You may have heard of obsessive compulsive disorder in relation to humans but you may not be aware that compulsive behavior can also be seen in cats. Compulsions are behaviors that are driven by an irresistible desire to repeat that behavior and are usually extensions of normal behavior like eating, grooming, or sexual behaviors. Certain behaviors are deemed compulsive when your cat cannot control them and when they occur in inappropriate contexts. Among the most common compulsions in cats are wool sucking or fabric eating, constant licking, and hair chewing or pulling. Many of these compulsions can pose health risks to your cat; for example, cats who eat fabric may suffer from obstructions in their intestines and constant licking can cause skin lesions.
The causes of compulsive behaviors in cats are not exactly clear, but as in with humans, compulsive cats are usually high-stress cats that may also be suffering from some kind of anxiety disorder. In many cases, compulsions replace another behavior that the cat cannot perform. For example, if your cat is stressed because you leave the house and she wants to stop you but can’t she may resort to excessive licking in an attempt to soothe herself. These behaviors first appear in stressful situations but become more common and may occur even when your cat is calm.
It can be very difficult to cure a cat of compulsive behaviors and a combination of behavior modification techniques, drug therapy, and environmental changes may be required. Essentially, you need to teach your cat more appropriate behavior and you may need to remove stressful stimuli. It is important to never punish a cat because of her compulsions as this will often increase her stress and may actually reinforce the behavior. Moreover, restraints are also not very effective for preventing compulsions. Instead, visit your veterinarian and discuss different ways to help your cat overcome her compulsions.