Overgrooming, feels like my hands are tied

__caitlin

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Hey everyone -- I've mentioned this in the past, but my baby girl Cephas, 14 years old, has developed an overgrooming problem since around August 2021. I've tried / am trying just about everything to try and figure out the root of this issue and every time I think something is working, she relapses. It's driving me a bit crazy so posting here in the hopes that you all can see what I've done so far and let me know if I'm missing anything obvious?

Where she grooms: She originally started with her belly, then progressing heavily to her legs, going up her outer thigh. She also grooms a small spot underneath her tail by her anus. Nowadays, she is mostly preoccupied with grooming her legs and feet -- she bites at her paws pretty often and will also tear at the hair around her toe beans.

What I've tried:
  • Stress: I initially thought this was stress, because she started overgrooming right when we moved to a new apartment in August. Seemed obvious. However, as I observed her behavior more and reviewed the history of her food/lifestyle habits, I began to believe it wasn't stress but probably allergy-related. She is a very happy cat and honestly doesn't show any signs of stress at all -- but rather, her overgrooming seemed sparked by itchiness.
  • Ruled out major infections / parasites; blood test (including thyroid) normal; skin sample showed a minor infection, but was so minor that it's most likely a secondary infection to the grooming, not the root cause
    • She gets monthly flea medication, just in case.
    • I periodically wipe the areas she grooms with antifungal/bacterial wipes prescribed by the vet -- these don't seem to make any difference.
  • Food triggers: By October, I had figured out that the initial trigger was probably a food allergy. I realized that at the same time we moved, I also started feeding her beef pates (which I hadn't done for quite awhile before that). I believe now that she is allergic to beef, chicken, salmon, and some vegetables (corn and peas). I have switched her to exclusively RAWZ Rabbit Pates and the initial result was a lot of improvement. Based on her behavior, I don't believe this food is a trigger for her.
  • Cat litter: The issue is that she continued to have relapses even though, overall, she seems much less itchy than when dealing with a food trigger. I eventually noticed that she seemed to bite at her feet after using the litter box. She was initially using corn cob litter for a long time -- as of December, I've transitioned her to Smartcat Grass Litter in the hopes that she's not allergic to grass.
    • She was doing really well for about 2 weeks with this, almost grew back a lot of hair, but then suddenly had a relapse again last week and for the life of me I cannot figure out why.
    • She has started standing up when peeing and occasionally skimps on covering her pee/poop, which she never used to do until a couple months ago. This makes me think even more that it's her cat litter that's bothering her -- but why would she still be doing this with the new grass litter? What are the chances she's also allergic to grass? :(
    • I'm now considering switching her, again, to paper litter... but not sure if it's too soon.
  • Onesies: Most onesies don't work because they only cover the belly, and her issue is with her legs. I finally found a onesie with some leg coverage -- and she was never able to fully get used to it. She wouldn't complain, and would even seem relaxed in the clothes, but wouldn't move around in them, which means I have to periodically take it off, and she goes right back to grooming during that time.
  • Dry skin: The heat in my apartment is pretty intense! I had the thought that maybe the initial trigger was an allergy, but it has since been exacerbated by the dryness in the apartment? However, I'm not really sure how to solve for this (see below).
Other constraints:
  • She has epilepsy and takes phenobarbital. Because of this, I do not want to put her on any anti-anxiety medication.
  • Because of the phenobarbital, she has occasional high liver values (which we treat with denamarin and usually goes back to normal). But because of this, I do not want to put her on steroids (especially because they'd just cover up the problem and not address the root cause either).
  • My biggest constraint: she absolutely HATES when I doctor her food in any way. She is a very happy cat, but also very intelligent and a little neurotic. I can pill her or syringe her just fine. But if she suspects that I've tampered with her food in any way, shape, or form, she absolutely won't eat it.
    • Because of this, I've wanted to give her fish oil to help with her skin condition -- but can't find a hypoallergenic capsule (aka not a chewable) that is small enough to pill her with. And I can't put the oil in her food because, per above, she will not eat it.
  • Because of the food allergy issues, I'm also seriously limited in what treats I can give her to try to pair with supplements. I've already tried freeze-dried rabbit; she doesn't like it.
  • I do not want to use clay or silica litter because of the long-term health risks associated with these -- but I've been having a lot of trouble finding an organic litter that she has absolutely no chance of being allergic to (e.g. pine? walnut? general mixed wood? all of these seem like potential allergens to me).
Overall, she's actually a really happy cat -- she spends most of her day cuddling, playing, napping, with her tail up in the air, crooked and happy.

