Why has my cat stopped grooming?

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There are a number of different reasons for a cat to stop grooming themselves; some are medical, some are behavioural, and some are just due to age. However, often this is the first sign that something’s wrong with them, so it’s important to get them checked out by one of our vets. If your cat doesn’t seem to be grooming themselves properly, this blog should help point you in the right direction!

Firstly, are they actually not grooming?

Some long-haired cats can build up serious mats and general scruffiness, despite desperately careful self- grooming! Unfortunately for them, we’ve bred them over the years for such long fur that they simply cannot keep it neat and tidy: there just aren’t enough hours in the day. So if they’ve always been a bit scruffy, don’t panic - they might just need a little bit of a helping hand.

Is there a behavioural problem?

Behavioural issues are one possible reason for a cat to stop grooming. The typical example is in bereavement, where the surviving cat misses their companion. During the searching and distress stages of grief, cats sometimes neglect their own grooming and care, becoming very straggly and untidy- looking.

This can also happen if a cat is suffering from severe territory-stress (e.g. if other cats have invaded the house). They are so busy scent marking and urine spraying the house (feline “Keep Out” signs) that they neglect themselves.

That said, it’s more common for stressed or unhappy cats to over-groom themselves, sometimes to the point where a skin disease is suspected.

Is there a medical problem?

This is a more likely scenario. Ill cats frequently stop cleaning and grooming themselves - this can occur with almost any disease that makes them feel miserable (with the exception of some skin complaints).

It is particularly noticeable in cats with arthritis. As the condition progresses, the joints become progressively stiffer and less flexible; as a result, it’s difficult for the cat to groom themselves effectively. Typically, the back end is neglected initially, but as they become stiffer, the ungroomed area creeps forwards. It is often surprising how much better a cat looks after we start them on painkillers, as suddenly they can clean themselves again!

Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) often results in a very untidy coat. This is partly because the excess thyroxine in the blood alters hair growth; and partly because affected cats are too “hyper” to find the time to groom and clean themselves.

Dental disease - oral pain from either tooth problems, gum disease or problems with the lips and tongue are a good reason for cats to decrease their grooming. It is important to have their entire mouths examined to make sure we don't miss a painful tooth root problem or a tongue ulcer.

There are also some medical conditions that can make a cat look unkempt, even if they are still grooming themselves; chronic kidney disease is one such example.

How old are they?

As cats age, they often become increasingly scraggly. Partly this is due to arthritis, which is very common

in old age, making it physically more difficult to groom; but it also seems to be the case that older cats are, in general, less interested in cleanliness. You may notice too that older cats find it harder to retract their claws, which can interfere with grooming or scratching; plus, the coat often becomes more uneven with age.

Some elderly cats may also suffer from a form of dementia (called Feline Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome), and this also impairs their willingness, and ability, to care for themselves.

Why is it important?

An ungroomed coat is often a marker of an underlying disease - however, being ungroomed isn’t nice for such a naturally neat and tidy animal. Left to its own devices, the coat of even a short-haired cat can rapidly form uncomfortable solid matts, and in a long-hair these can be so extensive as to inhibit movement. It is not unknown for a cat to appear paralysed, simply because the matts are so large and rigid that their owner can no longer move normally!

What can I do?

Well, first of all, bring them in so our vets can rule out or treat any underlying disease. Then, if grooming is hard for them - help! Get a soft brush and spend a few minutes twice a day (or more…) grooming and cleaning them. With long-haired cats, it may also help to have their belly and around their bottom clipped, to prevent matts forming - we can do this in the surgery if needed.

If in any doubt as to your cat’s health or wellbeing - please do give us a ring for advice!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Firstly, are they actually not grooming?

Some long-haired cats can build up serious mats and general scruffiness, despite desperately careful self- grooming! Unfortunately for them, we’ve bred them over the years for such long fur that they simply cannot keep it neat and tidy: there just aren’t enough hours in the day. So if they’ve always been a bit scruffy, don’t panic - they might just need a little bit of a helping hand.

Posted on November 24, 2017 .