Cats are all about keeping clean. An average house cat will spend 30-50% of their waking hours grooming themselves! However, there can be too much of a good thing. Sometimes cats can lick themselves so excessively that it removes fur from their bodies, causes abrasions to the skin, or even acral lick dermatitis.
Potential Causes of Excessive Licking in Cats
It is very important to involve your veterinarian in determining the exact cause of excessive licking in cats. The look of the affected area alone may not give you all of the evidence needed for a proper diagnosis. Known triggers for the behavior include medical, psychological, and environmental factors:
- Bacterial infections
- Fungal infections
- Allergies (to food or something in the environment)
- Parasites (fleas, mites, etc)
- Certain cancers
- Hormone problems
- Trauma to an area on the body
- Psychological disorders
When you go to your veterinarian, be prepared to talk about your cat’s history, the food that it is eating (bringing a label would be great), and the general environment. A number of tests could be necessary to rule out or confirm different types of infections. Stress reduction techniques are likely to also be addressed.
Acral Lick Dermatitis
Acral Lick Dermatitis is an injury to the skin that is caused by excessive licking in cats. It is characterized by the appearance of a thickened, firm, ulcerated area of skin known as an acral lick granuloma. This condition is also seen (and is much more common) in dogs that excessively lick. Unlike in dogs, Acral Lick Dermatitis does not seem to be associated with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in cats. It is not related to any particular stage of life in cats, nor does it appear to be more common in one gender than the other.
Treating Acral Lick Dermatitis is dependent on determining the cause of the excessive licking. Have your veterinarian do tests to rule out all of the possible medical conditions associated with excessive licking in cats. According to Dr. Karen Becker, most cases of Acral Lick Dermatitis involve a bacterial infection under the skin. She also states that 25% of those cases are MRSA! Obviously, it is important to resolve all underlying medical issues before or concurrently with behavioral solutions.
Once the medical issues are being addressed, the next important thing will be to keep the wound clean. Topical solutions can be used to help the wound heal. A few examples of good topical solutions are manuka honey, Willard Water, colloidal silver, and essential oil of lavender (diluted with coconut oil). The cat must be kept from licking the area once the topical solutions are applied. Be creative – Elizabeth collars, non-stick bandages, and even t-shirts or other clothing items may help depending on the location of the wound.
A Few Important Notes
Even once a medical cause of excessive licking in cats is resolved, it may be possible that some behavioral correction will be necessary. If the behavior has gone on long enough, it may be reinforced in your cat’s mind that licking the area will give relief or feel good. Use distractions and positive training techniques to change the behavior.
- The best topical solutions in the world won’t help much if an untreated underlying illness is involved. Don’t skip the veterinarian!
- Excessive licking in cats is not always a clean cut case. More than one of the causes listed above may be involved.
- If stress might be a likely factor in your cat’s excessive licking, it could be a good idea to start taking note of what is happening in your cat’s environment when the behavior occurs. Writing down what you observe may help you to see commonalities in appearances of the behavior.