Your cat’s beautiful coat is starting to look tattered. Perhaps you notice bald patches. Perhaps your cat seems to spend all their time grooming, to the detriment of their lovely fur.
It’s a concerning issue, but not an uncommon one. The first step to helping your cat is figuring out why they are chewing their fur in the first place. We’ll take a look at the medical and behavioral reasons for your cat’s excessive grooming.
Why do cats eat or chew their fur?
There are a number of reasons cats eat or chew their fur. The technical term is overgrooming. You may notice your cat grooming themselves more than usual. You may also notice bald spots on their coat, or red irritated areas. Some owners also find patches of hair around the house, as if the cat is intentionally pulling their hair out.
Before we get into why your cat is eating or chewing their fur, it’s important to know what’s normal, and what’s not.
Cats do much more than spend the day napping in window sills. They typically spend 30-50% of their waking hours grooming themselves. This is normal cat behavior. If your cat seems to spend all their free time grooming themselves, this is not normal.
Cats are wonderful survivalists. They are self-centered and look after themselves very well. Self-harming behavior is not normal for cats. If they are chewing or biting enough to cause sores or bald spots on their skin, this is a type of self harm.
Self-harm is not the goal of the behavior, of course. However, allowing themselves to cause harm to their skin goes against their natural self-protection instinct. This indicates a problem that needs to be addressed.
Fleas are the dreaded nemesis of pets and their owners. They can cause your cat to itch, and even scratch and bite until they hurt themselves.
You may have already checked your cat for fleas, and found none. However, this doesn’t mean that they are flea free. Cats are such meticulous groomers, it’s possible that they have simply removed all evidence of fleas from their skin and coat.
If your cat is scratching and biting obsessively, particularly their lower back area, fleas could be the culprit.
Fleas aren’t the only parasitic pest your cat can encounter. Mites and ticks can also drive your cat mad. Just like fleas, their bites irritate the skin, causing them to scratch and bite.
Just like humans, cats can have allergies. When your cat develops skin irritation due to an allergy, it’s known as atopic dermatitis. If you’ve ever experienced hives or a poison oak rash, you have an idea of what your cat is going through.
Signs of a skin allergy include hair loss, frequent biting and licking, and sores on your cat’s skin. Common cat environmental allergens include grass, dust, and pollen. Your cat can also be allergic to fleas, which will cause more itching and irritation than it does for a cat without the allergy.
In addition to environmental and flea allergies, cats can also have food allergies. Common food allergens are fish, chicken, beef, and dairy products. Along with skin irritation, cats with food allergies often have stomach issues.
Skin irritation can also be caused by dry skin. This can be caused by nutritional deficiencies, dry winter air, or overbathing.
When you get hurt, your first instinct is to rub the area. You hit your shin on the coffee table, you instinctively bend down and rub it. When you cut your finger, you may stick it in your mouth without even thinking about it.
Your cat has similar instincts. Since they don’t have hands, they use their mouth. They will lick and sometimes bite the painful area.
If you notice your cat’s overgrooming is focused on one area, pain is a likely culprit.
Many owners don’t realize how much physical and mental stimulation their cat requires. Sure, cats have a reputation for being lazy. However, they don’t, or shouldn’t, spend the entire day lounging. They need exercise.
When they get bored, they may spend too much time grooming. Some cats will simply sleep more than usual. Some will eat too much. Others will become destructive. They may pee or poop outside the litter box, and even destroy your possessions or furniture.
A bored cat may only show one of these signs, or a combination of them.
Stress or Anxiety
Grooming is a calming activity for your pet. It’s their way of self-soothing. Have you ever hugged yourself when you were upset? That’s essentially what your cat is doing when they are licking or biting due to stress.
In addition to compulsive grooming, a stressed cat will exhibit behavioral changes. Some cats will become shy or reclusive, while others become clingy. Others will become aggressive.
They may pee or poop outside the litter box, and engage in destructive behaviors. Changes in sleep and appetite are also common when a cat is experiencing anxiety.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Cats can develop OCD as well. It is often brought on by extreme boredom, stress, or anxiety. Obsessive grooming is one sign of OCD. They may also engage in other repetitive behaviors. These can include meowing or pacing. Some cats will lick or suck fabric, which is known as wool sucking.
If you notice these or other strange repetitive behaviors, your cat may have OCD. It will seem as if they can’t control themselves, like they must perform the behavior over and over again.
Why does my cat eat their hair off the floor?
This seems even stranger than chewing their fur off. After all, cats are known for being very picky eaters. Hair is certainly not an appetizing meal, so why would your cat eat their hair off the floor?
