What does cat stress grooming look like?
September 19, 2017 8:24 AM   Subscribe

My adorable cat Ember has been over-grooming for a couple of months. She's got bald patches on her legs and on her back. I'm not sure if it's stress grooming or a food allergy. When she bites or licks herself, it's sudden, like something is biting her, but we're 99% sure that it's not due to bugs. MeFites with cats that stress groom or have in the past, does sudden biting and licking mirror your experiences, or does it seem more like some sort of allergy?

I will add that we have another cat that bullies her a little, and she does seem nervous most of the time. We've been to the vet about this a few times and switched her to different food for an unrelated reason. We're thinking about putting her on anti-anxiety medicine to see if that helps, but my vet and I are reluctant to do so unless we're sure what the cause of her over-grooming is. Thanks!
posted by Fister Roboto to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Jacqueline sometimes stress grooms (and hides) when she finds the other cats' boisterous play a bit too much; it looks exactly as you describe, sudden vigorous licking and mouthing as if she just got bit by a flea.

(FWIW, for us Feliway diffusers have helped; also making sure the cats get enough play so that they don't get bored and annoy each other, separating their feeding stations so that they all get to eat uninterrupted, and providing lots of spaces for them to withdraw to.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 9:39 AM on September 19, 2017

Aw, we had one of those too. For us the answer was Feliway throughout the house -- so, for a house of our size we used 2 diffusers, and changed them every month, for a three months. And we got a kitten. Our overgroomer and the kitten bonded, and the groomer groomed the kitten quite a bit but at a reasonable level, meaning neither had bald patches. Agree also about multiple food stations if you can make it work (even a small bowl will do), and water, and litter.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:51 AM on September 19, 2017

My Pipsqueak has a flea allergy, and though she doesn't have fleas, she overgrooms the inside of her hind legs - mostly just to thin/short fuzz lately, but she was naked when she came from the shelter. She'll lunge at her haunch and bite (as if something is biting or pinching her).
posted by janell at 10:08 AM on September 19, 2017

Yeah, for several years my cat was overgrooming her belly and it often did happen in quick bursts like that -- sudden gotta-lick freakouts.

She was being bullied by a couple of my roommate's cats and was very nervous around the house, began peeing in the corner of the living room, other anxiety reactions. I moved out and in with a different cat, who fortunately got along fine with her, but even though there was no more bullying she kept overgrooming. I was afraid the habit was just ingrained. But then after a couple more years, with no intervention, she did stop!

All the above suggestions for making sure she has a space to retreat to, adequate play, unthreatened eating time sound good. But even if she is feeling better, it might just take some time to break the habit.
posted by little cow make small moo at 10:35 AM on September 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

When my cat did this, it turned out to be due to thyroid issues (which also made him very anxious). It was always sudden, like he'd just thought of it.

It might be worth getting your cat's thyroid levels checked just to rule it out.
posted by rubbish bin night at 11:43 AM on September 19, 2017

A short course of prednolosone cured my cat's bald-patch-creating grooming issue.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:27 PM on September 19, 2017

My cat has eosinophilic dermatitis, which is 99% controlled through a restrictive diet, but that remaining 1% is enough that she's still a pretty itchy cat. When she scratches or overgrooms, it's not so much sudden as it is intense and prolonged. Like, she'll be chewing on a paw or something, and it'll be super loud slurping and munching and she won't stop unless someone makes her. Even then she'll act all annoyed at being interrupted until someone gives her enough scritches that she calms down. It's more compulsive seeming than it is sudden.

Your cat may vary, of course.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:55 PM on September 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

a vet visit to absolutely rule out thyroid issues, food allergies, or other skin issues would be the place to start, in my opinion. i've known two cats with this issue. for one, it was a food allergy, and it took a while to find the right food. for the other, it was a 'hot spot' dermatitis reaction which required treatment with steroids. both had symptoms similar to what you describe, and both were absolutely fine afterward.

i knew a third cat who did have stress issues, and her bouts of stress-grooming were very different -- the frantic grooming was not confined to a specific area, and also included skin-twitching and tail-biting. it could be stress, but i'd rule out other issues first.
posted by halation at 1:00 PM on September 19, 2017

Response by poster: Hi everyone, and thanks for the replies. I should have mentioned that she does bite her tail as well. Thanks for the feedback so far.
posted by Fister Roboto at 1:35 PM on September 19, 2017

you might look into feline hyperethesia syndrome, if the tail-biting is accompanied by twitches or vocalisation. the cat i knew who had it was helped by kitty-size doses of prozac, so it is treatable.

posted by halation at 2:07 PM on September 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I asked about this with my cat a couple years back.

Since then he's seen the biggest help from Prozac, which I get compounded into a liquid I give him daily. He despises it but takes it pretty well. They had to do a full panel of bloodwork first to make sure his system could handle it, and we started off on a low dose. Improvement began fairly quickly. I've had to up his dose twice when the grooming picked up again, and there are still some days when he grooms a lot. But overall, the Prozac did a lot and confirmed my suspicion that this had to do with stress rather than allergies or infection.
posted by mermaidcafe at 4:36 AM on September 20, 2017

Also, Re: a food allergy, what food does she eat? Grain and chicken are the most common allergens for cats, so if you want to try a new food, keep that in mind. My cat gets Orijen Six Fish, which is crazy expensive, but comes well recommended and seems to do well. You can go in a pet supply shop and just read through ingredients so you can potentially eliminate a food allergy as the problem. It does take cats a while to adjust to new food, so it may take up to a couple months if you go that route.
posted by mermaidcafe at 4:41 AM on September 20, 2017

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