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    Cats and Compulsive Scratching, Licking, and Chewing

    WebMD discusses common reasons why your cat might be biting, chewing, or scratching itself.
    (continued)

    Treatment for Your Cat’s Scratching, Licking, and Chewing

    Eliminating parasites. Because it can be difficult to diagnose flea infestation in cats, some veterinarians recommend trying reliable flea control products purchased from a veterinary office for six to eight weeks to see if it reduces the incidence of licking, scratching, or chewing. Similarly, treating mites or other parasites, if present, can eliminate your cat’s discomfort and the problem behaviors.

    Changing foods. Putting cats that are scratching or chewing on a 6-week exclusion diet is a good way to find out whether food allergies are the problem. You may have to try several diets before you find one that works. Veterinarians may also prescribe the addition of certain fatty acids or other nutritional supplements if dry skin is to blame for your cat’s incessant scratching and licking. No other foods or treats should be offered during an exclusion diet trial.

    Using medication. Depending on the extent of skin damage your cat has caused by licking, chewing, or scratching, your veterinarian may prescribe the use of steroids, antihistamines, and antibiotics. Additionally, some compulsive cat behaviors caused by psychological factors can be addressed with clomipramine, an anti-anxiety medication, or amitriptyline, which helps fight anxiety and also functions as an antihistamine.

    Addressing anxiety or boredom. If you and your vet determine that there is no physical cause for your pet's behaviors, there are things you can do to improve your cat’s state of mind. Making sure your cat feels safe, loved, and comfortable in your home is important, as is providing adequate stimulation and exercise. You may find that desensitizing your cat by slowly and carefully exposing her to things she fears can be beneficial. Be careful to take baby steps if you try this so as not to overwhelm your cat and make the compulsive licking, scratching or biting worse. Counter-conditioning, by training your cat to associate something pleasurable, like a treat, with something he fears may also help reduce stress and anxiety. Many times, boredom licking (also known as psychogenic alopecia) is improved by adding another cat or pet. But, there is always the risk that the second cat could be a new stress in your pet's environment that could make the hair loss worse.

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    Reviewed on April 21, 2012
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