My Cat Won’t Stop Licking! Why He Does It and How to Help
Your cat licking himself is a normal part of grooming, but if he’s constantly cleaning or is licking the same spot over and over, it could point to a bigger problem. Find out why this behavior is so bad for your cat and how you can help him.
Why Excessive Licking Is Bad for Your Cat
Grooming is an absolutely normal behavior for a cat, and it’s a must for his overall health. If he crosses over into excessive grooming, it could become a serious issue for him, causing hair loss or skin irritation, and making him more susceptible to injuries.
The abnormal behavior almost always points to another, underlying issue, which can sometimes be serious. It’s important to get to the bottom of it as quickly as possible to help your cat overcome his licking obsession.
There are several reasons a cat may excessively lick his fur or skin. Some are easier to treat than others, but a vet can diagnose the underlying problem.
Cause #1: Fleas
Fleas and other parasites are no fun for your furry friend and can be tough to get rid of if allowed to get out of control. One sign your cat may have fleas is excessive or frantic licking because these parasites can cause itchiness, swollen spots, and other irritations from their bites.
There are other signs of a flea infestation. Here’s what you should be on the lookout for:
- Flea dirt – This is actually flea poop. You can find it by looking for brown or black flakes in your cat’s fur or on spots where he spends time laying or sitting.
- Flea eggs – They look like white circles, and, just like flea dirt, you can find them in the fur or on the floor.
- Sneezing – Some cats are allergic to flea saliva!
- Constant scratching
- Restlessness or lethargy
- Hair loss
- Small black or red insects on your cat – These are the fleas!
How to Help Your Cat
You can help control your cat’s obsessive licking due to fleas by controlling the fleas themselves. Allowing a flea infestation to continue can result in even more issues for your cat, such as worms or anemia. It’s important to get control of the parasites as quickly as you discover them.
If you notice any of the signs above, use a flea comb on your cat. Running it through his fur can help you find flea eggs, flea dirt, and even the fleas themselves, so you can confirm the problem.
If you discover there are fleas, there are plenty of options regarding medication and relief for your pet. Some topical medicines will provide month long relief and prevention, while others may be shorter and only work for 24 hours. There are also soaps and other products you can use to prevent fleas from living on your cat or in your home. Talk to your veterinarian about the best options.
Cause #2: Stress or a Compulsive Personality
Some cats require more exercise than others. Other cats become anxious easily. Stress, boredom, and compulsiveness can all result in excessive licking for your kitty. Causes of stress or anxiety include:
- Lack of exercise
- Lack of interaction
- Changes in the environment – Such as a move or a new baby
How to Help Your Cat
When the underlying cause of excessive grooming is stress, boredom, or a compulsive personality, the remedy depends on the exact issue. If he’s bored and licking (psychogenic alopecia):
- Extend playtime
- Purchase new toys
- Add a cat tree to the window
- Get puzzle toys that keep him entertained and rewarded with treats
If your cat is home alone most of the time, you may also want to consider adding another pet to the family. Loneliness can result in boredom and compulsive behaviors. Before you do, weigh the situation carefully, and make sure a new pet is the right solution for your whole family and your current cat. A new family member could cause the stress to get worse.
To ease stress, make sure your cat is comfortable and loved. If there are changes occurring, like a move or a new baby, calm your cat with treats. There are also calming products available, like special treats and scents, that can help a cat that’s feeling stress or dealing with changes at home. Your vet can direct you to their recommendations.
Cause #3: Environmental or Food Allergies
Just like people, cats can have allergies! Their skin can get itchy, resulting in obsessive licking. Your cat could be allergic to something in his diet or something within the home. Common allergens are:
- Prescriptions medications
- Cleaning products
How to Help Your Cat
First, to stop your cat’s excessive licking from allergies, you need to find the root cause. If food is the suspect, cut that food out of his diet for six weeks. It may take some trial and error to find the culprit. Ask your veterinarian for advice on how to approach your cat’s new diet.
Some cats are affected by their environments. Cleaning your home regularly (with tolerable cleaning products), vacuuming, dusting, and changing your HVAC’s air filter can help.
Cause #4: An Underlying Health Problem
Excessive licking can point to a number of other health problems, from dry skin to pain. For example, cold weather in winter can result in dry, irritated skin (just like for people!), or the area may be causing your cat some discomfort from another health issue, like cystitis (inflammation of the bladder).
How to Help Your Cat
If the cause of your cat’s licking isn’t obvious, like fleas, take him to a vet. Health issues like cystitis can be life-threatening if not treated, while other problems—like wounds—can become worse without medication.
Generally, if your cat is licking himself excessively, it’s a good idea to bring him to your vet. Your veterinarian can talk to you about your cat’s behaviors and help you pinpoint the exact cause of the issue. They may recommend behavior changes or medication, like steroids, antibiotics, topical solutions, or antihistamines, to help control the discomfort. No matter the cause, seeing a veterinarian could finally help your cat find relief from the constant itchiness.
If your cat is displaying symptoms like excessive licking, it’s important to schedule an appointment with a veterinarian to rule out any serious causes. You can get to the bottom of this compulsive behavior by visiting Cinco Ranch Veterinary Hospital in Katy, TX. Give us a call at 281-593-7387 to schedule an appointment!