It’s normal for cats to groom on a regular basis. After all, cat self-grooming is an important behavior that helps cats remove loose hair, dirt, and parasites from their coat.
Cats typically spend up to 50% of their waking hours grooming, but excessive amounts of licking, biting, chewing, or scratching may mean that your cat’s self-grooming habits have become problematic.
If your cat is licking too much, they can lose fur in strips along their back, belly, or inner legs. The affected areas may be completely bare or have very short stubble. Your cat may also have an unusually high number of hairballs.
Here are some common reasons for excessive licking in cats and what you can do to help.
Why Do Cats Overgroom?
To help manage your cat’s overgrooming habits, you need to understand what’s causing the excessive licking in the first place. Your veterinarian can address the underlying issues.
Here are the most common health conditions that can lead to excessive cat self-grooming.
Allergy or Infection
Irritated skin can be caused by an infection, an allergy to certain foods, parasites, or substances in the environment. Your cat’s fur-loss pattern may even hint at the source of the problem:
Flea allergy: irritation at the base of the tail
Ear mites: hair loss and scabbing on the neck and ears
Allergic response to pollen: excessive chewing of the paw pads
Overgrooming can also indicate that your cat is experiencing pain or discomfort, particularly if she is repeatedly licking one area of her body.
For example, disc disease can cause back pain so that your cat overgrooms a certain spot on their back, while a urinary tract infection or anal sac impaction may encourage excessive grooming of the genitals or perianal area.
Stress or Boredom
Some cats use overgrooming as a way to cope with stress or boredom.
It is thought that licking releases endorphins that help relieve anxiety, so when a stressed cat finds relief in licking, it can turn into a habit.
Compulsive grooming, known as psychogenic alopecia, is usually triggered by a change in the cat’s daily routine or environment, such as moving to a new house or the arrival of a new family member or pet. Cats are very observant and may even feed off of our stress levels.
Cats are also highly intelligent and prone to boredom if their daily routine lacks proper enrichment. This cause of overgrooming is especially common in indoor cats that are alone for a large portion of the day.
In these cases, grooming helps make up for the lack of mental or physical stimulation.
This condition can be seen in any breed but is most common in Siamese, Abyssinian, Burmese, and Himalayan cats, due to their sensitive and attention-demanding dispositions.
How to Stop Your Cat From Overgrooming
The key to managing excessive grooming is to first address the underlying cause. Your veterinarian can diagnose the root cause and provide medical treatment or suggestions for deterring the habit if it’s behavioral.
Look for Medical Issues (Take Your Cat to the Vet)
First, your veterinarian will need to rule out medical problems.
Infections or allergies can be treated with the appropriate medications, which (depending on the cause) may include antibiotics, antihistamines, and/or anti-inflammatory drugs.
Keep your cat on flea medication year-round to help with flea allergies and ear mites.
If your cat is in pain, your vet can determine what’s causing it and how to manage the pain.
Maintain Routines to Reduce Stress
Cats love routine, so if the hair loss is stress-related, try to create a comfortable environment and a predictable schedule. Change the litter box at least once a day, and feed your kitty at the same times every day.
It’s best to incorporate changes gradually, such as the introduction of a new pet or changes in your living situation, to limit the amount of stress for your cat.
Provide Mental and Physical Stimulation
Be sure to provide environmental enrichment for your cat with cat trees, different types of toys, scratching posts, and frequent opportunities for play. This will help your cat build confidence and distract her from obsessively grooming.
Try Cat Calming Medications and Products
Cats with persistent anxiety may benefit from anti-anxiety medications and/or supplements. You will need a vet’s prescription for medications, and calming supplements are available over the counter in the form of treats.
You can also try sprays and plug-in diffusers that disperse synthetic cat pheromones. Talk to your vet about the best course of treatment.
Be Patient With Your Cat
Finally, the most important part of managing overgrooming is to be patient.
If you see your cat licking excessively, don’t punish her or try to interfere. This will only add to your cat’s stress and make her overgrooming problem worse.
