My Cat is Licking Her Fur Off, What Do I Do?

How do you deal with a cat that is licking his or her fur off? What causes it and what can you do? There are many reasons that cats lick and for the most part, these are for normal instinctual grooming reasons. However, this behavior can become excessive with behavioral problems or in response to a medical problem to the point that it leads to the cat licking their fur off. In this article, we will review why cats will lick off their fur.

If you are interested in why cats lick in general, learn more at Everything You Need to Know About Cat Licking.

Some cats make a noise like they are licking their fur but they are actually just licking or smacking their lips. Learn about What it Means When Your Cat is Smacking Her Lips.

Why Cats Lick Their Fur So Much

Cats will lick their fur to remove odors and dirt. Much of this behavior is instinctual to remove odors that can make them vulnerable to prey. Cats can also lick other things, for example, some cats may lick you or even obsess over licking plastic. Learn more about these two behaviors in Why is My Cat Licking Plastic? and Why Do Cats Lick You?

What It Means If Your Cat Starts To Lose Fur

If a cat licks so much that they lose their fur, this is a problem. The problem can be behavioral or medical. Below we will offer some possible causes for cat’s licking their fur off.

Behavioral Causes for Cat Licking Fur Off

  • Displacement behavior. Some cats will lick their fur when stressed. This is commonly called a “displacement behavior.” A displacement behavior helps cats cope with stress by lowering their arousal level. An example is when a cat is confronted with another cat and is stressed…trying to decide if they attack, run, or hide. Some cats will respond by self-grooming, as a way to reduce their stress and tension. This generally only lasts a few minutes but not to the point that the cats licks their fur off. Sometimes displacement behaviors can turn into abnormal compulsive behaviors.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorders. Some cats will groom to extremes. It may start as a displacement behavior and if the stressor continues, can become a compulsive disorder. For example, if a cat is repeatedly bullied by another cat, they may take the displacement behavior to extremes and continue that behavior even when not in the stressful situation. Learn more about Feline Compulsive Behaviors.
  • Excessive grooming is commonly referred to as psychogenic alopecia. Clients will notice their cat licking fur off their abdomens, chest, backs or legs. Some cats will pull the hair out with their teeth and create skin wounds and ulcerations. The behavior is often associated with some new stressor in the cat’s life. Psychogenic alopecia is more common in young female cats but can occur in any cat.

Medical Causes for Cat Licking Fur Off

There are various medical causes leading to a cat licking fur off. Below are some of the most common causes.

  • Skin allergy. Some cats can suffer from a medical condition called Allergic Dermatitis. The allergy can be caused by a hypersensitivity to parasites (most commonly the flea), food, dust, pollen or mold. This can cause cats to feel uncomfortable, itch, and lick their fur off. Cats with allergies to fleas have most of their fur loss over their rear end in front of their tail, abdomen, back legs and tail. They will often also have small itchy bumps around their necks. Treatment includes trying to find the underlying cause and remove that problem. For example, if a cat is allergic to fleas, eliminate all fleas in the environment and begin flea prevention medications.
  • Wounds & Infections. There are many types of wounds that can cause loss of hair.
    Cats with wounds such as a bite wound or laceration will lick that area. They will often lick off their fur or the wound may cause the fur to fall off due to infection around the wound. Wounds can occur anywhere on the body but are often on the paws, face, neck, or around the rear end.
  • Another reason cats may lick and loose hair is from anal gland problems. Anal glands can become infected which can cause cats to lick near their rectums.
  • Ringworm, also known as Dermatophyte fungi, can cause areas of hair loss.
    Some licking may be okay but when excessive licking can delay healing and/or remove sutures that will need replacing.
  • Pain. Some cats will excessively lick their fur due to pain. Some cats with inflammation of their bladders will lick their abdomens over their bladder. Some cats will over-groom when they don’t feel well from a variety of medical problems. Some cats will continue this behavior until they feel better.
  • Parasites. Infestation with sarcoptes mange (Scabies) mite is an intensely itchy skin problem that causes fur loss of the ears, elbows, hocks, and other areas. Another mite known as Cheyletiella (also known as walking dandruff mite) causes hair loss and itching.
  • Feline Eosinophilic Granuloma Complex. The term eosinophilic granuloma complex (EGC) refers to a group of skin lesions that represent an allergic reaction in the cat’s skin. These occur in three forms, and your cat may have any or all of them. It can cause areas of hair loss that can occur on the back of the rear legs, in and around the mouth, on the upper lips, neck, shoulders, and/or on the face.

