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What is Licking?

A cat usually licks the people that he is familiar with. It is a way to put his scent on the person and to show his affection. A mother cat will also lick her litter, which helps to stimulate their bodily functions, cleans them and puts her scent on them. Cats living in the same household will also groom each other.

Cats groom themselves by licking at their fur. Grooming may take 25 to 40 % of their day.  There are some cat breeds, which are prone to over-grooming, such as the Siamese and Abyssinian cats. Excessive grooming may cause skin lesions or patches of hair loss.  If your cat is licking himself more than usual it may be from:

  • Stress/Anxiety/Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Parasites
  • Food allergies
  • Wound abscess
  • Cystitis

Excessive licking can be caused by a serious underlying condition.  It is recommended that the cat be seen by a veterinarian.

Why Licking Occurs in Cats

It is normal for cats to spend a great deal of time grooming.  If the grooming is more than usual and you notice skin sores, patches of hair loss or redness, the cat may be suffering from:

Stress/Anxiety/Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Over grooming in cats may be caused by stress, anxiety or by an obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is similar to people biting their nails when they are nervous or obsessive hand washing.   Cats can get stressed from a move, boredom, loud noises, previous abuse, dirty litter box, confinement, strangers in the home, or from the adoption of another pet.

Parasites

Fleas and mites can cause a great deal of irritation to the cat’s skin. Many animals are actually allergic to the flea’s saliva. The allergic reaction to the flea bite causes itchiness and swollen skin.  The constant licking and scratching cause open sores and scabs on the cat’s skin. The sores can result in a secondary bacterial infection.

Food Allergies

Food allergies have been identified as over 50% of the cause of itching and scratching in cats. In cats, the most common food allergies are to beef, lamb, seafood, corn, soy, wheat and dairy products. 

Wound Abscess

A wound abscess often occurs from an animal bite which gets infected. The abscess is filled with pus, bacteria and damaged tissue. Bite wounds can become easily infected due to the bacteria found in an animal’s mouth. The wound may cause the cat to excessively groom the abscess area.

Cystitis

Inflammation of the bladder is a painful condition, which may become life-threatening if not treated. Along with excessive genital licking, there may also be bloody urine, straining when urinating, accidents in the house and the cat may cry out in pain.

What to do if your Cat is Licking

If your cat is excessively licking himself, he should be seen by a veterinarian.  A veterinarian can help determine the underlying cause of the excessive grooming.  He will perform a physical examination and may recommend diagnostic testing. 

The veterinarian may suggest bloodwork, fecal exam, skin biopsy and a urinalysis. He will recommend an Elizabethan collar, which will help prevent further damage to the cat’s skin and fur. 

Cats with stress, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders may be referred to a cat behaviorist.  The doctor may also recommend a mild sedative or a natural feline pheromone, which may have a calming effect. 

Cats with parasites will be treated with topical medication, which will help eliminate the pests.  Monthly flea preventative medication may be recommended. To help stop the itching, the veterinarian may give the patient a cortisone injection.  The household and the yard should be treated for parasites.

If food allergies are suspected, an elimination diet may be recommended. The elimination diet will help pinpoint what foods are causing the allergic reaction.  Once the allergens are determined they must be eliminated from the cat’s diet.

Cystitis and wound abscesses may be treated with anti-inflammatories, antibiotics and pain medications. The veterinarian will also need to surgically clean out the abscess.  A drain may be placed in the wound for two to three days.

Prevention of Licking

Stress may be relieved by avoiding changes to your cat’s routine. Providing toys, attention and vertical territory (climbing space) may help your cat not to feel stressed and anxious. Some cats may benefit from a cat behaviorist, who may recommend additional activities to help with stress and obsessive-compulsive disorders. 

Administering a monthly flea and tick preventative may help prevent parasites. Cats that are allowed to be outside are more susceptible to cat fights, trauma, infections, abuse and parasites. 

If your cat gets into a fight with another animal, it is important to clean his wounds.  Deep puncture wounds should be seen by a veterinarian. If the wound is cleaned and treated it will help prevent an abscess.

