Why Is My Cat Grooming So Much?

When your cat isn't sleeping or eating, it's probably grooming. Every cat owner on the planet will have walked into a room and found their pet contorted into a bizarre position, trying to reach every last patch of fur with their tongue.

Sometimes cats groom too much, however, and it can cause them long-term discomfort. Here, veterinarians explain how to spot excessive grooming and what to do about it.

Why Is My Cat Over-Grooming?

Excessive grooming, which is also known as fur mowing, is generally related to a behavioral concern or a medical problem.

"It can be stress or anxiety—things like that tend to push cats into over-grooming. The other side of the coin is a skin disease or dermatitis, which means an itch causes them to over-groom. So, usually it's either itching or anxiety," according to Dr. Christian Broadhurst, a senior veterinarian at the Clay Humane clinic in Orange Park, Florida.

This itching is often caused by allergies, Broadhurst told Newsweek. "When we get hayfever, dogs and cats tend to get skin irritation. It's the same allergens, the same pollen, it just does something different to them than it does to us. Fleas can be a culprit too."

Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, a senior vet at the Schwarzman Animal Medical Center in New York City, told Newsweek that excessive grooming may be due to ringworm, a fungal infection of the hair and skin. "They can also have infections with bacteria, yeast, mites and lice," she added.

Other potential causes include pain, because cats tend to lick one particular part of the body if it's painful, or a compulsive disorder, which is usually the last diagnosis after all other options have been eliminated, according to Hohenhaus. Another possibility is feline hyperesthesia syndrome, in which cats ripple their skin, chase their tail, groom excessively and frantically bite and chew at their feet and tail. It is not yet known whether the syndrome is a neurological condition, a type of seizure or a compulsive disorder.

How to Tell If Your Cat Is Over-Grooming

Grooming keeps your pet's fur clean and shining. If it is over-grooming, you will notice short bristly hair on its belly, the back of its tail or its hips.

According to Broadhurst, cats have barbels on their tongues that are rough enough to break the fur off. "When cats over-groom they break their hair really short. It feels like a freshly mowed lawn, which is why we call it fur mowing."

How Much Grooming Is Normal for a Cat?

It's not unusual for your cat to spend three, four or even five hours a day grooming. They're simply cleaning themselves.

Normal grooming does not cause hair loss or bristly short fur, said Broadhurst. If you spot either of these, there could be a problem.

Best Thing to Give My Cat When It Is Over-Grooming

To find out whether you are dealing with anxiety or dermatitis—and what to do about it —consult your vet.

"There is no one treatment. A complete physical examination and appropriate diagnostic evaluation at your veterinarian should be performed to identify the cause," said Hohenhaus.

The vet should first rule out possible medical conditions, such as allergies or fleas, according to Broadhurst.

Fleas can be controlled with medication or "spot-on" treatments applied directly to your cat's skin. Anti-flea sprays for the home can also help. You may find that a flea treatment you have used for some time has become less effective, leading to over-grooming. If you've been following all the instructions but the treatment isn't working, your vet may switch your cat's medication.

To treat a cat with allergies, you might need a combination of medication and changes to your pet's surroundings. You should use dust-free litter, keep the house clean and avoid smoking near your cat.

If it's ringworm, your veterinarian will probably recommend an antifungal medication to apply on the infected areas. A full body rinse may also be advised.

In cases where the excessive grooming is found to be caused by anxiety—sometimes called psychogenic alopecia—your cat can be given anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications, but there are also things that you can do at home to help, said Broadhurst.

These include "making sure the cat has somewhere to be alone, because cats are inherently solitary creatures. We put them in houses with dogs and humans, but in feral cat colonies they're very solitary creatures so they love their alone time. You've got to give them a way so they can either be alone or climb up on to a cat tree or a window sill or a catio—catios are great for that."

There are also some non-medical interventions that may help your cat relax, such as plug-in vaporisers and sprays. Broadhurst suggests Feliway, a product that mimics the feline pheromones that cats find calming.

Cat grooming
Stock image of a cat licking its paw. Cats can spend three, four or even five hours a day grooming but when they start losing fur, they're over-grooming. Getty Images