Why Is My Cat Licking Things?

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Cats lick often in order to clean themselves.
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Cats are fastidious. That's one of the many reasons they grace the homes of millions of Americans. Elegantly draped across the sofa or lounging in the bay window catching up on their favorite bird show, not too many minutes go by without cats licking a paw, then washing their face. Cats make licking and grooming into an art form. But you know something is wrong when they start licking things other than themselves.

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While cats constantly lick and groom themselves, licking that becomes obsessive or involves nonbody, nonfood items can be a sign of an underlying problem, such as a cat licking a blanket or a cat kneading with a blanket in her mouth. Your cat could be suffering from a nutritional deficiency, an obsessive-compulsive disorder, or she may be stressed out by changes in the household. Prompt attention by a veterinary professional can help you identify and treat your cat's unusual behavior.

Excessive, non-stop self-grooming

Cats who lick themselves nonstop could have a condition called psychogenic alopecia. Female cats are more likely to exhibit excessive licking behaviors than males, with purebred, high-strung cats being most susceptible, Oriental breeds in particular. Cats generally develop this disorder as a way of self-soothing to help deal with stressors. A move to a new home, a change in litter box location, long-term guests, new pets, or new family members can all impact cats, who crave normalcy and routine in their everyday lives.


Licking nonfood items

Cats who lick obsessively at nonfood items such as furniture, clothing, walls, plants, or household objects are exhibiting a form of pica. Pica develops when an animal craves the taste of nonfood items, and it's usually indicative of a nutritional imbalance. Discuss your cat's dietary needs with your vet to ensure your cat is getting the proper type of nutrients for her age, breed, size, and activity level. A pica cat who eats nonfood items also should be screened for feline leukemia, diabetes, and feline immunodeficiency virus.

What causes obsessive-compulsive disorder?

Animals can develop obsessive-compulsive disorder just like people do. This mental ailment manifests in repetitive, compulsive behaviors and may be genetic or stress-induced. Changes to routine can kick behavior into overdrive, especially in cats who already have an anxious or nervous disposition. Your vet may prescribe stress-reducing pheromones paired with household stress reduction to help alleviate the problem and stop it from recurring.


Medical causes for licking

Cats may lick their bodies if they are in pain, have an irritating skin condition, or are plagued by parasites or allergies. Some conditions that present with excessive licking include anal sac problems, cystitis, and hyperthyroidism. Some neurological problems can manifest in excess licking, so a full medical exam can help your vet determine the underlying cause of your cat's behavior.

What are the treatment options

Reduce stressors in your cat's environment and give her toys to occupy her time when you can't be with her. Provide safe havens where your cat can find peace and quiet away from other household pets and family members. Keep litter boxes clean and avoid major changes in routine, if possible. If your cat is diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, you may be referred to an animal behavioral therapist.


In extreme cases, your vet may prescribe anti-anxiety medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Talk to your vet about homeopathic solutions as well. You might also consider CBD oil in edibles or capsule form. Regular vet checkups can help to ensure your cat is in good overall mental and physical health.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.