Any cat owner knows cats spend much of their day cleaning and conditioning their fur and coats. But did you know that a lack of normal grooming behavior can be an early sign that your cat is ill? Our veterinarians say these are some of the initial symptoms to look out for:
• Your cat’s coat appears messy or unkempt within 24 hours. Her fur may stick out at odd angles and look clumpy or dull.
• Your cat fails to lap or wash her face, leaving dried food debris around her mouth.
• The area under your cat’s tail is soiled by feces or urine.
Make sure you report any change in grooming behavior to your veterinarian as soon as you notice it. They can help make sure your cat receives the best care possible.
What Does Abnormal Grooming Behavior Look Like?
Chronic Lack of Grooming or Ineffective Grooming Behavior
• Your cat’s coat is thick, dull, and more prone to mats.
• Your cat’s nails look thick and dirty at the base of the nail. Thick, overgrown nails can curl over and pierce your kitty’s toe pad.
• Your cat has urine and or feces on her skin and fur and under her tail.
• Your cat has litter stuck to her paws: this occurs when your cat is urinating more than usual and can be a sign of diabetes or chronic kidney disease.
• Your cat has mats in the fur of her lower back. Overweight and obese cats often have soiling and dermatitis under their tails.
• Your cat is emitting unpleasant smells. With rare exceptions, cats do not need to be bathed. Your veterinarian should investigate foul odors of any sort coming from your cat.
o Bite wound abscesses may produce foul-smelling drainage.
o Dental disease and kidney disease may cause your cat’s saliva to smell bad, and this odor can be transferred to her coat by her tongue.
o Ear infections can produce a foul smell as well as waxy debris.
o Oral tumors produce particularly foul-smelling saliva. Any odors coming from your cat’s mouth need to be evaluated by your veterinarian.
• Elderly cats frequently neglect their grooming, likely due to arthritis or degenerative joint disease, which affects over 90% of cats over twelve years of age.
o Dental disease, changes in coat texture and shedding cycle, and other conditions such as hyperthyroidism and diabetes can also contribute to a lack of grooming in older cats.
o Pay particular attention to the nails of older cats. Overgrown nails easily go unnoticed.
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, airborne, 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 weight or weight loss, dental disease, poor nutrition, parasites, infections, and chronic illness can all cause your cat to appear messy. If you notice any of the symptoms listed above, contact your veterinarian to develop a health care plan for your cat.