What Causes Excessive Licking Behavior in Cats?

by Nicholas DeMarino, Demand Media
    Most cats groom themselves a lot, but excessive licking may be the sign of a medical issue.

    Most cats groom themselves a lot, but excessive licking may be the sign of a medical issue.

    A reality show about cats would include as much grooming as two celebrity makeovers and a wannabe runway designer's last-minute wardrobe alterations. Some cats lick themselves to excess, though. If your cat licks himself more than four hours a day, he might have skin, bug or brain issues.

    Feline Inspiration

    Think you spend a lot of time in the shower? Most people spend roughly 2 percent of each day cleaning themselves, but cats spend 10 to 15 percent. In feline defense, most people who aren't Robin Williams don't have full-body fur coats.
    Grooming is an important social and sanitary part of every cat's day. Your fluffy pet may even spend time grooming you. (It's a way of sharing scents and marking territory, not hygiene commentary. Probably.) Long-haired breeds need more time to manage their manes than most, but it's unusual for any cat to lick himself more than four hours in a given 16-hour period.
    If you think your cat is licking himself too much, schedule an appointment with a veterinarian.

    Skinny Problems

    Sometimes the source of a cat's excessive licking is skin deep. If that's the case, your cat is a hair's breadth away from mending.
    Cats literally lick their wounds, so check out any problem sports. Cuts and bruises should be obvious, but any area sore to the touch is suspect.
    If your cat has enough dry flaky skin that you're considering auditioning him to be the "before" actor in a dandruff shampoo commercial, he may have dry skin. Dry winter air and poor nutrition may be factors. Accompanying scratching is also common.
    Did you change cat food brands or get new carpeting or upholstery recently? Cats can develop allergic reactions to almost anything -- even foods and fabrics they've been around their whole lives. An allergy test can help you narrow down the likely culprits.

    Pesky Pet Pests

    Sometimes the source of a cat's excessive licking is around the fur. Most infestations clear up after a few treatments, so your cat's probably going to stop bugging out soon.
    A Greek epic's worth of fleas, ticks, mites and other wee beasties may try your cat's coat on for size. (They'll also burrow in his skin and sup on his blood.) You can spot some parasites easier than others. Run a comb through your cat's hair and see if you can spot the pinhead-sized peons.
    You'll have to treat your cat, any other pets and areas of your house to make sure you exterminate the bugs and their dormant eggs. Make sure you use cat-safe products on resident dogs, as some canine flea treatments can make your cat really, really sick.

    Idle Tongues ...

    Sometimes the source of a cat's excessive licking is inside his head -- specifically, in his golf ball-sized brain. Excessive licking episodes sometimes become recurrent, so consider buying a miniature fainting couch and keeping a Freudian cat psychologist on retainer.
    Cats get bored, stressed and anxious, just like people. Indoor cats get less exercise and excitement than their outdoor brethren and are much more likely to start compulsively licking themselves. (They also live up to three times as long, too, so they've got more time to be angsty.) Paradoxically, the disruption of their routines or environments can also trigger stress responses.
    If a veterinarian tells you there's no physical reason for your cat's excessive licking, make sure you're giving your furry friend enough love, attention and exercise.

    About the Author

    Nicholas DeMarino is a journalist and former newspaper associate editor and reporter. His work has appeared in "The Arizona Republic," "The Billings Gazette," "San Antonio Current" and in other publications. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon.

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