Fur-mowing refers to excessive licking of certain areas of the cat’s body, leading to hair loss and sometimes skin lesions. Excessive licking is generally not apparent at first since it is consistent with normal grooming behavior, and owners may only become aware of the problem when an obvious bald patch develops. Large patches of bald skin is not only unsightly, they are more prone to sunburn, frostbite, injuries, and infections. The cause of excessive licking can be physical as well as psychological, and pinpointing an exact cause in the absence of a physical health problem can be difficult. Many cases of fur-mowing behavior is not a direct consequence of any medical problems; however, there are a number of physiological reasons for itching and therefore excessive grooming, which must be ruled out before considering therapies that are oriented toward behavior modification.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Thinning fur and bald patches can be the only sign of an excessive grooming problem. A number of tests can be done to rule out the possible medical causes. First step toward a diagnosis is almost always flea control and treatment, as this is the most common cause of itching. Other tests include skin scrapes, fecal tests, and other physiological inspections to rule out other parasites. The presence of any allergy can usually be readily identified; in the case of a food allergy, a food trial is required to determine the exact source of the allergy. Diagnosis is oftentimes a process of elimination, and can include trial treatments to see if the mowing stops.
In the cases with no apparent physical cause, the fur-mowing behaviour might be a result of stress, anxiety, or boredom.
If fur-mowing is caused by an underlying medical condition, treatments are readily available. The mowing generally stops once the physical problem is removed, and any residual licking will gradually subside.
When the problem is psychological, it may be more difficult to pinpoint the source of the problem and therapy can be a long process. Any changes to a cat’s surroundings can be potentially stress-inducing; moving houses, addition of a new pet, even the addition of new furniture can become stressful and induce behavior problems. To prevent such behavior, any changes must be introduced to the cat gradually. Bringing familiar items such as blankets or beddings from the old house can greatly reduce stresses caused by moving. Creating quiet hiding places can also calm a stressed cat. More toys and human interaction can also be beneficial. If the cat is seriously stressed and cannot be comforted with normal means, anti-anxiety medication might be required.