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Cat overgrooming: why do they do it?

Excessive grooming in cats may mean more than your cat trying to keep themselves clean. Find out more about overgrooming and how it can be treated with our guide.



Excessive grooming in cats

Cats are hygienic animals, often found curled up somewhere licking their fur clean. But, if your cat is constantly cleaning itself, it can be a sign of overgrooming.

The main causes of cats overgrooming are medical, such as skin allergies or parasites, and behavioural, such as stress, anxiety or fear. Our guide will cover what overgrooming is, the potential causes, treatment options and more.

What is cat overgrooming?

Cat overgrooming is when your cat starts licking themselves all of the time. This can result in inflamed skin, hair loss or sores. In severe cases, a cat might start to bite areas of the skin.

Other signs of a cat’s excessive grooming include damage to the skin, a patchy coat, or clumps of hair behind the sofa. This behaviour can interfere with a cat’s daily functions, like playing, sleeping and eating. 

What are the causes of cat overgrooming?

There are two main causes of excessive grooming in cats – behavioural and medical reasons. If all medical issues are ruled out, then a behavioural diagnosis is normally reached instead.

Cat overgrooming because of stress

Emotional and behavioural causes of overgrooming can trigger a condition known as “psychogenic alopecia” and is usually down to permanent changes in a cat’s routine and environment. There are several factors that can lead to cat overgrooming, such as:

  • The absence of a certain family member
  • Moving to a new house or apartment
  • Rearranging of furniture
  • The arrival of a new pet or family member
  • New or loud noises 
  • Animal noises outside the home  
  • Moving their litter box or food bowl to a new location
  • Lack of enrichment in their environment
  • Conflict with other household pets 
  • Living in a busy household
  • A new routine or schedule

Cat overgrooming because of medical reasons

Medical issues can be uncomfortable or painful for your cat, who will often lick, scratch or bite the affected area, leading to excessive grooming. 

Some examples include:

  • Parasites or skin infections: Skin mites, fleas, fungi and other external parasites can cause discomfort in your cat, while bacteria or yeast can lead to itching.
  • Pain: General pain can trigger cat overgrooming. For example, bladder infections may lead to your cat overgrooming its belly or genitals due to the irritation or pain.
  • Allergies: Cats can have allergies to food and parasites, like fleas. Like humans, they can also be allergic to other elements in their environment (moulds, mildews, dust mites, pollens etc).
  • Inflammation: Eosinophilic granuloma complex (EGC) describes different types of inflammation on your cat’s skin and can be caused by several underlying health conditions.

If you think your cat might have an allergy or parasite, consider making an appointment with a specialised veterinary dermatologist. 

How to treat cat overgrooming

It’s important to have your cat seen by a professional to determine the cause of overgrooming. They will be able to rule out any medical conditions and help you to figure out why your cat is feeling fearful or anxious. 

If you can find the cause of your cat constantly grooming and eliminate it, their behaviour may gradually change on its own. In the meantime, you can try some measures to help reduce the stress in your cat.

Offer consistency

Cats are creatures of habit, so keeping a consistent schedule can work wonders. Try having feeding and play sessions at the same time every day so they know what to expect. 

Enjoy playtime

Cats may seem relaxed at times, but they also love to play. Set some time aside for some interactive playtime. Inside adventures, climbing, food puzzles and a safe area to play outdoors can keep them entertained and help to build a strong bond.

Create a hiding spot

Hiding makes cats feel safe, secure and comfortable. Set up a cosy hiding spot for them to retreat to if they feel overwhelmed or just want a moment to themselves. This can boost their enrichment and help to keep any stress or anxiety at bay.


Sometimes cats might need a little extra help. Consider anti-anxiety medication along with behavioural modification methods to reduce stress. Your vet will be able to recommend the right medication. Over time, your cat will stop overgrooming and can be weaned off the medication.

Does pet insurance cover cat overgrooming?

Pet insurance can help to protect your feline friend in the event of an accident or illness. That includes any illnesses or medical conditions that can lead to excessive grooming in cats.

With Sainsbury’s Bank Pet Insurance, you can choose a cat insurance policy that’s right for you, whether it’s time limited, maximum benefit or lifetime cover. Your cat can also be covered for any vet fees and treatment, depending on your policy. Pet insurance provided by Pinnacle Insurance plc. 

All insurance policies have restrictions. To find out more about our terms and conditions including exclusions, excesses and limits, please take a look at our policy documents.

Frequently asked questions 

What are four signs your cat is suffering?

The four main signs your cat is suffering are lethargy, reduced appetite, being withdrawn and a decreased interest in playing or social interaction. These can be caused by a behavioural or medical issue, which can lead to your cat constantly grooming itself.

How do you stop a cat licking its fur off?

If your cat’s losing fur from excessive licking, this could be a sign of stress or anxiety. Identify the cause of their anxiety and introduce stress-relieving activities, such as play time and daily routines, to stop them from overgrooming.

Why does my cat keep licking his lips?

If you find your cat frequently licking their lips, it could be a sign of a dental issue. They might also repeatedly lick or bite a part of their body to soothe pain – also known as cat overgrooming. If you suspect your cat is in pain, it’s best to get them checked out by your vet.


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