Compulsive Disorder in Cats
How to handle your cat’s compulsive behaviour
How to handle your cat’s compulsive behaviour.
Cats can become frustrated and stressed for the same reasons people do—not getting something they want or not being able to do something they want to do. In response to these thwarted desires and the resulting stress, cats can develop compulsive behaviours. These compulsive responses are often based on behaviours that are already part of the cat’s natural repertoire. Over-grooming, also known as psychogenic alopecia, and chewing on or ingesting non-food items are the most common compulsive behaviours in cats. For example, some cats will over-groom or pull their fur out to help reduce the stress of their owners leaving for the day. Grooming is a natural behaviour that cats perform to alleviate moments of stress, but when the stress is too great or consistent, over-grooming can surface. Compulsive behaviours like over-grooming are abnormal because they are performed repetitively, out of context, with no apparent goal, and in ways that can sometimes be destructive to the cats themselves and the environment they live in. At The Cat Behavior Clinic, many cats I’ve worked with will lick all the fur off their stomachs leaving only a fine skimming of peach fuzz.
Instead of overgrooming, some cats may chew on, and even ingest, non-food items to help cope with separation anxiety, a new cat or dog in the house, or not being able to get outside to chase after the birds he sees through the window. Chewing or sucking behaviour on non-food is oftxen called “wool sucking” or “wool chewing,” but includes not just wool, but paper, cotton, plastic, and sometimes other more surprising materials. Ingesting non-food items is called “pica.” This behavior can be especially dangerous because cats can ingest entire socks and large pieces of dishtowels leading to serious health issues that can require surgery. Besides stress, genetic predisposition can cause these compulsive behaviors to develop.
“Compulsive behaviours may also develop because a cat was weaned too early, or because he’s experiencing stress
“The main cause of compulsive behaviour in cats is stress, especially the kind of stress that cats experience when they feel conflicted between two opposing courses of action.” An example of this kind of conflict-caused stress is your cat may both want to run away from another cat and want to confront him. —excerpt from The Cat Whisperer