Q: My cat deliberately pulls out big chunks of her fur. She'll be grooming herself, and then she just starts licking faster and faster until the next thing I know, she's pulling out fur. It's something she has done since she was a kitten. Why does she do this, and how can I get her to stop?

A: Assuming you have taken your cat to a veterinarian to rule out any medical problems, such as allergies or parasites for her behavior, it's likely that the fur-pulling is an example of compulsive disorder. Similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder in humans, repetitive behaviors - which in cats often manifest as wool-sucking or excessive grooming - are an abnormal response to normal environmental stimulation.

Cats like this are generally suffering from anxiety. They may be having a conflict with another cat or are stressed by some change in the household, whether it's a new baby, a new spouse or an air freshener with a different scent. Cats who were taken from their mothers at a very early age may exhibit this type of behavior. Once you rule out medical causes, seek the help of a veterinary behaviorist who can recommend ways to reduce the cat's stress and behavior modification techniques to help the cat deal with the circumstances that trigger the compulsive behavior. In severe cases, medication may help with the anxiety, but it can work only in conjunction with behavior modification and environmental changes.