Cat is licking himself raw--how worried should I be?
April 16, 2009 6:11 PM   Subscribe

My cat is licking himself raw in a certain spot--how worried should I be?

I noticed a couple of days ago that my cat, James Bond, had a small furless spot on the bottom of his belly toward his crotch area. Just now he was lounging in my lap and I saw that the spot has gotten bigger, and seems to have a rawer patch in the center (it's not oozing or anything, it just looks like a little scab). He's definitely been licking himself a lot in that general area.

He seems otherwise totally healthy--playful, active, eating, peeing, pooping, etc. I'm pretty sure he doesn't have fleas or anything like that (he's an indoor cat). So is this vet-worthy? Should I watch it and see if it gets any worse? (I'm only working part-time and going to a vet would be a financial strain right now, but obviously I would do it if something seems very wrong.) Is this like separation anxiety or something, b/c I'm working an erratic schedule and sometimes am gone for long hours? If so, how can I cheer him up?

Have any of you experienced this with your cats? I tend to be a hypochondriac and doubly so for my cat, so I'm pretty worried, though he doesn't seem bothered by it. Any advice you all can give would be appreciated.
posted by leesh to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
my cat did this once about 4 years ago. it went away a few weeks later. he probably just got a bug bite or something.
posted by TrialByMedia at 6:37 PM on April 16, 2009

as Trialbymedia said, or it actually could be from anxiety- that's not uncommon. Try to pay extra attention and maybe provide some new toys for when you're gone and then just wait and see. If it doesn't go away or seems to get worse, at least try calling a vet first to see if they have any over the phone advice or if you need to bring him in (they'll likely say to bring him in at that point).
posted by Eicats at 6:44 PM on April 16, 2009

The more he licks it, the worse it will get. As much as 007 will disapprove, I suggest an E-collar and some cortisone spray to minimize any itching until it heals.

(For my dog's spay incision, I had better results with the inflatable ProCollar -- she looked pitiful in the standard e-collar, couldn't walk up the stairs, and bumped into everything!)
posted by Perplexer at 6:49 PM on April 16, 2009

One of my cats takes anti-anxiety meds for this. Without them, he licks off quite a lot of his fur (over-grooming, they call it). With them, he's a happy cat. He didn't always do it, and I'm not sure what it is that makes him anxious.

It could be an allergy of some sort, though. If it's getting bigger, I'd take him to the vet for a consult.
posted by wheat at 6:54 PM on April 16, 2009

If the cat has licked himself raw then you should probably take him to a vet. It could be fleas (they can come in on you and the cat would notice them way before you would because fleas are hiding masters), it could be crazy, or it could be a potential hot spot. The cat may need steroids, prozac or just frontline plus.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 6:59 PM on April 16, 2009

We had a little guy that did that for a period of time after one of our other cats passed away. We took him to the vet's and it turned out to be anxiety related alopecia or 'over grooming' as the vet put it. The Vet said to watch him and pay him some extra attention and tlc and that if it got worse they could prescribe something.

In our case we didn't have to go that route... he eventually stopped on his own but he did have a pretty naked belly for a few months.

Might be worth a trip to the vets just to be safe though.
posted by Weaslegirl at 7:10 PM on April 16, 2009

..oops... I might add that they did do some blood tests before advising us it was over grooming. That's why I suggest the trip to the vets might still a good idea.
posted by Weaslegirl at 7:15 PM on April 16, 2009

My cat did this and after some months of guessing and 3x vet trips the cause was confirmed to be stress (it took some time before the source of the stress was diagnosed: thyroid problems). If you can swing it, a trip to the vet would be a good idea, but most likely the vet will tell you to keep an eye on it and to come back. IANAV but you say that the cat seems just fine apart from this, so if you were a friend of mine I would probably advise you to watch him for a week or two and see how it goes (because going to the vet is stressful in itself). Waiting will also give you some extra info for the vet (eg "He stopped for a week and the hair started growing back, but now he's doing it again".)

The vet did tell me that this kind of overgrooming is almost always caused by stress, though sometimes by allergies, and quizzed me on whether there were any changes at home like a new boyfriend/girlfriend, new sofa, all that stuff. There was nothing at that stage so there wasn't much the vet could do until other symptoms of illness started to appear.

Like TrialByMedia said, it could also be a bug bite, which is another reason to wait just a little while before going to the vet.
posted by different at 7:51 PM on April 16, 2009

Conversely, my family had a cat which did this, and it turned out she had a subdermal abcess that would have killed her in relatively short order had she not been taken to the vet.
posted by aramaic at 8:14 PM on April 16, 2009

Response by poster: OK, I was all ready to just wait and see till that last comment! I do think it's maybe stress, since I was out of town for five days a week and a half ago, and have been working extra hours this week. Also, "raw" was a poor word to use--it's naked, not bleeding or anything, and he definitely doesn't seem sick. I'll probably call the vet in the morning just to see what they say. Thanks for the input, everyone.
posted by leesh at 8:22 PM on April 16, 2009

Note that this could be an allergic reaction to something your cat ate in the house, like a houseplant, possibly making it itchy around his little intestines (although the itchyness usually appears around the throat and catbutt).
posted by jabberjaw at 9:43 PM on April 16, 2009

Our dog has allergies and does this occasionally. Whatever the cause, the vet can give you a topical spray which will help the hot spot heal up much more quickly; I'd take your cat in for that at the very least.
posted by ook at 6:19 AM on April 17, 2009

We've got a cat that does this. Apparently it's also called "barbering." He started when his feline buddy started going downhill. We've tried treating for stress (no effect) and more recently for allergies (so far, no effect). If it's just a nervous habit, it's not considered dangerous, from what I've been told, although it is disconcerting.

A friend has a cat who did this for years and then stopped as abruptly as she started. Go figure.
posted by adamrice at 7:42 AM on April 17, 2009

My cat did this for a number of years. He's a very anxious cat, and I had more than one vet tell me that it's a self-comforting thing that some cats do.

Back in November, I came across an electric diffuser that puts happy cat pheromones into the air. I figured it was worth a shot to see if I could get my cat to calm down a bit.

It worked. He's now sporting some lovely gray fuzz on his formerly pink and naked belly. No relapses in the last 4 months at all.

Note: I'm not affiliated with the company that produces this product. I just think it's awesome. :)
posted by burntflowers at 11:41 AM on April 17, 2009

a few months ago, my cat scratched his chin until it was raw. it scabbed up and i assume he kept scratching it because it itched from healing. i called my vet and she said to use equal parts white vinegar and water to clean it and see how it went. totally did the trick. obviously, this won't work if there is an underlying cause, but may if you think he just had a slight irritation that got blown out of proportion, so to speak.
posted by itsacover at 10:25 PM on April 19, 2009

Response by poster: I waited to call the vet to see how things went, and whatever it was has cleared up and his fur is growing in nicely. Thanks, all, for your comments! I did give him lots of extra attention and some toys and I think that helped, or at least made him extra-happy!
posted by leesh at 8:32 PM on April 30, 2009

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