After you’ve sought help from your vet, it may take a month or so for an overgrooming behavior to resolve, and even longer for your cat’s fur to grow back.
Published by Veronika on October 10, 2020 October 10, 2020
Wrex and Garrus are the first cats I ever owned and they are extremely cuddly and love being stroked. Imagine my surprise when they first started to lick my hand, then suddenly bit me. Let’s look at why cats do this and if it’s a behavior you need to worry about.
Why does my cat lick and bite my fingers?
Cats will lick their owner for a variety of reasons: To strengthen their bond with you, to get rid of smells or to cover you in their smell. If they lick and then gently bite you, think of it as a cat love bite, a way to show affection through gentle nibbling. If they bite you hard, however, your cat might have an underlying medical condition that’s causing it pain.
But let’s look at all of these scenario sin greater detail.
There are several reasons why cats lick their owner:
- To strengthen the bond to humans.
If you have more than one cat, you may have noticed how cats often lick and clean each other. This is a social behavior to strengthen the bond between cats, or it can be a way to calm down the other cat if it is angry or aggressive. In any case, it is meant to be a loving behavior and you should be happy that your cat shows you such affection (but be sure to wash your hands afterwards!).
- To get rid of smells.
Cats clean themselves with their tongue. After they’ve eaten, they will lick themselves for a long time to get any remains of food and any smells out of their fur. In the wild, they want to get rid of the smell so no other predators will find them. Similarly, if your cats are lying on you and you’re emitting a smell, they sometimes try to lick the smell off so you don’t attract other predators. As a bonus, you will then smell like your cat and your cat will see you as its property.
- To take up smells.
Cats also like to lick things that taste nice. Spilled milk, crumbs, anything they can get their tongues on. If I cut up carrots or anything else that has an interesting smell, my cats like to smell and like my hands.
Having a cat lick your hands or arms may not always be pleasant, as cat tongues are fairly rough, but what is worse is a cat suddenly biting you.
Why does my cat bite me out of nowhere?
There are four reasons why the cat might suddenly bite you when you pet it:
- Declaration of love
If your cat is purring when you’re stroking it and maybe even drools contently, a gentle bite on your hand or finger is usually a sign of affection. If a cat play bites you, it’s not trying to hurt you. A play bite usually doesn’t hurt, and even if you’d rather your cat didn’t bite you, there’s no aggressiveness involved. Your cat loves you, be happy!
- Playful behaviour
If your cat becomes restless while you’re stroking it and maybe also touches you with its paws, this can simply be playful behavior. Garrus sometimes lies on his favorite chair and lets you stroke him for a good long while, then he’ll suddenly grab your arm and bite it a bit during play. He simply has a lot of energy and enjoys play-fighting. Of course it’s best not to encourage this behavior and you’re well-advised never to use your hands to play with your cats. Use fishing pole toys or similar and make sure you signal to your cat that your hands are off-limits. You might have fun playing this way with a kitten, but a grown cat attacking your hands is no fun.
- A warning
Many cats do not like to be touched on their belly or their paws. If you stroke your cat and suddenly feel your cat’s teeth, you should see this as a warning to lay off the area. Usually, there are other warning signals as well if your cat doesn’t like something. Often you can see your cat’s tail twitching or swishing back and forth. This is also a warning, and if you heed it, it might not start biting you. If your cat gives you a bite as a warning, the first bite is usually fairly gentle.
In few cases, your cat’s bite will actually hurt. Sometimes cats will become aggressive towards their owner. This should not happen if you’re being gentle with your cat and it shows no other signs of aggression. If your cat suddenly bites you unprovoked while being stroked, it might experience pain due to a medical condition and the pain can lead to aggression. Examples are an inflammation that is causing your cat discomfort or a broken bone or broken paw that will hurt when touched. If this sudden aggressiveness appears, you might want to have your cat checked by a veterinarian.