Anyone have any advice? I know some folks deal with overgrooming for years... and for mine, it's only been 6 months, but it's just awful watching her do this to herself week after week and not knowing how to help. :(
 

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LTS3

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  • Dry skin: The heat in my apartment is pretty intense! I had the thought that maybe the initial trigger was an allergy, but it has since been exacerbated by the dryness in the apartment? However, I'm not really sure how to solve for this (see below).
Are you able to turn the heat down or does the landlord control that? A humidifier will help with the dry air.


  • Because of this, I've wanted to give her fish oil to help with her skin condition -- but can't find a hypoallergenic capsule (aka not a chewable) that is small enough to pill her with. And I can't put the oil in her food because, per above, she will not eat it.

Buy empty capsules and fill with the fish oil. These are unflavored and the size 3 is good for cats: Clear Size 3 Empty Gelatin Capsules by Capsuline You can go one size smaller if needed (size 4).

  • Because of the food allergy issues, I'm also seriously limited in what treats I can give her to try to pair with supplements. I've already tried freeze-dried rabbit; she doesn't like it.

Any freeze dried meat or fish treat. Try different brands. Cats can be picky.

  • I do not want to use clay or silica litter because of the long-term health risks associated with these -- but I've been having a lot of trouble finding an organic litter that she has absolutely no chance of being allergic to (e.g. pine? walnut? general mixed wood? all of these seem like potential allergens to me)
Paper based litter maybe? Or maybe the Tidy Cats Breeze litter system? Some people have trained their cats to use the toilet.
 

di and bob

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I would get TWO humidifiers, my over groomer gets a lot worse in the winter. Get some lickable treats, they have many out now and see what she really likes. Put any liquid skin supplements in that, like fish oil, probiotics, etc., cats can't resist them. It sounds to me more like a humidity problem or an allergy to something in the house itself. Any rugs she lays on, change in detergents for blankets, cleaning products?
 

Antonio65

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My Rainbow Bridge cat started overgrooming at the end of 2006 (she was 4.5 years old) . At the beginning it looked like a thinning hair on her abdomen, then a small bald patch, and in three or four years she got a completely naked belly, thighs, and even the outer side of her hind legs.
We did blood tests, allergy test, she was seen by a behavioralist, we changed her food several times, added points of interest and play in the house, used Feliway diffusers in all the rooms for about six months, supplements of nearly any kind, but nothing happened.
Then, about six or seven years later she stopped overgrooming and things went back to normal.

2010_05_15.JPG

The photo might be not clear, but you can see her belly and the inner of her left hind leg which is naked down to the heel.
The skin was reddish from the rough tongue, and for a period of time she also had scabs from the skin injuries.

Unfortunately there was nothing we could do to improve her condition, that was quite certainly caused from a stress, though we never found out what the real source of this stress was.
I hope you are luckier 🤞
 

di and bob

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I started my cat on Bach's Rescue Remedy, it has helped some, but it would have to be cleared with your vet before using.
 
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__caitlin

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Buy empty capsules and fill with the fish oil. These are unflavored and the size 3 is good for cats: Clear Size 3 Empty Gelatin Capsules by Capsuline You can go one size smaller if needed (size 4).
This is a great idea, thank you!! Those capsules still look pretty big to me, maybe I'll try the Size 4.

And I will be transitioning her to paper litter this month. I just wasn't sure if that was the best idea since technically she's only fully been on the grass litter for 3-4 weeks now; should I try to give the grass litter more time, or just go ahead and switch?

I would get TWO humidifiers, my over groomer gets a lot worse in the winter. Get some lickable treats, they have many out now and see what she really likes. Put any liquid skin supplements in that, like fish oil, probiotics, etc., cats can't resist them. It sounds to me more like a humidity problem or an allergy to something in the house itself. Any rugs she lays on, change in detergents for blankets, cleaning products?
Do you think I should get a heavier duty humidifier? I have 1 humidifier that covers 250 sq ft, but my 1BR apartment is probably closer to 700 sqft total. I have no control over the heat here. I've been hesitant to invest in a more expensive $120+ humidifier when it might not even help her.

