The first step in solving any behavior problem, or "catattude", is to make sure that it's not a medical problem. This can't be stressed enough. The signs of illness in cats can be very subtle and are often disguised as behavior problems. Talk to your veterinarian before attempting to change your pet's behavior, because your efforts will likely fail if you're working with a sick cat. This advice is doubly true if your cat's behavior change is sudden. Chances are he may be sick, especially if you can't pinpoint any other environmental changes as a reason for the behavior change, such as a new person or pet in the home.
In short, the cat is licking off all his or her hair. Often the belly is nearly as bald as if it were shaved. Sometimes a mohawk of normal fur makes a stripe down the back, surrounded by bald spots on either sides. Sometimes it is the lower back itself that is bald. Often the owner thinks the hair is falling out. The good news is that most cats that groom to excess do not have mental illness.
"Over-the-top" licking does not always stem from a physical health problem; the behavior can occasionally have a psychological cause. Cats like consistency and predictability, and change in that routine can be stressful. A recent move, the addition or loss of another pet in the home, or even a change of schedule can cause anxiety in cats. Licking may calm and comfort a cat, but it can sometimes become habitual if the source of the problem is not properly identified and addressed.
Environmental enrichment may help redirect this behavior. This means the cat gets more toys, more games (feeding in a different location daily to create a hide-and-seek sort of cat entertainment), and more attention. Medically the cat may receive Amitriptyline, which has both anti-anxiety properties as well as anti-histamine properties and is helpful in controlling the excessive grooming.
For more information about excessive grooming:
The contents of this page are provided for general informational purposes only. Under no circumstances should this page be substituted for professional consultation with a veterinarian.