When a cat, or a human for that matter, eats non-food objects, it’s known as pica. Pica can cause a cat to eat nearly anything. Electrical cords, plastic bags, and shoelaces are a few things that cats with Pica decide to make a meal of.
Generally, a cat with pica will choose one type of non-food item to focus on. However, some cats with pica are indiscriminate, which makes the behavior even harder to manage.
Behavioral pica seems to be the most common type. It can be caused by OCD, stress, anxiety, or boredom. Like licking, it is often a self-comfort mechanism.
It can also be driven by a need to nurse. This is common in younger cats, particularly those who were weaned early. In this case, the cat is more likely to suck on nonfood items rather than eat them.
Dietary pica is a fairly common occurrence in humans, particularly pregnant women. They crave nonfood items because it contains something their body is deficient in. This can also occur with cats.
If your cat is deficient in something, it will instinctively eat nonfood items in an attempt to compensate.
Some feline diseases can also cause pica. These include hyperthyroidism, anemia, feline leukemia, and diabetes.
How to get my cat to stop eating or chewing their fur?
Chewing or eating their fur is an unhealthy behavior for your cat. Naturally, it’s something you want to correct. What you should do will vary based on the cause of the behavior.
If you suspect that fleas are the cause of your cat’s chewing their fur, you’ll need to treat them for fleas. There are many flea treatment options that can be purchased over the counter, while others must be prescribed by your vet.
If you are unsure if your cat has fleas, it’s best to start with a vet appointment.
If you suspect your cat has allergies, you’ll need to work with your vet to determine what they are allergic to and their treatment. Your vet can perform tests for environmental allergens.
When it comes to food allergies, you’ll need to do an elimination diet. You’ll feed your cat a special hypoallergenic diet. Add foods your cat may be allergic to back to their diet one at a time.
If your cat has a reaction, discontinue the food. Repeat the process until you’ve gone through all the common allergens.
Your vet can also prescribe allergy medications, if needed. Some environmental allergens, like dust or grass, cannot be avoided completely. In these cases, allergy medicatoin is the best course of treatment.
If pain is the cause of your cat’s troubles, this also requires a vet visit. Your vet will diagnose the cause of the pain, and prescribe treatment. Pain can be caused by simple things like arthritis, or serious diseases, including cancer. If your cat is in pain, it’s important to get them examined as soon as possible.
Boredom is a common issue with cats, and one that is easily remedied. Be sure to spend time each day playing with your cat. Don’t leave toys lying around the house. Your cat will get bored of them if they aren’t moving. You should also rotate their toys every few weeks. This helps keep them from getting bored.
When you are away or can’t play with your pet, puzzle feeders are a great option. They dispense kibble or treats when your cat moves them in certain ways. This provides both physical and mental stimulation.
You can also turn on the TV. Cats are highly attuned to visuals and sound, so they naturally enjoy watching TV. There are even videos designed just for cats on Youtube. In addition to videos made for cats, most cats enjoy watching nature programs with prey animals and other cats.
Stress or Anxiety
If your cat is stressed or has anxiety, you’ll need to start by determining the cause. Has something changed in the household? Have you gotten a new family member or pet? Has your schedule changed?
Have they recently been startled or scared by something? This can include loud noises and trips to strange places. Are they having an issue with another animal in the house?
Sometimes, it’s impossible to pinpoint the cause of the anxiety. In addition to eliminating the cause, if possible, you can help your cat cope.
Be sure they have their own space. This can be an entire room, or simply a shelf on the wall or a cat condo. The area should be relatively peaceful and quiet, and provide your cat with some privacy. Be sure they are getting plenty of interaction and exercise.
Cat pheremone sprays work like aromatherapy for your cat. They can help your cat relax and destress. You can also consider an anti-anxiety diet, like Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Calm formula.
If your cat still seems stressed or unhappy, you’ll need to speak with your vet. They will rule out any medical causes for the anxiety. They can also prescribe anti-anxiety medications if necessary.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
If your cat has obsessive compulsive disorder, follow the anxiety reduction steps above. Don’t give them attention when they are engaging in the compulsive behavior. This can unintentionally encourage them to keep it up, even if you are scolding them.
Why do cats eat other cats’ fur?
This behavior might seem strange, but it can actually be a sign your cats like each other. It can also be a sign of pica.
Grooming is a way cats show social acceptance. Essentially, cats that groom each other have a special bond.
Of course, eating a cat’s fur is slightly different from grooming, but it serves the same purpose. It’s a way of bonding.
It is also possible that they were sniffing or licking the fur, and it got stuck on their rough tongue. The cat may not be able to get the hair off, so they have no choice but to eat it.
Pica isn’t limited to your cat’s fur. If they have pica, they may also eat the fur of other cats. You may even find them eating your hair as well.