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Obsessive compulsive behaviour in cats, Stereotypic Behaviors in Cats

Understanding Your Pet's Medical Diagnosis

What are stereotypic behaviors in cats?

Stereotypic behaviors in cats are a group of repetitive, relatively non-varying behavior patterns. The behavior appears to have no purpose. Stereotypic behaviors include compulsive pacing, repetitive meowing (vocalizing), fabric sucking and chewing, or licking and pulling the hair.

What causes stereotypic behavior in cats?

The exact cause or causes of stereotypic behavior in otherwise normal cats have not been identified. Stereotypic behavior may be a response to stress or boredom. Over time, the behavior becomes fixed and independent of what caused it in the first place. These behaviors may allow some animals to cope with difficult situations. It has been suggested that cats that chew and suck fabric may have been weaned too early. Cats experiencing changes in their surroundings also are likely to develop stereotypic behavior. These behaviors are reported more commonly in cats living indoors, although this observation may be due to the higher level of attention such cats receive rather than a true increased likelihood of indoor cats having behavioral problems. On the other hand, these behaviors may be related to the stress of confinement indoors or to social isolation, such as with pacing and other forms of barrier frustration seen in zoos.

Certain breeds may be predisposed to stereotypic behaviors. Siamese and other Oriental breeds may be more likely to have repetitive vocalizing or fabric chewing and sucking.

What are the signs of stereotypic behavior in cats?

The stereotypic behaviors are the signs that will be observed. The pet guardian may note that the problem started with a change in the cat's life, such as a move to a new home or a new household member. The pet's behavior may be obvious or may occur secretly. The cat may pace back and forth and the pacing may increase in frequency. Pacing may occur at a time of confinement. The cat may meow incessantly. Cats that chew or suck fabric may show a preference for a specific fabric, such as wool or silk. Some cats suck the fabric in a manner reminiscent of suckling behavior; other cats chew the fabric and swallow it. The cat may become adept at detecting opportunities to obtain its favorite fabric. The pet may groom excessively to the point of exclusion of other activities. Partial to complete loss of fur may occur and the skin may be normal or it may be inflamed with skin lesions, such as scratches or sores.

How is stereotypic behavior diagnosed in cats?

The veterinarian will obtain a good history and perform a physical examination. The veterinarian will be interested in a detailed account of the cat's behaviors, time of onset, duration of the behavior, and any changes in the cat's environment that may have caused the behavior. Medical disorders need to be ruled out before a behavioral diagnosis can be made. Nervous system disorders can cause pacing; deafness or lead intoxication can cause repetitive meowing (vocalization); and thiamine deficiency can lead to fabric sucking and chewing. Other medical disorders (such as parasites or allergies) can cause loss of fur. Complete blood counts (CBCs), blood chemistries, urinalysis, spinal tap, or radiographs (X-rays) may be indicated to rule out medical problems.

How is stereotypic behavior in cats treated?


If the stereotypic behavior is determined to be a primary behavioral problem and not related to a medical disorder, the cat will be treated by controlling the cat's environment and by behavior modification.

Suggested environment controls include:

-Reduce stress by eliminating unpredictable events as much as possible; for example, feed at the same time daily
-Do not confine the cat to close quarters
-Keep fabrics of interest out of the cat's reach and increase dietary roughage

Behavior modification includes:

Ignore the behavior as much as possible; do not reward the behavior by paying attention to it

Note details of the time and place of behavior problems; plan an alternative behavior (such as play or feeding) at that time

Reward the cat for good behavior; do not punish the cat for bad behavior as punishment may increase fear or aggressive behavior and may disrupt the human-animal bond
Environmental control and behavior modification are the preferred methods of management; however, behavioral medications may be needed concurrently. If needed, the veterinarian will prescribe the appropriate medication. The goal is to use the medications until the behavior has been controlled for two months, then to attempt to decrease the medication gradually.

What is the prognosis for cats with stereotypic behaviors?

The prognosis (outcome) for cats with stereotypic behaviors varies. Treatment of behavioral problems requires consistency and a schedule of follow-up evaluations with the veterinarian for success. The pet guardian will need to make adjustments to the treatment according to the responses of the cat. Medication may be changed if the first medication selected is not effective. Improvement in the cat's behavior can be achieved, but realistic expectation must be made. Immediate control of a long-standing problem is unlikely.

Larry Tilley's Recommended Info site (www.VetMedCenter.com)