My cat grooms obsessively
March 3, 2016 4:50 AM   Subscribe

I have a 9 y/o neutered indoor-only shorthair male cat. Last spring, I noticed he was grooming a lot more than usual and took him to the vet. Ten months and four vets later, no progress has been made. YANMV. More inside.

My cat, Dart, grooms compulsively, especially at night. He also gets loud enough about it that it sometimes keeps me awake. He grooms all over his body, though not so much on his stomach. In addition to grooming himself, he grooms my hands, my clothes, the blankets.
We have both been under a lot of stress and had a few moves, so I feel inclined to think this is behavioral. Our last move was big and led to him living with another cat for the first time. That was a few months into the overgrooming, though. The cats get along. I have a lot of anxiety issues myself, and it’s certainly possible that he’s picking up on them.
It’s also possible that it’s something physical, but the vets haven’t found anything. He’s had 3 coures of prednisone, steroid shots, chlor-trimeton, hydroxyzine, all the flea stuff you can throw at him, and has just started Prozac. I changed his food according to vet advice in case that was the problem. He now only eats Orijen Six Fish (dry—he won’t touch wet food).I know the Prozac will take a while to show results if it is to show results. My new vet’s drug of choice is Atopica, but it is an immunosuppressant and his white blood cell count was just low enough to make her hesitant. His other lab work, including urinalysis, looked fine. He has no other symptoms.
Has anyone out there dealt with this in their cat? What finally worked?
posted by mermaidcafe to Pets & Animals (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
We give our cat 1/2 of a zyrtec tablet every night (per our vet's advice). It has vastly cut down overgrooming behavior, though not cured it. He is a lot happier now. We also tried steroids, cortisone, all different flea meds. Hope that helps.
posted by studioaudience at 5:03 AM on March 3, 2016

the holistic vet for our cat who had pulled out almost all his lower body fur with obsessive grooming in patches had several things to do, and his fur is almost all back in six weeks later. He'd had a test for fungal infection that was positive earlier so it was the minor itchiness of that (the other cat had it but shrugged it off easily) that had sparked a cycle of anxious grooming to skin irritation.

We bathed him about three times over the first three weeks in an anti-fungal wash shampoo, not fun but not that stressful done with warm water and time, and lots of fluffy towels, and his fur was all soft and noticeably cleaner afterwards. I made a point of spending more time petting and soothing him, doubling up time cuddling him. We also upgraded his food (mix wet/dry). I had rub-on cream for really bad itchy patches but only needed it once for a particularly bad spot. Mostly, he just wanted to be cuddled A LOT more.

She wanted us to get another litter tray separate for him in case sharing the tray with the other cat was stressing him out, but I started first by stepping up on cleaning the tray more often and he seemed happier already. We also established a separate sleeping space for him, away from other pets.

Another thing she recommended trying was "feliway cat spray", basically cat pheromones or happy scent. You can get it as a collar or spray.

Basically she went he had an itchy patch once, he's stressed and miserable about something and he's gotten into this vicious cycle of self-grooming that's creating new itchiness. Make him super happy, deal with the itchiness and it will heal." And it did.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:18 AM on March 3, 2016

My cat did this to the point where she had no fur on much of her legs and belly. She stopped when our other cat died (and they were littermates - so it wasn't new cat syndrome). So in her case, it was entirely stress related.
posted by FencingGal at 6:19 AM on March 3, 2016

Best answer: Try the Feliway plug-in. We used it for some different behavioral issues (violence among a group of cats) but as a side effect our overgrooming cat stopped doing that. We used 2 plug-ins (based on the size of our home) for three months, so a total of six.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:28 AM on March 3, 2016

Our cat did this until we moved to a new apartment - we also went through a few rounds of steroids and antihistamines which worked sporadically.

Non-vet things that seemed to help more or less:
1. Feliway (didn't work for the cat that overgroomed but made the other cat happier)
2. Adding a new litterbox - standard advice is to have N+1 litter boxes where N is the number of cats living in the space (didn't work for the cat that overgroomed but made the other cat much happier)
3. Changing her food - we tried a bunch of different cat food - each time slowly phasing it in and then giving it a month or more to see how she did on it. We ended up with ScienceDiet adult , but your cat may want something different.
4. Making sure she had toys/places to sleep/places to hide/etc
posted by sciencegeek at 6:57 AM on March 3, 2016

Mental stimulation helped my over grooming cat - he got about half his food as clicker training treats just before meals and extra later pointer. He was also better when he was an outside cat, I assume because he had more to do.
posted by momus_window at 7:09 AM on March 3, 2016

Breaking the cycle by bugging/playing with your cat and/or using one of the Victorian collars can be a short term solution.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:36 AM on March 3, 2016

Our cat has overgroomed for almost six years now (mostly on her stomach, sometimes paws). We've also done the multiple-vets, multiple-medications, multiple-apartments circuit.

