to disappear exposing the skin. This is likely to be due to anxiety caused by stress. Self-grooming is calming for a cat.
The easiest to reach area for a cat to groom, for this reason, is the belly and the inside of the thighs of the hind legs.
In this third group the owner has to identify the cause of the stress and eliminate or reduce it if possible. It will usually be to do with territory or perhaps bullying in a multi-cat home. The latter is a threat from within the home and the former might be from outside the home e.g. cats outside which the inside cat can see and perceives as a threat.
The ‘cure’ to stress induced overgrooming is to make the cat’s environment more suited for a cat and to allow the cat to more often and more easily express his natural behavior.
If you see overgrowing and you have isolated the cause to be stress, playing with a favourite toy may stop it. It is a way of redirecting your cat away from self-mutilation which is what stress induced grooming is.
Being around more and engaging in good routines with your cat will reassure him too.
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