Cats are very clean animals. When they feel the need to get clean, they take the initiative and groom themselves. When grooming, the cat will contort its body to reach seemingly unreachable places and lick each area clean. The tongue is lined with hooked barbs that grab onto the hairs and pull out dirt and matted areas of the coat. A healthy cat will clean himself about 10 to 15% of the day. (We humans only clean ourselves for about 2% of the day, so what does that tell you?) You can rest assured knowing that your cat has things covered when it comes to cleanliness. It is a top priority. But what if your cat participates in excessive grooming activities?
What Is Considered Excessive in Cats?
On average, cats groom themselves about 15% of the day. That’s about three and a half hours out of a 24 hour day. So if you see your cat groom himself once after each meal, a few times while lounging in front of the television while you watch your favorite primetime shows, and then in bed with you right before you go to sleep, that’s normal. But if every single time you turn around to check on your cat you see him licking himself, that could be considered excessive. It can actually be quite annoying to witness. Time it – observe your cat for 16 hours of the day (since you sleep the other eight hours) and record how much time you see him grooming. If the total out of that 16 hours is four hours or more, that could be considered excessive.
A Force of Habit
Maybe this isn’t something that you should be worried about. A cat could be grooming a lot because she is truly obsessed with cleanliness; the same way some people are neat freaks. It could just be a force of habit or a part of the cat’s personality.
Cats groom as an act of comforting themselves. Have you ever noticed that after your kitty has a bad fall, or runs head first into a wall by accident, she thinks, then pauses and starts to groom herself? This is because the act of grooming makes the cat feel more secure and sends her back to normalcy. In reality, the cat’s head could be pounding, and her heart is racing, but stopping to lick herself will help bring her back to a good place. This is also true after a cat gets into a really bad fight – she may need to lick her wounds and comb her hair back into place. So if your cat tends to fight a lot with other cats, this could be the cause of her excessive grooming habit.
Should You Be Concerned?
Sometimes, cats groom themselves too much because they like the way it feels or because it gives them comfort. Other times, it could be a psychological problem. Maybe your cat feels anxious or stressed, so she turns to grooming as a way of relieving that anxiety. This could be caused by any major change that has recently occurred in the cat’s life, such as a new, younger cat in the house or a recent move. It’s a type of “self-mutilation” when the cat goes to the extreme of grooming patches of hair out of her coat or damaging her skin.
In other cases , the cat could be grooming too much because she has irritated skin, an allergic reaction, a wound from fighting, or even a parasite. Licking it away will always seem like the ideal solution for your cat, even though most of the time these problems need to be corrected with medication or a vet visit. Some cats have been known to groom themselves so much that they cause bald patches on the coat.
You should pay close attention to the areas where the cat seems to be excessively grooming, as this could be a problem spot. Be like Goren in Law & Order – use your powers of observation to pinpoint the exact location and try to diagnose the possible source of the issue.
If you feel that there is some type of concern beyond habitual grooming, bring your cat in for a quick checkup at your vet. It’s worth the $30 to get peace of mind. Oftentimes your vet will try to prescribe you anti-depressants or other medications to cure a cat that overgrooms and other compulsive behaviors, but you should look into every other possible option available before going this route and ask the vet about any side effects of the medication.
How to Stop a Cat From Grooming Too Much
There are a few home remedies that you can try if your cat is grooming too much. Give your cat a good bath in natural cat shampoo or soap if you feel that he is grooming excessively. Treat your cat with a parasite killing medication, like Revolution or Frontline if there is a problem with fleas, ticks, or mites. The problem could be as simple as a skin irritation or an annoying flea that just won’t go away.
If your cat seems to be focusing on a specific location on his body, spend a few minutes examining the area to see if there is any redness or maybe a small tick that is trying to burrow. Some magnifying glasses allow you to look at an area on the cat’s skin to see if there are parasites. Feel the area with your fingertips. If you notice anything strange, call your vet.
Also, groom your cat yourself. Get a cat brush or a good cat hair comb and groom your cat at least every other week. It’s possible that your cat just never feels clean because her coat is covered with too much excess dead hair. This is especially true in a long haired cat—it’s almost impossible for a cat with long hair (over two inches long) to clean up every area of her coat. Spending quality time with your cat while brushing her coat could also help relieve some of her anxiety if that is another cause of the excessive grooming issue.