Cats are clean animals and clean themselves regularly and extensively. However, too frequent grooming can also be a response to persistent stress in cats. When is a cat’s cleaning behavior still normal, when is there a serious disorder behind it? Only those who closely watch their animals can tell the difference.
Cat experts call this phenomenon when cats groom themselves compulsively Grooming. Excessive cleanliness also affects people; it is best known to most under the keyword Compulsory washing be.
In cats, obsessive-compulsive behavior is often reflected in excessive personal hygiene. If a cat is badly affected, it cleans itself so intensively that bald spots appear in the fur.
Excessive cleaning almost always has an emotional background. In addition, excessive cleaning behavior is used as a way to reduce stress that the animal can experience as a result of a previously undetected, untreated physical illness.
Cleaning is not just about cleanliness
Of course, not every cat that likes to clean itself automatically suffers from a disorder. Up to three hours of personal hygiene a day are considered standard among animal behavior experts. It is also normal for cats to groom themselves frequently, especially in summer: The moisture that evaporates on the fur provides short-term cooling.
Frequent cleaning of the fur also helps cats to protect themselves from environmental influences: When a cat brushes itself, the blood flow to its skin is stimulated. This encourages the sebum glands to secrete fat. The fat makes the fur supple and at the same time becomes resistant to moisture.
The cleaning also serves to maintain the very special scent that every cat sends to its environment. In order to be recognized by conspecifics, it is essential for the cat to regularly distribute its individual scent note over its entire body with the tongue.
If cats fall into a real cleaning frenzy and they are no longer easily distracted by it (for example by their favorite toys) this is a sign to be taken seriously.
In these cases, there is clearly more to cleaning behavior than grooming.
Stress relief: This is why cleaning can become an addiction
A stronger blood circulation has a stress-reducing effect. A cat achieves this by cleaning itself intensively. Cats naturally use this trick to calm themselves down in stressful situations.
As long as this behavior is only specific to the situation, for example after a visit to the vet, it is normal and by no means compulsive.
Cleaning to reduce stress occurs more frequently in everyday life for some animals, less for others. For example, some domestic cats are frantically grooming themselves when they watch a bird outside but cannot get near it.
Grooming is then a kind of substitute act with which the animal can reduce the excess internal tension.
Cat is constantly cleaning itself: this is to be done
If you notice over time that your own cat is constantly grooming itself, the first thing you should do is have a vet examine the cat. If there is an undetected illness that leads to stress in cats, this must be treated urgently. As a rule, compulsive cleaning disappears.
Health problems that encourage compulsive cleaning are often harmless: A mite infestation, for example, is a typical trigger. The skin irritation causes the animal to brush itself frequently because the saliva soothes the itching.
Cats can also react to pain and unrecognized allergies with frequent cleaning. If the vet cannot identify any organic causes, psychological triggers for the compulsive behavior should be considered.
What are the living conditions of such a cat like? Is it very hectic in your environment, for example do small children live in the house? Does the cat have a place of retreat where it can find peace?
Particularly sensitive cats are more likely to react by withdrawing and reducing stress by cleaning, while daring animals tend to be aggressive and their humans bite or scratch more often.
Psychological triggers for excessive cleaning instinct: Tracking down the triggers
If it turns out that the increased cleaning is not due to a physical illness, the owner should from now on observe the cat’s behavior closely.
It is best to make a note of the precise situations in which cleaning occurs for a few days. On the basis of these observations, conclusions can be drawn about possible stress triggers and these can be eliminated or reduced as far as possible.
By the way: Cats can also get depression! Our Depression test for cats helps you find out how your cat is feeling and whether they may be showing depressive behavior.
Featured Image: flickr.com / CC-BY-SA-2.0 / Woody Grooming 2009 / Douglas O’Brien