Grooming is a perfectly natural behaviour for cats, but too much (over-grooming) or too little could be a real cause for concern.
There are lots of reasons your cat might be licking and grooming more than usual. You should always call your vet in the first instance as there are a few medical reasons that could cause over-grooming.
Fleas and other nasties can make your cat’s skin itchy, which might cause them to lick and groom more than usual. The good news is a lot of pesky parasites are fairly easy to treat. If your cat has fleas, you might see the fleas themselves or ‘flea dirt’ in their fur, they usually scratch more than normal and you might even get a few flea bites yourself. You can read more about recognising fleas – and getting rid of them – on our Pet Health Hub.
Mites and other parasites could also be causing your cat to lose their fur. If you notice hair loss it's always best to take your cat to the vet who can investigate and try to find the cause.
Certain allergies can cause your cat’s skin to be itchy and uncomfortable, which means they’ll start grooming more. Atopy in cats is an allergy usually caused by something they come into contact with. This can include pollen or dust mites, but there are many more possibilities. You can read more about atopy on our Hub.
Of course, your cat doesn’t necessarily have to have an allergy to have itchy skin – there are lots of things that could potentially be causing that pesky itch which makes them over-groom. Visit our Hub to find out more about itchy skin in cats.
If your vet has ruled out medical causes, one big reason a lot of cats over-groom is stress. This could be caused by big changes, such as moving home or building work, or even a new baby or another pet in the home. Cats are very particular and like routine, so if something upsets this they can get stressed and might express this by over-grooming.
It’s important to try to minimise your cat’s stress levels and this will depend on what is making them stressed. If it’s a new home or building work, try to make them a safe space and use a pheromone diffuser to help calm them while they get settled in.
If a neighbourhood cat is making your cat stressed, consider investing in a microchip catflap to prevent other cats from coming into your home. This will help your cat feel happier and safer while they’re in the house, hopefully reducing their stress levels.
Generally speaking, cats are solitary animals. If they do live with another cat, they tend to get on better with brothers or sisters that they have grown up with. So if you have more than one cat, this could be making them stressed especially if they feel like they have to ‘compete’ for certain things (food, chill out space, even your attention). It’s important to make sure you have enough of everything for all of your cats – a good rule is to have one of every ‘resource’ (food bowl, water, litter trays, toys etc.) per cat, plus an extra one. You can read more about creating a stress-free environment for your cat in our free guide.