Nothing we've tried (sounds like most of the same stuff as you -- changing food, allergy meds, more playing, etc) worked to stop it. She's a super happy, well-adjusted cat other than her overgrooming, so last year we decided to stop obsessing over how to "cure" her and switched to a mode of "prevent any serious damage" (ie, licking to the point of breaking the skin). For this, Atopica has worked really well -- I totally hear you about the white blood cell worries, but if it's helpful, we have found that even super low doses work to keep the overgrooming under control. We give her one pill every three days. She still licks more than an average cat, but not to the point of hurting herself (or driving us crazy).

Good luck!
posted by ethorson at 7:58 AM on March 3, 2016

My cat overgrooms his front legs--and licks denim. And REALLY goes after human hair. This makes us think it has nothing to do with itch and everything to do with compulsion. We tried Feliway and it made him MORE anxious.

Is anyone home with your cat through most of the day? I have found that when my wife and I are both on a 9-to-5-ish schedule, he seems to do it more than during periods when one of us is home a lot more.

So, like ethorson, we adopted a policy of mitigation. We give him as much attention as possible when we're around. At night, I put a pillowcase over all the exposed non-beard hair above my neck (even my eyebrows) and tie it into a knot as tight as I can stand at the base of my skull. Only once in a blue moon does he actually lick the pillowcase (probably to reassure himself that it's still impenetrable). At least I sleep most of the night now.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 8:27 AM on March 3, 2016

Coconut oil is good for you and your cats' skin. If you can get him to eat some off the spoon, that's great -- if not, you can rub your hands together with it like you're moisturizing them, then stroke him. He'll get a little bit greasy, but it should feel soothing as well, especially if he has dry patches.
posted by vickyverky at 11:32 AM on March 3, 2016

My cat nibbled her tummy bare and kept it that way for several years. She had a pretty low stress, comfy, healthy life that whole time. In the last couple years, her overgrooming has greatly subsided and her hair has fully grown back. The change? A big stressor was added to her life--an exuberant Labrador Retriever. I think she's channeling all the boredom/anxiety energy that caused the overgrooming into 1) trying to understand the dog and 2) trying to avoid the dog. So, maybe the domestic life is a bit too easy and a little challenge is good for the kitty mind? Not saying it's time for you to get a dog, of course, but some mental stimulation may be warranted. The clicker training mentioned above sounds like a good option.
posted by sk932 at 4:33 PM on March 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

We have a female cat with similar problems. She and a litter mate share the house, both seem to be anxiety ridden due to the other. We're still in the workup stage to gauge any underlying physical problems. Sadly with her over grooming and kicking, scratching she tears her skin from time to time or over grooms and leaves her skin bare here and there so we have to use a cone collar often.

Most recent addition that has proved very effective and calmed her down is using a product called Thunder Shirt which, in effect, is a compression shirt or sweater (disclaimer, do not sell, own stock, promote, etc). Product info states the shirt makes the cat feel more secure and reduces anxiety. Has made a significant improvement. Also available for dogs.

Have also found scheduling play time improves her OCD behavior as well.

Will try to get vet to prescribe trial of psychotropics next.
posted by WinstonJulia at 12:07 AM on March 4, 2016

You know what worked for us? A huge felt "cone." We physically prevented him from biting or licking himself, until all the hair grew back completely. Took like six weeks, and he really disliked the cone, but the bottom line is that the cycle wouldn't break until everything had healed.

I have to admit, he also looked hilarious, which took our minds off his (really distressing) behavior. I'm absolutely certain that our reaction to the licking/bald spots/blood contributed to his anxiety.

As far as the vet could tell, BTW, there was no physical reason for his discomfort other than the fact he'd injured himself by over-grooming. I don't think cats need infections or irritation to start down the path of baldness.
posted by SMPA at 12:03 PM on March 4, 2016

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