Is My Cat Suffering from Allergies or Stress?

When a cat overgrooms an area, it's a sure sign that something's bothering him or her.  But how can you figure out what the problem is? Adam R. writes:

My little buddy, Turbo, seems to be going through some behavior changes or perhaps has gained allergies. He has just turned twelve and has started to lick and nibble the area on his back before his tail to the point where he is removing hair and leaving little bite marks. When I took him to the vet to see if it was fleas or dry skin, this was not the case. I started working a lot more around the time this started and we have a pretty good bond. Always playful and cuddly Furthermore, he does not seem to pull away when I pet him there. He still loves that, so there is no pain. I plan to bring him in again to test for allergies, but I also wonder about getting him a friend, as he was raised around other animals.

Adam, It sounds like Turbo is feeling stressed by your change in routine. His licking and biting of the area above his tail is likely a way for him to comfort himself in your absence. That area contains scent glands and the stimulation of that area produces more scent. That scent is very comforting to Turbo, who probably feels a little lost with you out of the home more often than you were before.

It's unlikely that this behavior is caused by allergies unless Turbo has fleas. Food allergies mostly manifest as itches around the forehead. A tell-tale sign is scratch marks above the eyes where a cat has actually drawn blood with his or her rear claws.

A new cat friend can sometimes help assuage anxiety, but it can also make the situation worse. Imagine having a roommate who suddenly insists that you share everything you own with a new, additional roommate! A new kitty can be downright threatening, especially for a cat over four years of age. At 12 years old, Turbo won't be very likely to accept the newcomer, especially if the newcomer is an hyperactive kitten.

Our recommendation is to provide additional emotional support for Turbo throughout the day. You can begin by scheduling play times for him in the morning and evening when he's most active. Give him a cue such as a special word and by playing in a certain place. We usually say "It's time for games!" The trick is that this will give him scheduled times to look forward to in his day. Even when you're gone, he'll anticipate that he'll have his game time later. A strict schedule of game times followed by feeding times will help him adjust to being alone. Schedules are very important for all cats, but especially for a cat who's home alone all day.

 
 

While he's alone, it can often help to have some soft music playing continuously. The variations in the music can both soothe and distract cats from their own inner worries. We recommend the works of Bradley Joseph but any soft music without sudden changes in volume can work. Some cats respond to soft harp music because it's in the same frequency range as the human voice.

 
 

It can also help to give Turbo some treat-dispensing toys to play with when you're away. We made our own by cutting some holes in the lid of a large Gladware container. There are many commercially available options as well.

As a last resort, you could use a Feliway diffuser. This has been proven to work to de-stress many cats, but it can also become a dependency. We wouldn't opt for it unless you've run out of options.

We hope this helps and we wish you and Turbo all the best!