Don't let your cat take the grooming to extremes

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OMAHA, Neb. -- Cats are big on grooming but sometimes it can go a bit too far. Over-grooming can be a problem.

While cats typically spend up to 50 percent of their waking hours grooming, too much of a good thing can turn into a destructive habit.

The Nebraska Humane Society’s Pam Wiese has some tips to help determine if your cat is grooming excessively.

One big indicator of abnormal grooming is the loss of fur that can happened in strips along the back, belly or inner legs. This pattern of fur removal is known as "fur mowing." An unusually high number of hairballs can be another sign that your cat is over-grooming.

Why do cats do this? Irritated skin can result from an infection or from allergies to certain foods, parasites or substances in the environment. The pattern may give you some clues:

  • If it's a flea allergy you'll see irritation at the base of the tail
  • Ear mites can be the reason for hair loss and scabbing on the neck and ears
  • Allergic responses to pollen can cause excessive chewing of the paws

Over-grooming can also indicate that your cat is experiencing pain or discomfort, particularly if she repeatedly bothers one area of the body. For example: disc disease can cause back pain so your cat over-grooms a certain spot on her back, while an anal sac impaction may encourage excessive grooming down there.

Some cats use over-grooming as a way to cope with stress or boredom by releasing endorphins that help relieve anxiety or stimulate the cat's brain. Cats are very observant and may even feed off of your stress levels.

Compulsive grooming (psychogenic alopecia) is often triggered by a change in the cat's daily routine or environment, like moving to a new house or the arrival of a new family member or pet. Sensitive cats like Siamese, Burmese, Abyssinian and Himalayan cats are prone to this.

The key to managing excessive grooming is to first address the underlying cause. Together with your veterinarian you can diagnose the root cause and provide medical treatment or suggestions for keeping your cat happy, healthy and hairy!