What to do when your cat's licking is out of control - Dr. Marty Becker

What to do when your cat’s licking is out of control

Thursday, Nov 13th, 2014 | By Dr. Marty Becker

Some cats lick themselves bald — and there’s not just one reason why, or one way to address it. Here’s a reader’s question about this problem in his cat, and my response:

Q: I know cats are good at grooming themselves, but my cat is taking it to extremes. He’s licking himself so hard that he has some bare patches. What could be the problem? — via email

A: We call these cats fur mowers. The short answer is that your cat may be licking himself bald because he’s itchy, in pain or upset about something. Itching and pain can occur for many different reasons in cats, so you and your veterinarian will need to do some detective work to narrow down the cause.

Start with a medical history and exam. The area or areas where your cat is licking may offer clues. For instance, if he’s licking at the base of his tail, he may have infected anal glands. If he’s licking at a joint, it may be a signal that he’s developing arthritis.

For the medical history, your veterinarian will want to know what food and treats you give the cat, what grooming products you use, whether you give him any medications or supplements, any changes in his routine or in the products you use in the home, and so on. This information may help differentiate between an allergy and a behavior problem. He may be anxious about something going on in his environment, such as a conflict with another pet, or a change in the home, such as a new spouse or baby.

During the physical exam, your veterinarian will check the entire body for obvious causes, such as fleas or other external parasites, as well as swelling or signs of pain. It may be necessary to order lab tests to check for diseases such as hyperthyroidism, which can cause excessive licking. Skin scrapings or fungal cultures can also help to identify itchy skin problems.

Once the cause is identified, your veterinarian can prescribe an appropriate treatment.

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Read more, including about the wonders of adopting a senior pet, in this week’s Pet Connection!