Excessive Grooming and Fur Pulling

by Missy Noto
(Clearwater, Florida)

I have a cat behavior problem with Salem, my black short haired cat. He keeps grooming excessively and pulling chunks of fur out.

It has been determined that this doesn't seem to be caused by allergies. The vet feels it is more of a behavioral issue.

I purchased 2 small bottles of Homeopathic "Anxiety Relief" drops. I used them as directed for 2 months now. It isn't doing a thing for the fur pulling. Salem is well fed, WELL LOVED, and kept in a clean indoor setting. I am vigilant about any flea that might be bothering him by using Advantage every 3 weeks as advised by our vet.

Salem has no open wounds or dry scaly skin. He's just constantly grooming and pulling, grooming and pulling. I'm more bothered by it then he is.

Please, I'm at my wits end!!! I have vaccumed up enough small tufts of fur to fill a quilt.

Reply from Liz (Editor): This cat behavior problem is most often caused by parasites that bite the cat - by far the most common being cat fleas, by allergies or by some form of stress (temporary or long-term).

As you're treating Salem for fleas and the vet thinks it's unlikely to be due to allergies, that leaves stress as the most likely cause.

Sometimes cats start fur pulling as a reaction to stress, but what a lot of people don't realize is that the stress can be quite temporary and be set off by something quite small - e.g. the owner going away for a few days, guests coming to stay. Once that stress is removed, therefore, the fur pulling should stop...

In reality, it doesn't always. Think of it as similar to nail biting in humans - people consciously do it at first, but after a while it becomes a habit that they do without thinking. The same can be true for cats and excessive grooming. When this is the case, it can be a very difficult habit to break.

Here are some suggestions that may help you to solve this:

  • Remove any environmental stresses. If there's anything in the environment that could be causing stress to your cat, try to get rid of it. A common cause is another cat hanging round outside. Click here for ways to discourage other cats from hanging round your house and garden.

  • Provide a stimulating environment for your cat. House cats can get bored, and that boredom can lead to stress and fur pulling. Things like moving toys, toys with treats inside, a cat gym or tree, bird feeders placed near to the window, a window seat - even a DVD with moving fish playing on your TV (I believe they do exist!) - and lots of play time and attention with the humans in the house.

  • A Feliway diffuser or spray. This is an anti-anxiety product which some cats find calming. If you haven't tried it yet, it may be worth a go, though I noted you have tried another anti-anxiety product already which hasn't worked, so Feliway may not be effective.

  • If all else fails, medication can be used. There are medications available which can reduce anxiety and help stop this sort of behavior.

Best of luck with solving these cat behavior problems. If it's any consolation, it doesn't sound like you're doing anything wrong as such, you just may have a cat that's prone to doing this - and it can be really difficult to stop. That's no reflection on you as an owner whatsoever, and you shouldn't feel bad about it - you clearly love him and provide him with a great home.

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