Why Is My Cat Licking Things?

By Lisa McQuerrey

While cats constantly lick and groom themselves, licking that becomes obsessive or involves nonbody, nonfood items can be a sign of an underlying problem. 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 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 or new pets or 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 usually is 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. Cats who eat nonfood items also should be screened for feline leukemia, diabetes and feline immunodeficiency virus.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Animals can develop obsessive-compulsive disorder just like people. 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

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.

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. Regular vet checkups can help to ensure your cat is in good overall mental and physical health.