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Understanding and Treating Abnormal Behaviors in Cats

Cats are known for their calm demeanor, but what happens when their behavior becomes abnormal? Cat behavioral disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and other repetitive behaviors, may indicate underlying health or environmental issues.

In this article, we’ll discuss common behavioral issues in cats, their causes, and treatment options.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in Cats

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a behavioral disorder seen in cats. It involves repetitive and ritualistic behaviors that cats engage in without apparent reason.

OCD can be caused by genetic factors or environmental stressors. Certain breeds, such as Oriental and Siamese, may be more predisposed to OCD due to genetic factors.

Signs of OCD in Cats

Cats with OCD may display a number of repetitive behaviors such as overgrooming, wool-sucking, tail-chasing, pacing, vocalizing, and feline hyperesthesia syndrome. Overgrooming is a common sign of OCD, where cats incessantly clean themselves, leading to bald patches and skin irritation.

Wool-sucking is another behavior seen in cats with OCD. Here, cats chew on fabrics and may swallow them, leading to intestinal obstructions.

Diagnosing OCD in Cats

Diagnosing OCD in cats requires a veterinarian to rule out medical causes, such as allergies or skin problems. A thorough history and physical examination may be conducted, along with lab tests to rule out metabolic diseases.

Veterinary behaviorists may use specialized tools, such as behavioral questionnaires, to help diagnose OCD in cats.

Treating Feline Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

There are many treatment options for cats with OCD, including predictable schedules, nutritional supplements, natural remedies, prescription medications, and treatment protocols. Keeping a predictable schedule can provide a sense of security for the cat and reduce anxiety.

Nutritional supplements, such as antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, may help to reduce OCD behaviors. Natural remedies, such as chamomile or valerian root, may also help calm cats with OCD.

Prescription medications, such as fluoxetine, clomipramine, and amitriptyline, may be prescribed to help reduce OCD behaviors. Treatment protocols may involve a combination of the above options and require close monitoring to assess progress.

Abnormal Behaviors in Cats


Overgrooming in cats can be a sign of allergies or skin problems. In some cases, it may also be an OCD behavior.

Treatment may involve identifying and treating the underlying cause of the behavior. This may involve anti-inflammatory medications, medicated shampoos, topical creams, or special diets.


Wool-sucking is an abnormal behavior seen in some cats who have a predilection for chewing on fabrics. Wool-sucking may be a coping mechanism for stress, boredom, or anxiety.

The behavior can be redirected by providing the cat with chew toys or environmental enrichment. If the behavior persists, medication or behavior modification therapy may be necessary.

Tail-Chasing and Self-Mutilation

Some cats may engage in tail-chasing or self-mutilation as a way to deal with stress or anxiety. Treatment may involve identifying and addressing the underlying cause of the behavior.

This may include environmental changes, such as providing more hiding spots or vertical spaces, or medication. Behavior modification therapy may also be effective in reducing tail-chasing or self-mutilation behaviors.

Pacing and Vocalizing

Some cats may pace or vocalize excessively in response to environmental or physical triggers. Reinforced behaviors, such as petting or offering treats, may also contribute to excessive pacing and vocalization.

Treatment may involve identifying and removing the trigger, as well as teaching the cat to engage in more positive behaviors through behavior modification therapy. Medication, in some cases, may be necessary to reduce anxiety and stress levels.


In conclusion, understanding abnormal behaviors in cats is important in ensuring our feline companions stay healthy and happy. By recognizing the signs of OCD and other repetitive behaviors and seeking veterinary treatment, we can help improve the lives of our furry friends.

Understanding the causes and treatment options for the various behavioral issues seen in cats will allow us to take proactive measures to manage and alleviate their behaviors.

Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome

Feline hyperesthesia syndrome (FHS) is a condition where cats experience sudden episodes of rippling or twitchy skin, sensitivity to touch, and vocalization. The condition is also referred to as rolling skin syndrome or twitching skin syndrome.

FHS can occur in any breed of cat, but is more common in Oriental and Siamese breeds.

Symptoms of FHS

The most common symptom of FHS is sudden episodes of rippling or twitchy skin, often accompanied by vocalization. The episodes may be triggered by touch or other environmental stimuli.

Cats with FHS may also show heightened sensitivity to touch, avoid being petted or groomed, and exhibit aggressive behavior during episodes.

Causes and Diagnosing FHS

The exact cause of FHS is unknown, but it is believed to be related to a neurological disorder. Other possible causes have been suggested, such as allergies, nutritional deficiencies, and environmental stressors.

FHS can be diagnosed through a physical examination, ruling out other causes and identifying the characteristic symptoms. A veterinarian may also perform blood and urine tests to rule out underlying medical conditions.

Treatment for FHS

There is no cure for FHS, but treatment can be managed through behavior modification, medication, and lifestyle changes. Behavior modification may include redirecting the cat’s attention during an episode, providing environmental enrichment, and avoiding situations that trigger episodes.

Medications that may be used to treat FHS include anti-convulsants, anti-anxiety drugs, and antidepressants. Lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, a balanced diet, and stress management can also help to manage FHS.

Interaction with Cats with OCD

Cats with OCD require special attention and care to avoid reinforcing their abnormal behaviors. The following tips can help pet owners interact with cats with OCD in a positive and beneficial way.

Avoid Reinforcing OCD Behaviors

Positive reinforcement is an effective method of training for cats, but it is important to avoid reinforcing OCD behaviors. If a cat constantly overgrooms, for example, pet owners should avoid giving them attention or treats during these episodes.

Instead, try to redirect the cat’s attention to a more positive behavior, such as playing with a toy or offering a treat after grooming is finished. Routine and predictable schedules can also help cats with OCD feel secure and reduce their anxiety.

Using Calming Supplements

Calming supplements may be helpful for cats with OCD. Nutritional supplements such as tryptophan, L-Theanine, vitamins, and herbs such as chamomile, valerian root, or catnip may help to reduce anxiety and ease the symptoms of OCD.

These supplements should be used under the guidance of a veterinarian.

Importance of Medication and Monitoring

In some cases, medication may be necessary to manage OCD behaviors in cats. Medications such as SSRI’s (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) may be prescribed to help reduce repetitive behaviors and improve the quality of life in cats with OCD.

Pet owners should work closely with their veterinarian to monitor the cat’s progress, make any necessary treatment adjustments, and communicate any changes or concerns. It is important to note that medication should not be considered a ‘cure’ for OCD and should only be used in conjunction with behavior modification and other lifestyle changes.


Abnormal behaviors in cats, such as OCD and FHS, can significantly impact a cat’s quality of life. Understanding the signs and causes of these conditions is important in ensuring prompt diagnosis and treatment.

There are various treatment options available, ranging from behavior modification and lifestyle changes to medications and supplements. Pet owners should work closely with their veterinarian to develop an effective treatment plan that meets the cat’s individual needs and preferences.

By providing a safe and supportive environment, cats with abnormal behaviors can lead happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives. Throughout this article, we’ve discussed two common behavioral disorders in cats: obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and feline hyperesthesia syndrome (FHS).

OCD is characterized by repetitive behaviors such as overgrooming and wool-sucking, while FHS is marked by sudden episodes of twitchy skin and sensitivity to touch. Treatment options for both conditions range from behavior modification and lifestyle changes to medication and supplements.

It’s essential to understand the signs and causes of these conditions and work closely with your veterinarian to develop a treatment plan that meets your cat’s needs. By providing a safe and supportive environment, cats with abnormal behaviors can lead happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives.

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