If your cat is grooming so much that she is making herself bald and/or red in certain areas of her skin, and in some cases is creating open sores, she needs help.

First off, have your veterinarian check her out to rule out any medical causes such as fleas, allergies, bacterial or fungal infections or impacted anal glands (in males).  In male cats the cause of his excessive grooming, particularly on his thighs and abdomen causing these areas to become bald, is impacted anal glands.  There are anal sacs located on either side of his anal opening, which discharge a liquid scent each time he defecates.  It alerts other cats to his presence.  With advancing age and restrictions of his territory, these glands are underused.  The liquid substances in the sacs becomes drier and eventually changes to the consistency of wet sand.  The anal sacs become impacted.  The anal sacs need to be squeezed and emptied; time to see your veterinarian.

Cats normally groom about one third of the time that they are not sleeping, but this usually doesn’t cause any irritation or noticeable hair loss.  Since cats groom frequently, you don’t usually notice that there is a problem until you find a significant hair loss or skin lesions.

A cat will lick when an area of their body is itchy or painful.  If pain is the reason for the licking, the focus will be on the painful area.  If the licking is more wide-spread, then itchiness is involved.  Compulsive licking of the tail head may indicate a flea infestation.  Pollen or food allergies cause cats to lick their backs, abdomens or other areas of the body, like the legs, until baldness occurs.  As long as the licking doesn’t break the skin’s surface, no infections will occur.

Cats who over-groom tend to vomit more hairballs than average cats, due to the ingestion of extra hair.  Some over-grooming is due to boredom or to the fact that your cat simply wants more attention from you.  Stress and anxiety also sometimes cause over-grooming.

Try to interrupt your cat’s grooming and engage her in another activity, such as petting or interactive play (see our section on Playtime and Toys).

If your cat has bald areas and/or sores, the temporary use of an Elizabethan Collar can help break the behavior problem and give the skin a chance to heal.

NOTE: An Elizabethan Collar is a lampshade-like protective collar that will prevent the cat from grooming or chewing herself.  Just be sure, if you use one, that it fits properly.  Your cat can eat and drink comfortably when she is wearing it.  We recommend you work with your veterinarian if you go this route.  All veterinarians have them, since they are often necessary after a surgery to prevent licking of an incision.

There are also bad-tasting topical sprays to discourage constant licking.  Antihistamines, herbal calming remedies and anti-anxiety medications can all be used to break the licking cycle.  Seek your veterinarian’s guidance in the use of these.