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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders In Cats Disclaimer

Repetitive, relatively non-varying behaviour patterns that appear to have no purpose can be described as obsessive-compulsive disorders. In cats, such behaviours include compulsive pacing, repetitive meowing (vocalizing), fabric sucking and chewing, or licking and pulling hair. The exact cause or causes of compulsive behaviour in otherwise normal cats have not been identified.


What is an obsessive-compulsive disorder?   Top
This is when a cat exhibits abnormal, recurrent actions that are out of context with the situations in which they occur. The behaviour becomes compulsive as the cat loses control over initiating or terminating it. The behaviour is deemed excessive in duration, frequency, and intensity. The cat may be difficult to distract from the behaviour and it may interfere with normal function.

What are some examples of obsessive-compulsive disorder?   Top
Repetitive motor, grooming, ingestive, or hallucinogenic behaviours that occur out of context, or of excessive duration or frequency include excessive sucking and chewing, hunting and pouncing at invisible prey, running and chasing, paw shaking, excessive vocalization, self-directed aggression such as tail chasing or foot chewing, and overgrooming. Freezing and staring is also considered an obsessive-compulsive disorder if it is an inappropriate and extended behaviour.

How does a behaviour become compulsive?   Top
Since certain behaviours are more common in certain breeds there may be a genetic predisposition to obsessive-compulsive behaviours. Wool sucking is observed more commonly in oriental breeds.

Some owners inadvertently encourage these behaviours such as giving attention to the cat while it exhibits the behaviour as a kitten (pouncing on invisible prey), or by trying to disrupt the behaviour with food, a treat, or attention.

Compulsive behaviour may be a response to stress or boredom. Many behaviours arise spontaneously as a response to conflict or anxiety, such as a change in the cat's environment. Over time, the behaviour becomes fixed and independent of what caused it in the first place. These behaviours may allow some animals to cope with difficult situations.

What is feline psychogenic overgrooming or alopecia?   Top
A normal amount of grooming takes up 30-40% of a cat’s time. Overgrooming is excessive licking and pulling out fur, leading to bald patches and hair discoloration. Often the baldness or alopecia is symmetrical.

A medical problem must be ruled out before a behaviour problem is treated. Many skin disorders cause itchiness that can result in alopecia. Treatment with anti-inflammatories, an elimination diet trial, and sometimes skin tests for allergies are carried out before a behaviour diagnosis is reached.

How are obsessive-compulsive disorders treated?   Top
Some behaviours are not treated if they are not causing any physical harm to the cat and do not cause the owner significant concern. For some cats, the compulsive behaviour may be the most practical and acceptable outlet for reducing stress or resolving conflict in the home environment.

Drug therapy is often used as it can help normalize brain neurotransmitter levels. Drugs are used in conjunction with behaviour modification. This involves reducing stress or finding methods of decreasing the sources of arousal and conflict. Situations that cause the behaviour are examined, so that they can be avoided if possible. Other environmental or social changes that can contribute to anxiety include a new baby, a territorial neighbourhood cat, or a family member leaving the household.

The behaviour is not rewarded by attention from the owner, or other pleasant distractions. The cat can be distracted from the behaviour by remote indirect devices such as an abrupt loud noise (ultrasonic alarm or air horn), or a water pistol. Once the cat is distracted sufficiently to stop the behaviour, alternative behaviours are encouraged such as playing with the owner or with a toy.

The cat also requires stimulation in the form of exercise, attention, interactive play, chew toys, catnip toys, Kitty Kongs, play centres, and safe, private place for resting. Cats can also be trained.

Punishment is often detrimental, causing increased anxiety and fear of the owner, and therefore intensifying the problem.

Your vet can help you to identify the source of the problem in your cat, and design a behaviour modification protocol in conjunction with appropriate drug therapy, or refer you to an animal behaviour specialist.
 

Editor: Dr Julia Adams BVSc
Contributor: Dr Rebecca Bragg BVSc



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