And I agree, it honestly feels like she's allergic to the apartment itself! But furniture-wise, there has been no change in any of the products or detergents or cleaners she's been exposed to. And I can't pinpoint anything environmental that seems to be a specific trigger (whereas when she eats something she's allergic to, the effect is usually immediately obvious).

My Rainbow Bridge cat started overgrooming at the end of 2006 (she was 4.5 years old) . At the beginning it looked like a thinning hair on her abdomen, then a small bald patch, and in three or four years she got a completely naked belly, thighs, and even the outer side of her hind legs.
We did blood tests, allergy test, she was seen by a behavioralist, we changed her food several times, added points of interest and play in the house, used Feliway diffusers in all the rooms for about six months, supplements of nearly any kind, but nothing happened.
Then, about six or seven years later she stopped overgrooming and things went back to normal.
Wow, that's so impressive that you all stuck it out so long! In some ways it does give me hope that, even if this is something she deals with for years, it can still go away on its own and she can still have a relatively good quality of life outside of that. But I do hope we can figure something out sooner rather than later :(
 

LTS3

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Maybe buy two humidifiers to cover the entire apartment. Or one big one that covers 700 sq ft. Google says one with a 3 gallon or more reservoir will cover that much square footage. A humidifier is also beneficial to you (dry skin issues, etc).

And I will be transitioning her to paper litter this month. I just wasn't sure if that was the best idea since technically she's only fully been on the grass litter for 3-4 weeks now; should I try to give the grass litter more time, or just go ahead and switch?
Up to you. You can give the grass litter more time or switch.

And I agree, it honestly feels like she's allergic to the apartment itself! But furniture-wise, there has been no change in any of the products or detergents or cleaners she's been exposed to. And I can't pinpoint anything environmental that seems to be a specific trigger (whereas when she eats something she's allergic to, the effect is usually immediately obvious)
Has anything changed in the apartment or building since August? Painting, carpet replacement, new neighbors who might smoke, etc?

Do you have heating vents? if you do, have they ever been cleaned? Is the HVAC system serviced yearly by the landlord? Moldy, dusty vents and an HVAC system can spew allergens into apartments.
 
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__caitlin

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Maybe buy two humidifiers to cover the entire apartment. Or one big one that covers 700 sq ft. Google says one with a 3 gallon or more reservoir will cover that much square footage. A humidifier is also beneficial to you (dry skin issues, etc).



Up to you. You can give the grass litter more time or switch.



Has anything changed in the apartment or building since August? Painting, carpet replacement, new neighbors who might smoke, etc?

Do you have heating vents? if you do, have they ever been cleaned? Is the HVAC system serviced yearly by the landlord? Moldy, dusty vents and an HVAC system can spew allergens into apartments.
Nope, nothing has changed in the apartment that I know of. I do have heating vents which may indeed be dusty but I don’t think they’re moldy (I think I recently had a conversation with the super about that).

Also, is it really okay for a cat to swallow Size 4 or 5 capsules? Even those seem kind of big - it would definitely be the biggest pill I’ve ever given her. 😦
 

LTS3

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It'll be fine :) Use Pill Pockets or something to help the capsule go down. I think some people just dry pill a size 3 capsule with no issue at all.

Pilling Cats: Must-know Tips For Hiding Pills – TheCatSite Articles
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Size 5 is really tiny, about 1 cm long. I'm not sure how much fish oil you can fit inside. You may need to spread out a daily dose of fish oil into more than one capsule and give a capsule at meal time or something instead of all at once.

