By Daniel Quagliozzi
Personal hygiene is very important to our feline friends. Some cats will spend hours licking themselves clean so they look just right for you when you get home. You'd be just as concerned about your appearance if you had to sit in a sand box and do your dirty work! There's no way that you're going to exit that situation unscathed.
With cleanliness being high on the priority list, cats can launch themselves into an obsessive chain of over-grooming when times of stress take over the day's normal and predictable routine. A sudden move, new addition to the home like another cat, infant, dog or even furniture can upset a cat so much that they lick themselves bald from the intrusion. Why is this?
It is thought that feline "Psychogenic Alopecia" may be a displacement activity resulting from anxiety or frustration, which in time might become compulsive. Nervousness, lack of stimulation and the desire for human contact can result in excessive grooming as well. Changes in the owner’s schedule and inappropriate punishment will only add to the anxiety!
So what can you about this? First you will need to rule out any underlying medical cause that may be prompting them to lick themselves. Itching, burning or skin disorders caused from flea bites, food allergies or household cleansers may be a factor. If the skin feels icky, your cat will lick the area clean to alleviate the discomfort.
Next, be observant of how long your cat is grooming and when it seems to be most prevalent. If there is no skin irritation noted and your cat seems to be stressed out or anxious, you may have an over-groomer on your hands.
There are a number of approaches to this kind of problem, both medical and behavioral. We always recommend that you consult a veterinarian before you try any behavior modification on your own.
Sometimes, an Elizabethan or E collar can be helpful to stop a cat from being able to lick areas while you treat them with medications to stop the itching or in extreme cases, to calm you cat down. Common medications, such as Prozac & Buspar have been very effective in eliminating the anxiety which may be the root of the cause.
Increase the attention that you give your cat each day! You would be surprised how valuable a few moments of love can be. A little goes a long way in the average day of cats life. Afterall, you are their whole world.
Happy distractions are the key to stealing the focus away from the over-grooming. Play with your cat!!! Activity and enrichment are essential to your cats quality of life. Boredom can lead to obsession. Get your cat focused on fun and you will be surprised how quickly they will forget to keep on licking the same spot!
Don't change your routine. Predictability is the one thing can make a cat worry less. No worries equal no anxiety. Keep the furniture moving, strange visitors and partying to a minimum. Your cat will thank you by licking you instead of licking themselves bald!