Why do pets groom excessively?

My four-year-old female cat is well on her way to licking her belly raw. Most of the fur is gone and now a small sore...
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My four-year-old female cat is well on her way to licking her belly raw.
Most of the fur is gone and now a small sore spot has developed. Why does she do this? She seems perfectly happy, active and she eats well. How can I get her to stop this practice before it gets worse?

Kristin, San Francisco, CA

Overgrooming with hair loss is a common problem in both cats and dogs. There are a number of factors that can cause excessive grooming.

If you live in an area, such as San Francisco, where fleas exist, they are the most likely culprit. Pets that are allergic to fleas may suffer extreme irritation that leads to obsessive grooming. Usually, no fleas can be found on these pets because they spend so much time grooming. However, any time your pet has skin problems, proper flea control with Advantage or Frontline should be your first step.

Ringworm, although not as common as fleas, can cause overgrooming and skin sores. Ringworm is a fungal infection of the skin, and it can spread to people. Your veterinarian can run tests to determine whether ringworm is playing a role in your pet’s skin condition.

Finally, some pets will overgroom due to psychological issues. In cats especially, stress, anxiety and boredom can lead to obsessive grooming of the abdomen, thighs, and back. This condition, known as psychogenic alopecia, can be difficult to address, but increased enrichment (in other words, playing more with your pet) usually is recommended. For the most severe cases, medications can be prescribed as a last resort.

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