 

cocoanlace

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I feel for you and your cat. My Cappy who's about 10 started over grooming in early 2021. I found a bare spot with a scab and scheduled a vet appointment. Turned out not to be ringworm but over grooming. The Feliway devices trigger him to spray on them which makes for tricky clean up on an electrical outlet. He must smell the pheromones and react? (Why is it believed that introducing the scent of another animal in the house will have a calming effect?)
Right now Cappy has a large portion of his back right leg chewed down to the skin with a tiny scab. He also runs through my condo yelping and talking to ghosts at times. I think it's anxiety. If he sees a squirrel in the tree outside, he will pee really high in the litter box as if spraying. When he's fully relaxed, he pees sitting down. I am home all the time, so I observe the interactions he has with my other 3 cats. He's the only boy, and he tries to control the girls. They will not have it and contest him. But he's always the aggressor. If I scold him for physically climbing on another cat to control them, he races though the condo talking and crying about the injustice of it. His feelings are so transparent. I've crossed food allergies, litter, etc, off the possibility list because although those might change, his grooming habit does not. And one of his victims, Kay, has started to over groom her sides a little as a vet pointed out to me last week. Don't forget to update us on your kitty.
 
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__caitlin

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I feel for you and your cat. My Cappy who's about 10 started over grooming in early 2021. I found a bare spot with a scab and scheduled a vet appointment. Turned out not to be ringworm but over grooming. The Feliway devices trigger him to spray on them which makes for tricky clean up on an electrical outlet. He must smell the pheromones and react? (Why is it believed that introducing the scent of another animal in the house will have a calming effect?)
Right now Cappy has a large portion of his back right leg chewed down to the skin with a tiny scab. He also runs through my condo yelping and talking to ghosts at times. I think it's anxiety. If he sees a squirrel in the tree outside, he will pee really high in the litter box as if spraying. When he's fully relaxed, he pees sitting down. I am home all the time, so I observe the interactions he has with my other 3 cats. He's the only boy, and he tries to control the girls. They will not have it and contest him. But he's always the aggressor. If I scold him for physically climbing on another cat to control them, he races though the condo talking and crying about the injustice of it. His feelings are so transparent. I've crossed food allergies, litter, etc, off the possibility list because although those might change, his grooming habit does not. And one of his victims, Kay, has started to over groom her sides a little as a vet pointed out to me last week. Don't forget to update us on your kitty.
Thank you for your kind words. And so sorry to hear about what Cappy’s been going through. He seems like he has a lot of feelings about things!

To be honest things with my baby have not gotten better — the overgrooming, at least, has not gotten worse. Since I last posted, I’ve switched her to paper litter (seems ok so far, doesn’t seem to make her itchy), and LTS3’s suggestion about putting fish oil in capsules worked great! I’m now able to give her fish oil, which has made her coat very nice... although not sure how much it’s actually helping with the grooming.

But now we’re dealing with a different issue: hairballs 🤦🏻‍♀️ Every once in awhile, especially after she has a grooming relapse and ingests a lot of hair, she’ll get a bout of hairballs and will have significantly decreased appetite for a few days while she works out the nausea. She highly prefers to be left to her own devices and just eat minimally / nothing for a couple days - and has historically always returned to normal.

This time around, the nausea and inappetence has lasted a few days — and so, fearing hepatic lipidosis, I’ve been trying different remedies to help her feel better. I’ve given her slippery elm, egg yolk lecithin (which always causes a successful, normal looking poop, but doesn’t seem to make her eat), and have recently tried giving some petroleum jelly.

I don’t know. She’s acting totally normal and happy outside of the inappetence, and is willing to eat the bare minimum calories per day that I’ll accept. I’m hoping it’s just a matter of waiting and giving the changes (new litter, fish oil) some time to take effect. :/
 

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My daughter's 9 year old boy came to live with me 2 years ago. His belly was already bare. Now his front legs are very patchy and he is starting on his back legs too. He was also vomitting and having frequent hairballs.

It took over a year to find a wide selection of wet and freeze dried foods that he will eat. I found that chicken seemed to be a trigger and he hates anything with lamb or fish. But I got him off of dry food. That stopped the vomitting. One of the wet foods he gets in his rotation daily is Farmina Venison and Pumpkin. That and combing has stopped the hairballs.

The vet prescribed Amitriptyline about 6 months ago. We started with pills. He did really well the first week. His hair was growing back! Then he decided he hated pill pockets and would refuse food if I tried to hide the pill in any form in it. So we tried a topical gel in his ears. One, it really didn't work. And two, he HATES having his ears cleaned and he started getting a horrible sore in one of his ears. So I just gave up on that.

Now I just try to redirect his attention when I can, Not very efficient. I feel your pain and frustration in watching your fur baby deal with this and hot having a clear cut solution.
 
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