How to stop a cat from biting while petting
It is certainly sweet to be nibbled by a kitten, but it can be much more unpleasant in an adult cat. If your cat starts to bite you, you should immediately stop stroking it or playing with it and loudly say “Ouch!” or similar. It will then realize it did something wrong, something that made the play-time or stroking stop, and it will learn that this is undesired behavior.
Do not punish your cat. Cats will learn how to behave through positive reinforcement, not through punishment. (This is also how clicker training your cat works.) If you punish your cat, it will not learn to stop the behavior, but it will learn that it can’t trust its human because the human sometimes lashes out for no reason.
If your cat starts nibbling on you and you stop playing with him and put him on the ground, you’re not punishing it but taking away the positive reinforcement of play. Your cat will learn that the game continues if it doesn’t bite you and it won’t bite you in the future.
Another thing that can help when your cat likes to play-fight with you is to exhaust your cat. If your cat is bored and it’s energy and aggression build up, it might “discharge” and attack you, even if it’s just trying to play with you. So play with your cat regularly, make him run around your home and let off steam until he’s tired and happy and overall more balanced. Then your furry friend can enjoy a friendly stroking session on your lap and not see it as an invitation to play.
If you need some inspiration for cat toys, see my article on cat toys where I tell you which toys my cats liked and which they didn’t.
Talk to your vet
Lastly, if your cat’s aggression is brought on by an underlying medical condition, an inflammation, a broken bone or a tumor, you’ll need to get him treatment. Get your cat examined if he suddenly becomes aggressive and find out the underlying cause. Bones can mend, inflammations can heal and even tumors can often be treated. Get your cat treated early to save it from needless suffering.
I hope this article gave you a good overview of the reasons why your cat might suddenly bite you unprovoked and I hope you can solve the issue and spend many happy years with your furry companion.
Do Kittens Like It When You Pet Their Stomachs
When your cat bites and licks you, it can mean different things at different times. Cats bite and lick to communicate. You have to consider your cat’s body language and what is happening in your cat’s world to determine just what it is he is trying to tell you.
Cats bite and lick as part of play. Kittens who leave their littermates too young may not learn boundaries and go on to play too rough as adults. Because mom and littermates will squeal and stop playing when a kitten gets too rough, staying with the family for longer teaches kittens not to bite too hard. If you adult cat is biting and licking too much in play, you can try to teach him this isn’t acceptable. When he starts to play too rough, walk away. He’ll soon learn that if he wants to continue to play, he’ll have to be gentler.
Sometimes, licking and gentle nibbling can be your cat’s way of showing affection. Mother cats lick and nibble at their kittens in grooming, and it may be that your cat is trying to show you the same love his mom showed him. This behavior can become annoying, but as you redirect him, keep in mind he is doing this because he wants to show his affection. Never yell at him or hit him to make him stop. Again, the simplest way to tell your cat that you don’t like being licked is to walk away when the behavior starts. You could also try offering him a treat or toy to distract him.
Some cats take licking and biting a step further and suckle on their person’s skin or clothing. This behavior likely results from kittens leaving their moms and littermates too soon. The suckling behavior is probably comforting to your cat and may start or increase when he is feeling particularly stressed or insecure. If the behavior doesn’t bother you, it’s OK to let him continue. If it gets to the point of annoying, try redirecting his behavior by walking away, offering a treat or distracting him with a toy. You might also try a cat pheromone product to help ease any anxiety he is feeling.
Many cats will become over-stimulated if play or petting continues too long. His tail starts to twitch and he gets that annoyed look on his face. Then before you know what has happened, he’s chomped down on your hand. There is no way to train your cat not to become over-stimulated. Dealing with over-stimulation biting means learning to understand what your cat is telling you. If he struggles to get down, let him down. If his tail is wagging, his ears are back or his body is stiffening, these are signs it’s time to back off. Some cats will go from purring and cuddling to over-stimulation in a matter of seconds. If your cat is one of these, it’s critical you learn to read his signals.