How To Help Your Cat

The best way to help your cat is to determine the cause of the problem that is causing them to lick their fur off. The best way to do this is to take your cat to your veterinarian. They will likely do or recommend some or all of the following:

  • History. Your veterinarian will obtain a thorough medical history. They will ask you questions about when this problem started when the licking fur out occurs, the degree of itching, what medications or treatments you have tried, if you are giving any medications and anything that has made the problem better or worse.
  • Examination. Your veterinarian will perform a physical exam and careful examination of the skin and hair. They will pay particular attention to the location of the hair loss, condition of the hair, and evaluate for any skin lesions.
  • Skin scrapings. A procedure called a “skin scraping” is commonly recommended. A sharp blade is gently scraped over the skin to collect cells to look for mites and other skin parasites. These scrapings are examined under a microscope.
  • Fungal cultures. Ringworm (dermatophytes) can cause hair loss. A culture can be performed by plucking hair from the edge of the lesion and placing it on a special culture media. A color change from yellow to red in the culture media suggests the presence of dermatophytes.
  • Trichogram. A trichogram is a test that looks at the hair under a microscope to determine if hairs are developing normally and show broken hairs which would indicate a self-induced alopecia.
  • Food trial. A hypoallergenic food trial or testing for allergens may be done to rule out allergy if the alopecia is related to pruritus.
  • A skin biopsy can be very helpful in diagnosing the cause of fur loss. One or more small pieces of skin are taken from a skin lesion and submitted to a veterinary pathologist for examination.

Once the underlying cause is known, specific treatments can be recommended to address the cat licking fur off problem.

3 Methods to Prevent a Cat from Licking Out Fur

Treating and preventing licking depends on the underlying cause of the licking. Telling the cat no can work for seconds but is not sustainable as you can not be with your cat all the time.

  • Bandage. Some wounds can be covered by bandages to prevent licking. For wounds on the torso, an infant t-shirt may do the trick. For the front half of the body, put a t-shirt on in a natural way. For wounds in the back half of the body, put the t-shirt on backward, with the tail going through the hole for the head and the rear legs going into the arms. You may have to use a strip of sticky tape to tape the bottom hem of the t-shirt to the cat to prevent the shirt from slipping. Some cats detest clothing so this may not work.
  • Topical Products. Some products such as Chew Guard®, cayenne pepper, lemon juice or Tabasco® have been used to deter licking due to the bitter taste. Some products can even safely be applied directly to the wound or placed on the bandage. Discuss the best product and plan with your veterinarian before applying any of these products directly to a wound.
  • E-Collars. The Elizabethan collar, commonly called an E-collar, are often the most effective way to prevent licking to some areas. The collar fits around the neck and looks like a lampshade that surrounds the cat’s head. This can prevent licking and pulling your cat’s fur out.

Additional Articles that May Be of Interest About Cat Licking

Why Do Cats Lick You? 
What it Means When Your Cat is Smacking Her Lips 
Why is My Cat Licking Plastic?
What is Pet Insurance?
How Does Pet Insurance Work?
When is the Best Time to Get Pet Insurance for Your Cat?
Questions To Ask When Choosing A New Vet
How to Have a Trauma-Free Veterinary Visit for Your Cat

Why Do Cats Lick You?

Have you ever wondered why your cat licks you? Licking is a very normal behavior in cats and serves a variety of functions. Most cat licking functions have everything to do with their normal instincts and grooming behavior. To understand why cats lick you, you need to understand the normal grooming behavior of cats. In addition, there are other reasons for cats to lick that can be outside of the normal behavior or can indicate an underlying medical problem.

Normal Cats Licking Behavior

A normal healthy cat will lick to keep themselves clean and spend approximately 15% of their time grooming which is approximately three and a half hours a day grooming.

When born, kittens are licked by their mother, the queen, and to remove the amniotic sacs from around their faces and bodies. The licking also helps stimulate them to breathe and move. The queen will also chew through the umbilical cords and eat the placentas. This also creates a bond between queen and kitten.

Following birth, the queen will lick her kittens to keep them clean but also lick their abdomens and anuses to encourage them to eliminate waste (urinate and defecate) which they are unable to do without this stimulation.

As adults, cats will groom to keep themselves clean and as an instinct to protect themselves.
In the wild, cats may kill their prey leaving blood and odors on their own fur. To protect themselves, cats groom to remove any odors from killing their prey so they do not become prey to another animal. Licking and grooming is a survival instinct.

Learn more about cat licking here.

