Do Cats Get OCD?

Can cats get Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? Yes, they can, and often do. To understand why, it helps to take a look at why people get it.

It’s a side effect of stress and results in a variety of odd, but mostly benign behaviors, including such things as hair twirling, nail biting, hand-washing, etc. In cats, we often see over-grooming (to the point of making little bald spots on themselves), sucking on items in the home, such as fuzzy slippers or socks, and eating non-food materials, like paper or plastic.

Since cats are very sensitive animals, they are quite vulnerable to stress in their surroundings. But since they do not have human intelligence, it can be much harder to interrupt the cycle and get them to stop a particular behavior, which may be necessary if they are harming themselves.

Eating paper or plastic, for example, could lead to an intestinal blockage, and constant picking at their own fur and skin can lead to sores that become infected ulcerations. Once the stressor, or causative situation, is identified, it’s not like we can sit down with the cat and explain why they’re doing something, and then they can quit. By the time it becomes a real problem, it’s already an ingrained behavior, or habit. And habits are hard to break, even for humans who find out why they are doing it.

To find ways to handle a cat’s obsessive behaviors, the first approach might be to identify the stress that may have started it, and eliminate it. If their reactive behavior isn’t too ingrained, they may relax and stop doing some things. Even so, it still could be a challenge to stop the activity.

Some causes of stress related compulsions include:

  • Removing a kitten from its mother too soon, interrupting the length of time they need to nurse and learn social skills with their siblings.
  • A chaotic household where the cat is unable to relax. Sometimes grooming is a comforting behavior, so they will groom more often, even constantly.
  • Changes in their environment. This is a list that could be quite long, but briefly, the usual ones are moving, rearranging furniture, different food, loss of a pet or human friend, new baby or pet added to the family, being left alone too long or too often, being ignored… and more.

Remedies may include:

  • Spending more time with the cat, either playing or just sitting together.
  • Feeding a quality diet to ensure optimal health. Feeling good physically promotes feeling good emotionally.
  • A veterinary wellness exam to rule out any health problems, and to discuss relaxation methods your vet might be familiar with. In extreme cases, a temporary series of tranquilizing preparations may help during a behavior modification program.

If you are unable to work through the problem on your own, this might be the time to call on a feline behaviorist for help.