Cause for Concern

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White and orange cat laying downCats devote a large portion of their waking hours to cleaning and conditioning their coat. An absence of normal grooming behavior can be an early sign that your cat does not feel well. Some initial signs can include:

  • Your cat’s coat will begin to appear unkempt within 24 hours and fur may stick out at odd angles and look clumpy or dull.
  • Your cat may fail to lap or wash her face which may leave dried food debris around her mouth.
  • The area under your cat’s tail, may be soiled by feces or urine.

Make sure you report any change in grooming behavior to your veterinarian as soon as you notice it to ensure that your cat receives the best care possible. 

Here’s what abnormal grooming behavior looks like:

Chronic Absence or Ineffective Grooming Behavior

  • Your cat’s coat is thick, dull, and more prone to matting.
  • Nails that appear thick and soiled at the base. Thick overgrown nails can actually curl around and pierce your kitty’s toe pad.
  • Urine and/or feces may be present on the skin and fur under your cat’s tail.
  • Litter stuck to your cat’s paws occurs when there is an increase in urine volume. This can be a sign of diabetes or chronic kidney disease.
  • Obesity related changes can include mats that form on the lower back. Overweight cats often have soiling and dermatitis under their tails as well.
  • Elderly cats frequently neglect their grooming. This is likely due to arthritis, or degenerative joint disease, which affects over 90% of cats over 12 years of age. Dental disease, changes in coat texture and shedding cycle, and other diseases such as hyperthyroidism and diabetes can also contribute to lack of grooming in older cats. Pay particular attention to the nails of older cats. Overgrown nails are easily overlooked.
  • Cats do not smell bad, and with rare exception, do not need to be bathed. Foul odor of any sort should be investigated with your veterinarian.
  • Bite wound abscesses may produce a foul smelling drainage.
  • Dental disease and kidney disease may cause your cat’s saliva to smell foul and this odor can be transferred to the coat. Oral tumors produce particularly foul smelling saliva. Any odors from your cat’s mouth need to be evaluated by your veterinarian.
  • Ear infections can produce a foul odor as well as waxy debris.

Excessive Grooming Behavior

  • Areas of missing fur (alopecia) with or without damage or inflammation of the skin (dermatitis) can be an indication of:
    • Parasites – fleas, lice, or mites
    • Allergies – food, air borne, contact
    • Infection – fungal, bacterial, yeast
    • Stress/anxiety – usually patches of short or sparse fur without damage or inflammation of the skin
    • Other underlying diseases – hormonal, nutritional, some cancers

Acute illness, increasing age, increasing weight, dental disease, less than optimum nutrition, parasites, infections, and chronic illnesses can all contribute to a loss of the pristine appearance we expect of our cats.

If you notice any of the symptoms above, contact your veterinarian in order to partner and develop a health care plan to help keep your cat looking and feeling terrific.