Steps in the Typical Cat Grooming Activity

According to Dr. Nick Dodman, the typical steps in the licking and grooming process of cats goes something like this:

  • Licking of nose
  • Licking of lips
  • Licking a paw until damp
  • Using that paw to clean one side of the head, ears, eyes, nose
  • Licking the other paw
  • Using that paw to clean the other side of the head, ears, eyes, nose
  • Licking each shoulder and foreleg
  • Licking the flanks
  • Licking anal and genital areas
  • Licking the hind legs
  • Licking the tail from base to tip

Why Do Cats Lick You? How Cats Show Affection

Back to the question – why do cats lick you? Once kittens have learned to groom themselves, they may then begin to groom each other which is known as “allogrooming.” This is especially common in cats that grow up together. Allogrooming is most commonly focused on the neck and head areas. Studies show that in the cat hierarchy, higher-ranking cats groomed lower-ranking cats more often. Most often the cat that is doing the grooming positions itself higher than the one that is being groomed. For example, the cat that is grooming may be standing or sitting while the cat being roomed is sitting or lying.

Cats may lick you as you are they would another cat. Most often cats will lick your hands, fingers, and sometimes hair. It is believed that as the queen licks their young, this grooms, and communicates a bond. Just as with the young, why a cat licks you can communicate a bond with you. The licking also can mark you with the cat’s scent and communicate that you are part of the cat’s territory. They are literally marking you.

Another reason some cats will lick you is that they enjoy the taste of certain lotions or creams and lick you after application.

In return, many pet owners reciprocate by combing and brushing their cats. This can be beneficial to the cat encouraging the bond and removing unwanted hair and preventing hairballs.

Other Licking

Lip licking. Some cats will lick or smack their lips. Licking lips can be a sign of nausea in cats. Some cats will lick their lips just prior to the act of vomiting. Lip licking in cats is a big concern if your cat is not eating, vomiting, and/or acting lethargic. Learn more about What it Means When Your Cat is Smacking Her Lips and Nausea in Cats.

Licking fur. Some cats will excessively lick their fur. This can be due to normal grooming procedures, due to parasite infestation such as fleas, from injuries such as bite wounds, or skin infections. Learn more about this – go to My Cat is Licking Her Fur Off, What Do I Do?

Licking bags. Some cats will lick inanimate objects such as plastic. Learn more about Why is My Cat Licking Plastic?

Additional Articles that May Be of Interest About Cat Licking

My Cat is Licking Her Fur Off, What Do I Do?
What it Means When Your Cat is Smacking Her Lips 
Why is My Cat Licking Plastic?
What is Pet Insurance?
How Does Pet Insurance Work?
When is the Best Time to Get Pet Insurance for Your Cat?
Questions To Ask When Choosing A New Vet
How to Have a Trauma-Free Veterinary Visit for Your Cat

Everything You Need to Know About Cat Licking

Some cats pretty much never seem to lick and other cats lick all the time. Cat lovers sometimes ask questions about why do cats lick and try to determine when cat licking is normal and when the licking is abnormal. Cat licking is a part of the normal maternal instinct and grooming behaviors, however, these behaviors can become excessive and abnormal.

The answer to the question if cat licking is abnormal depends on if the behavior is new, if the licking appears to be part of the normal grooming behaviors, or if the licking is associated with an underlying behavioral or medical problem.

First, let’s look at why cats lick.

Understanding Normal Cats Licking and Grooming

A normal healthy cat will lick to keep him/herself relatively clean. Most cats are fastidious and spend a significant amount of time grooming. The amount of time per day cats groom can vary substantially from cat to cat but studies suggest that cats spend approximately 15 percent of their time grooming.

  1. Cleaning. The primary reason cats lick themselves is to eliminate dirt, debris, and odors. In the wild, cats may kill their prey leaving blood and odors on their own fur. To protect themselves, cats groom to remove any odors that remain from killing their prey so they do not become prey to another animal. Cats may also want to remove other odors from their coat such as human odors. Some cats will grooms themselves immediately after you pet them to eliminate your scent and even out their own scent.
  2. Displacement behavior. Some cats will use grooming or licking as a displacement behavior. When some cats are stressed, they will cope by grooming (which gives them comfort). This displacement behavior helps cats cope with stress by lowering their arousal level. For example, if a cat is intimidated by another household animal, at some point during an encounter, the cat may stop and seemingly nonchalantly groom himself for several minutes. This behavior can turn into a compulsive disorder.
  3. Post birth grooming. After giving birth, the queen grooms herself to clear normal discharge and blood. This is an instinct to minimize odors that could attract prey.
  4. Maternal grooming. After birth, the queen immediately licks the kittens to remove the amniotic sacs from around their faces and bodies which also stimulates breathing. She will also chew through the umbilical cords and eat the placentas. This is completely normal behavior. Following birth and during the first several weeks of life, the queen will frequently lick her kittens. Licking their abdomens and anuses encourages the babies to eliminate waste (urinate and defecate). Kittens generally learn to start grooming themselves around 3 weeks of age. Often by 6 weeks of age, kittens are grooming themselves competently.
  5. Allogrooming. Once kittens have learned to groom themselves, they may begin to groom each other. This behavior is known as allogrooming. This is fairly common in cats that grow up together.
  6. Heat regulation. Licking the hair coat can help cats maintain their body temperature. During cold weather, cats may lick their fur to smooth it, which traps the air to keep them warm. During the summer months, cats may lick their fur, which evaporates and helps to keep them cool.
  7. They like it. Other cats lick…just because they like to. Some cats enjoy and find comfort in the sensation of licking.

