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OCD & Common Compulsive Disorders in Cats

Posted by Dr. Roth on March 30, 2022

Stress and Anxiety
Training & Behavior
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Cats often display a variety of interesting behaviors throughout the day. However, some pet parents may notice their cat is excessively doing something that becomes alarming, such as grooming to the point of creating bald spots. 

These troublesome cat behavioral problems are often a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD in cats is very common and can range from mild to severe. 

Obsessive Compulsive Disorders in Cats

Many cat compulsive disorders are mild and may not have a specific name. However, some cat obsessive-compulsive disorders can be severe. The following obsessive compulsive disorders can cause severe health problems in a cat. 

Cat Hair Loss

One of the most common compulsory disorders in cats is feline psychogenic alopecia. This disorder occurs when a cat excessively over-grooms and creates bald spots. If the cat continues to groom their bald spots, they can create sores that can get infected. Before a cat can be diagnosed with psychogenic alopecia, other skin conditions need to be ruled out. These conditions include allergies, parasites, or infection. 

Pet parents will need to be patient while trying to diagnose this condition because it can take some time to rule out all the other possibilities as to why a cat is losing their fur. Once feline psychogenic alopecia is diagnosed, there are several steps pet parents can take to help their cat. Treatment may include modifications to the cat’s environment and/or medication. 

Rippling Skin Condition

The medical term for this condition is feline hyperesthesia. This condition occurs when a cat is hypersensitive to touch and overreacts when getting pet. A normal cat response for most cats being scratched on the back is an arched back, vocalizing, and rippled skin. If a cat develops feline hyperesthesia, then they display these behaviors with little to no stimuli. The condition can advance and the cat can start experiencing muscle spasms, and may lose control of their bowels. 

Treatments for this condition can include behavior management and medication. 

Self-Aggression

Some cats may become overly aggressive with themselves and begin biting their paws and/or tails. This disorder can become severe if the cat continues to bite and injure themselves. In extreme cases, the cat’s tail or paws become infected and may need to be amputated. 

Treatment for this condition may include medication and behavioral therapy. 

Causes of OCD in Cats

It can be difficult to determine the cause of OCD in a cat. Also, there’s no way to test a cat for OCD and vets typically rely on observations from pet parents to help make an accurate diagnosis. The following are potential causes that cats may develop a compulsory disorder:

  • Physical trauma

  • Abuse

  • Neurological condition

  • Dermatological condition

  • Parasites

  • Anxiety

  • Boredom or lack of stimuli in their environment

  • Separated from their mother too early

Signs of OCD in Cats

Signs of OCD in cats can easily be mistaken as normal behavior. Some OCD behaviors may seem like the cat is playing. However, if a pet parent notices their cat displaying the following behaviors, the cat may need treatment for OCD.

  • Over-grooming 

  • Pulling out fur

  • Excessive suckling and chewing

  • Excessive vocalizing

  • Attacking their own foot or tail

  • Pouncing on unseen prey

Treating OCD in Cats

Treatment for compulsive disorders in cats will depend on the severity of the disorder. For mild cases, the pet parent may need to modify the cat’s environment with stimuli or remove stressful stimuli from the environment. Pet parents can also implement a behavior modification program using rewards such as the cat’s favorite treat. 

For moderate to severe compulsive disorders, the pet parent may need to medicate their cat. There are some over-the-counter medications available that help with cat anxiety and OCD. However, if the cat has a severe compulsory condition, then they may need a prescription medication from their vet. 

How Pet Parents Can Help

Knowing the difference between a normal cat behavior and a cat OCD behavior can be difficult for pet parents. To help pet parents know what is “normal” for their cat, they can keep a cat behavior journal and regularly write down their cat’s normal behaviors. Keeping a journal of behaviors is an easy way to document when a normal behavior starts to become abnormal. 

In addition, pet parents should provide their cat with a variety of toys and cat towers to help keep their cat’s brain stimulated. Some compulsive disorders can develop if a cat is bored and confined. However, pet parents need to be wary of toys that might scare their cat because the toy could cause the cat to become anxious. 

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