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Pet Overgrooming: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Cat grooming themselves

Pets groom themselves all the time, especially cats, who seem to make it one of their favorite pastimes. Self-grooming is a normal behavior for cats and dogs, helping them do things like keep clean, regulate body temperature, and tend to wounds. But there’s always the possibility of having too much of a good thing. If your dog or cat grooms themselves excessively, it could cause some problems.

What Is Considered Overgrooming in Pets?

Overgrooming is when your pet grooms themselves excessively. You could classify any amount of licking, scratching, or chewing at their paws, bodies, tails, etc., that goes beyond their normal behavior as overgrooming.

How Much Grooming Is Normal for Cats and Dogs?

Since overgrooming typically refers to grooming beyond what your pet’s normal behavior is, it’s worth knowing what’s normal. Cats groom themselves often, much more frequently than dogs. It’s common for felines to spend up to 50% of their waking hours tending to their coats and skin.

In contrast, dogs might lick themselves here and there, adding up to not much more than several minutes a day. This is definitely a big difference between the two species, but necessary to know to determine if your pet is grooming too much.

Is Overgrooming Bad?

Overgrooming can lead to several issues, including irritated skin, sores, and hair loss. A pet that zones in obsessively on one spot can cause a lot of damage. Some cats and dogs, although not common, have chewed off parts of their tails.

How Do I Know If My Dog or Cat Is Overgrooming?

If your dog or cat is grooming more than what’s considered normal, they’re overgrooming. However, on top of knowing the norm, you also need to know what’s normal for your pet. For example, if your dog spends a lot of time outside running in the dirt, they might spend more time licking their paws than the average dog. 

Therefore, understand your pet’s typical behavior, and know what’s the average norm for dogs and cats. Then you can use all of this information to determine if your fur baby is overgrooming.

You’ll also notice several signs that point to excessive self-grooming, including the following.

  • Hair loss, bald patches
  • Red, irritated skin, hot spots
  • Excessive, frequent licking, chewing, or scratching in the same area
  • Your pet wakes up to groom or can’t sleep because they’re too busy grooming
  • Cats might get more hairballs
  • Your pet whines or makes sounds of discomfort when grooming

Why Do Pets Overgroom?

If overgrooming is bad for them, then why do dogs and cats do it? Well, your pet might overgroom out of boredom, allergies, pain, irritated skin, anxiety, or underlying medical issues.

Extreme sensitivities to flea saliva and other parasites are other reasons. Conditions like Feline Hyperesthesia, urinary tract infections, diabetes, or various allergies could contribute to overgrooming. 

If your pet spends a lot of time outdoors, they may groom more than usual if they get more dirt and debris caught in their fur. Another potential reason for excessive licking or chewing is pain or discomfort in certain areas. If your pet has a wound or deals with a condition like arthritis, they may pay more attention to these places to try and ease pain.

Stressful situations are another big reason your pet overgrooms. These situations can be temporary or more ongoing. Examples of temporary scenarios are a long car ride, your pet staying alone all day, fireworks, thunderstorms, or a trip to the vet.

Longer stressful situations could be a recent move to a new home, boarding your pet while you go on vacation, or getting a new pet. Some pets can even get stressed out if you relocate their belongings within the home, like moving their bed or litter box. Other longer-lasting stressful experiences are if a family member or other pet recently left the household or died.

Cat grooming itself

How Can I Help My Overgrooming Dog or Cat? 

If you notice your furry friend spending too much time licking and chewing themselves, it’s best to talk to your vet. Since causes of overgrooming can be behavioral or medical, it’s essential to rule out any potential health problems. 

The vet will perform a physical exam, run blood work, and perform special tests like skin biopsies. They’ll check for flea infestations and other parasites. Your vet primarily wants to rule out any medical reasons for your pet’s excessive grooming.

If the vet doesn’t find a medical reason, then they’ll likely contribute the overgrooming to emotional or mental reasons, often referred to as Psychogenic Alopecia. Once you know why your pet is overgrooming, you can help them stop the behavior. A veterinarian can also guide you in the right direction for treatment and how to help your pet.

1. Make Sure Your Pet Gets Enough Exercise

If excessive grooming is from boredom or anxiety, it’s essential to give your pet more effective, safe ways to ease these feelings. Spend time with your pet, make sure they get enough exercise and mental stimulation, take your dog for walks, and play with your cat.

2. Help Your Pet Through Stressful Times

Does your furry pal get anxious during various situations, such as thunderstorms, vet visits, or nail trims? When possible, remove stressors from your pet’s environment and use behavioral therapy to help them adapt to inevitable situations (like going to the vet). Use the Neat-Lik Treat Mat to help soothe their stress or provide mental stimulation with interactive toys, like the Rolly Cannoli.

3. Provide Proper Health Care

Ensure your pet is on flea and heartworm prevention and stay up-to-date with regular vet well visits. If your pet’s overgrooming is due to an underlying medical condition, follow your vet’s recommendations for care and administer any prescribed medications.

4. Create a Routine for Your Pet

Help your pet stay calm and secure with a predictable routine. Do your best to stick to the schedule.

5. Use Comforting Scents

Provide your pet with things that have your scent, like placing your old t-shirt in their pet bed. Put a few of these items around the house to help comfort your fur baby. You can also use calming diffusers that release specific pheromones and scents to help ease anxious feelings.

6. Never Use Punishment

Avoid using negative reactions and punishment to stop your pet’s overgrooming. Remember, they can’t help the behavior, so you need to find the source and provide the means to get them through it.

Time to Say, “It’s Over,” to Overgrooming

One of the most important things you can do for your pet to ensure their health and safety is to know your pet and how they typically behave. Often, changes in their normal behavior will signal a problem or underlying issue, and the sooner you notice these changes, the faster you can help your furry friend.

Overgrooming is a perfect example. When you notice your dog or cat is grooming themselves more than normal, it’s almost always because something is bothering them. It’s your job to figure out what that is, with the help of your pet’s vet, so you can help your pet feel better.

For more useful tips and information about caring for your pets, check out the rest of the Neater Pets blog. Whether you have a sweet kitty, a precious pup, or a full furry house, you’ll find helpful resources to make you a fabulous pet parent.


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