Focused Licking

The biggest concern about cat licking is when it is excessive or focused on a particular area. Below is information on various causes of cat-licking behaviors that may be focused on one area or object.

Licking you

As kittens learn to groom themselves, they may also allogroom which means they lick and groom cats close to them. This behavior can extend to us, after all in many cases we are the kittens or cats surrogate parents, right? Learn more about Why Do Cats Lick You?

Licking lips

Licking lips or lip smacking in cats can be a sign of nausea. Some cats will lick their lips just prior to the act of vomiting. Lip licking in cats is a big concern if your cat is not eating, vomiting, and/or acting lethargic. Learn more about What it Means When Your Cat is Smacking Her Lips and Nausea in Cats.

Licking fur

Some cats will excessively lick their fur. This can be due to normal grooming procedures or be caused by parasite infestation such as fleas, from injuries such as bite wounds, or from skin infections.

Another reason cats may excessively lick an area is to comfort themselves. For example, if we hurt our wrist, we may rub it. Cats may lick at a wound or a sore area in an attempt to comfort that area. Sometimes the area may be a wound or it could be over an area that is painful. For example, some cats will excessively lick the fur on their abdomens over the location of the bladder when they have bladder pain and urinary problems or lick their carpus (wrist area) after an injury.

Why Increased Urination in Cats Happens

Often the most important aspect of helping your cat is detecting any problems at an early stage when treatment is more likely to be successful. Cats are masters at masking signs of illness, pain and other problems. This is especially true with changes in cat urination frequency. Increased urination in cats can happen at any age and for many reasons. However, if your cat is urinating more than usual it can be a symptom of several serious diseases or conditions.

Conditions That May Cause Increased Urination in Cats

Your cat may have a urinary tract infection, which is painful and uncomfortable for your cat. Increased urination in cats can be caused by diabetes or kidney failure. To learn more about kidney failure, go to Chronic Kidney Failure in Cats.

Hyperthyroidism is also a cause of increased urination in cats. Your cat’s metabolism speeds up, which impacts the kidneys. This condition causes increased thirst, which leads to increased urination. While hyperthyroidism can be diagnosed in cats from age 4 to age 20+, the disease is most often seen in older cats. In fact, 95 percent of cats diagnosed with hyperthyroidism are at least 8 years of age. To learn more about hyperthyroidism, go to Hyperthyroidism in Cats.

Only your veterinarian can determine the reason for increased urination in cats, so see your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Older Cats and Increased Urination

Increased urination in cats can also be a sign of old age. As cats get older it becomes harder for them to maintain bladder control. As our cats age, they tend to urinate more often, and they don’t always make it to the litter box. Sometimes they urinate outside the litter box. Incontinence or weak bladder is age related. The bladder weakens with age, resulting in more frequent urination. Essentially, your cat will urinate as soon as pressure builds up in the bladder – and often, that can mean urinating outside the litter box.

Increased urination in cats is normal with age. It often results from diseases that are common to aging felines, like kidney failure, hyperthyroidism or diabetes. Increased urination in cats is often an early sign of diabetes in older or overweight cats. But don’t just assume that your cat’s more frequent urination is a sign of old age. If you have concerns, see your veterinarian. Your cat could be suffering from a urinary tract infection or bladder infection, or kidney disease.

The Litter Box and Increased Urination

More frequent urination will cause the litter box to become soiled more quickly. Many cats will stop using the litter box when they encounter a buildup of soil or odor. So increased urination in cats often means urinating outside the litter box. To help keep your cat from urinating outside the litter box, make sure to keep the litter box as clean as possible. Clean the litter box daily, or more often if necessary. To learn more about dealing with a cat urinating outside the litter box, go to How Do You Deal with a Cat Urinating Outside the Litter Box.

Arthritis is another condition that can contribute to urinating outside the litter box. Older cats can suffer from arthritis pain that makes it difficult for them to access the litter box. When this happens, they will simply find an “easier” place to go. Get a litter box with lower sides that is more easily accessible to your older cat.

If your cat is urinating outside the litter box, here are some things that you can try. Increase the number of litter boxes in your house. Make sure there’s one on every floor in case your cat is experiencing discomfort going up and down the stairs. Put the new litter boxes in areas where your cat can easily find them. Many cats also have trouble getting into and out of the litter box when they get older, so use litter boxes that have low sides.

For more information about litter box avoidance, check out The Top 8 Reasons Why Your Kitty Won’t Use the Litter Box.