One of the most frustrating feline medical conditions is when our cats over groom, or self-barber. This means they are licking or biting at their fur until bald spots form, and in severe cases bleeding. We’ve tried, and failed at, creating a flower essence formula that would work for all cats who do this. Veterinarians give out drugs but from what customers tell us, they don’t work and in some cases can make it worse. And most people don’t like giving their cats drugs like this, which we understand completely.
We once had a bunny who did this. It was when we gave her less freedom and confined her to her cage more than letting her roam with the other rabbits, she stopped barbering and her fur started to grow back. I’ve never forgotten that and wondered how something like this could help cats.
Recently we received a photo from someone who wanted us to post her cat to Facebook and Pinterest. The cat was wearing a shirt and the person who submitted it said the cat wears it to help with his anxiety.
From Kelly: “This is Roger. You will usually find him wearing some sort of shirt every day. It helps him a little bit with his anxiety issues. Roger found me when he was about a year old. He was living in my neighbor’s back yard. He is now almost 9 years old.”
We assumed that the snugness of made the cat feel secure much like Holly the bunny felt so secure being in her cage rather than being free ranging and thus the self-barbering could stop.
Snugness. There are therapies for children and adults with blankets and hugging that help a variety of emotional conditions, so why not a sweater or a jacket for a cat!
This was such a fascinating theory and solution that we asked our feline friend Newton (who knows everything) to investigate. And this is what he discovered – including a jacket that you can purchase for a cat who’s going overboard with grooming.
Fellow cats: Have you ever heard your person say, “I was so upset I was pulling my hair out”? Hmmm. It sounds rather painful and I can’t imagine it would solve any problems. But people do say strange things when they are angry or stressed. Although we don’t have the pressure of bringing home a paycheck cats get stressed too. By nature we are curious and enjoy intellectual stimulation, but we do value the comfort of basic routines in our daily lives. Change that persists longer than a visit to the vet can really upset our emotional balance.
Examples of stressful situations range from a change in kitty litter to moving across country. A new addition to the family (animal or person) or loss of a beloved companion also increase stress and anxiety.
When we are kittens our birth mom licks and cleans us and makes us feel safe. As adults we find our daily cleaning ritual soothing. It stands to reason that under stress we would groom ourselves to ease anxiety. Unfortunately, too much of a good thing can lead to hair loss as the follicles break. Licking the unprotected skin can then cause sores and infections. Since licking is our natural response to heal a wound a vicious circle starts and continues until the stress is alleviated. http://cats.about.com/od/behaviortraining/a/catover-grooming.htm
The pet parent is generally unaware of the damage Fluffy is doing to herself until it is painfully obvious. Stressed cats often hide and do their excessive grooming in private. This is one reason to do regular exams on all your cats to detect problems in their early stages. What should be done if hair loss is discovered?
1. Rule out potential health issues such as skin diseases, parasites or allergies.
2. Determine the source of the stress.
3. Modify the environment to reduce or eliminate the stress.
Well known stress relievers include Feliway® https://www.catfaeries.com/feliway.html, flower essences https://www.catfaeries.com/essences.html, calming music https://www.catfaeries.com/music-for-cats.html, and environmental enrichment.
Another nonpharmaceutical therapy (for animals and people) now widely used is touch. Here are some examples I’ve been reading about.
The Tellington TTouch® has been helping animals and people with anxiety since it was developed in the 1970’s. http://www.ttouch.com/whatisTTouch.shtml
The centuries old practice of wrapping fussy infants in swaddling cloths is still practiced today. Some say the pressure simulates the comfort of being safe in the womb.
Pressure and weighted vests help relieve anxiety in autistic people.
The ThundershirtTM, now available for dogs and cats, exerts gentle pressure to the torso to relieve anxiety. The exact therapeutic mechanism is currently unknown. However, good results have been achieved. http://www.thundershirt.com/Product/ThundershirtForCats.aspx?item_guid=04a62476-dd84-4c67-ae9b-83f2fb67db81
“Wait a minute”, you say. “A shirt on my cat? I’ve been dressing Tiger up as an elf for holiday photos for years and he is definitely NOT relaxed and smiling.”
True, the idea of using pressure to calm cats is relatively new. Many veterinary clinics use a technique called the “kitty burrito”. A nervous cat is firmly wrapped in a towel for examination of a small exposed part. Clothing a cat would wear on a frequent or daily basis is harder to imagine. Actually, the term “shirt” is a bit misleading. The ThundershirtTM looks more like a thin lifevest.
Cats are more sensitive to touch than dogs. The first time wearing the shirt they may freeze or even lie still on their sides. As with any new thing Fluffy needs a gradual period of adjustment to different sensations.
No single method is guaranteed and you may find that a combination is required. Patience and experimentation with the examples I’ve given will help you to discover what works best to reduce Fluffy’s anxiety and restore her fur coat.