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

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