Anxiety and Compulsive Disorders in Cats

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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in Cats

This is a behavioral disorder where a cat will engage in repetitive, exaggerated behaviors that are seemingly without purpose. For example, grooming to the extent that fur is rubbed off; compulsive pacing; repetitive vocalizations; and eating, sucking, or chewing on fabric. If it continues over a long period of time, it may become fixed behavior that no longer requires the situation or environmental trigger that started the behavior in the first place. The behaviors may reinforce themselves due to the release of pain-relieving chemicals in the brain. The behavior may become a mechanism for coping when the cat is confronted with conditions that conflict with its needs, and owners may be unintentionally reinforcing the behavior by giving the cat attention or food when it behaves compulsively.

Age and gender do not seem to be factors in compulsive behavior. Some breeds or family lines may be predisposed to behavioral compulsions, with Siamese and other Asian breeds overrepresented as commonly exhibiting repetitive meowing and fabric-chewing behavior.

Symptoms and Types

  • Repetitive vocalization (meowing)
  • Excessive grooming: May follow environmental change
  • Compulsive pacing: May begin intermittently and increase in frequency
  • Sucking: May be directed at a person or object, often begins spontaneously
  • Fabric chewing: Some cats show preference for a specific type or texture, and some cats will even ingest the fabric


  • Owner’s response plays a role in the compulsive behavior
  • Behaviors may quickly increase in frequency if they are reinforced in some way by the owner, as with feeding or attention
  • Stress due to changes in surroundings
  • More common in indoor cats due to the stress of confinement
  • Mental disorder


Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your pet, taking into account the background history of symptoms and possible incidents that might have precipitated this condition. The history you provide may give your veterinarian clues as to what is underlying your cat's behavioral problems. A complete blood profile will be conducted, including a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, and a urinalysis, in order to begin the process of confirming or ruling out physical and mental causes for the behavior. There may be an underlying illness, or, it may be in response to confinement, conflict, stress, anxiety, or frustration. If your doctor suspects neurological causes for the behaviors, a computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan, or a magnetic resonance image (MRI) can be used to examine the brain and spinal cord.

If there is excessive grooming behavior, your veterinarian will take skin scrapings for laboratory examination, and possibly a skin biopsy (tissue sample) in order to determine whether there are parasites or other detectable skin disorder. Skin reactions that appear to be food related will require diet modification in order to confirm the relation.

Your doctor will be most concerned with ruling out any medical causes, such as psychomotor seizures, before a definitive diagnosis is made. Following are some things your doctor will be taking into consideration:

  • Itching:
    • External parasites
    • Fungal dermatitis
    • Bacterial dermatitis
    • Allergic dermatitis (including food allergies)
    • Skin cancer
    • Skin rash
  • Pain:
    • Nervous system disorders
    • Rupture of a vertebral disc (spine) and associated inflammation of a nerve
    • Acute sensitivity to touch or other stimuli
  • Compulsive pacing:
    • Normal sexual behavior
    • Barrier frustration from confinement
    • Nervous system disorders
    • Chronic pain
    • Brain lesions from tumors or trauma
    • Following a seizure
    • Metabolic and hormonal disorders
    • Vitamin deficiency
    • Liver disorder
    • Hyperthyroidism
    • Lead intoxication
    • Kidney failure
    • Thiamin deficiency
  • Repetitive vocalization:
    • Normal sexual behavior
    • Hearing loss
    • Hyperthyroidism
    • Lead poisoning
    • Hypertension
  • Fabric sucking/chewing:
    • Lead poisoning
    • Hyperthyroidism
    • Thiamin deficiency
  • Cats Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
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An involuntary action in which the muscles contract; caused by a problem with the brain.


To take the ovaries and uterus out of female animals; makes them unable to reproduce.


An in-depth examination of the properties of urine; used to determine the presence or absence of illness


A type of animal feed that is high in fiber; may include hay or pasture crops


A bundle of fibers that are used in the process of sending impulses through the body


A condition in which the skin becomes inflamed


Denotes an animal that is still able to reproduce or is free of cuts and scrapes


The process of removing tissue to examine it, usually for medical reasons.

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