Not all medical conditions and diseases can be prevented. Yearly wellness visits can help diagnose a health condition in the early stages, which may ensure a good recovery prognosis.

Cost of Licking

The treatment cost will vary depending on the underlying cause of your cat’s excessive licking. For example, cystitis can cost around $500. If your dog is diagnosed with a wound abscess, treatments can cost around $700.

Licking Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Puff
Domestic shorthair
8 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

scooting
Pulling at rear claws
Overgrooming hind legs
Frequent visits to litter box no results

Our cat Puff apparently had a bout of diarrhea when we unexpectedly had to leave for a week when a family member was in the hospital. She is overweight 8 yr old, 16.5 lb) and has trouble reaching her behind to clean herself. The fur around her anus and down her back legs was matted with feces; we tried bathing her and could not get it all. She was miserable trying to get at it; we took her to the vet for an exam, update her shots and they completely shaved the area. They also gave us an antibiotic/antifungal/steroidal ointment. We had to back a few days later and get her a cortisone shot because she was nuts about getting at it. That helped for a few days but now she is back at it. Help!

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Miko
Tabby Cat
5 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Baldness
Lesion
Licking

Our 5 year old tabby has been licking her belly to the point of sores and baldness. It gets better then she’s starts at it again. We’ve treated her for fleas and ticks, gotten her on prescription food from the vet and are using a calming pheromone.
We have a 5 month old daughter and a 2 year old and have lost both our dogs in the last 6 months. The vet thinks it’s stress related licking but it hasn’t really improved in the last month, she’s getting more attention has safe space and we’re using the pharamone, not sure what else we could do.

hi, my elderly cat did this as well after our 2 dogs died within 3 months of each other, she was very close with our dogs that died. She licked her tummy for about 12 months and cleared after that. She was in mourning.
Now she is licking her hip and causing a nasty large sore, this had been going on since April 2019. I went away for a week and my daughter was house sitting. She was stressed from when I went away and still continues to do it, I have a wrap around her stomach all the time now, day and night. It doesn't come and off her and it works.

When I got my second cat, he was almost bald because of over licking. It turned out he was allergic to chicken . Changing the food to pure seafood with no chicken byproduct changed his irritation. Also giving him half a Zyrtec seems to help. His fur is growing in really well now.

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Dude
Unknown
6 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Healthy
Biting
Sores
Licking

My cat dude is short hair black and White we dont know his breed and he has been licking to the point of sore for about a year or 2 maybe longer no hair balls and we have tried all of the tricks he keeps taking off the head cones though we try. Hes a sweet cat but just licks his lower back and tail bald to the point he has sores on his hind and back. Its not stressful at our house we haven't had new animals. We play with him and when he wants love and to play we let him and enjoy it. We tried the diet he stayed constantly licking and biting. No bugs or fleas. But otherwise he is healthy and active he goes out and sunbathes. We also tried hot spot spray when he didnt have sores, no luck. We are concerned but dont have money for the vet we tried Benadryl (smallsmall doses) hoping that it was just a allergy, again no luck. We are scratching our heads( no pun intended) we would love answers!

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Swiper
Ocicat
1 Year
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Licking

I went on vacation for 2 weeks, this is the longest time I have been away from my cat. When I came home he had bald spots and there was hairballs around the house. I took him to vet he has no ring worm but the licking has not stopped. I have been playing with him more and brushing him as usually but don’t want to irritate his bald spots. What should I do.

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MR.Blue
domestic short hair
9 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Hair Loss
skin sores
excess licking

my cat is experiencing extreme hair loss and will not stop licking himself. it is getting to the point where i’m anxious for him and do not know what to do. i am currently sleeping next to him in an attempt to limit his licking but he does not seem to stop.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
Excessive licking may be caused by behavioural issues, allergies, parasites, other irritation, hormonal conditions, autoimmune diseases among other causes; you should place a cone on Mr. Blue to prevent further licking and visit your Veterinarian for a thorough examination to help determine an underlying cause of the licking. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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