The Internet abounds with strange theories and rumors. One of the most puzzling has to be the question “Why do cats like earwax?” Yes, this is a serious question that cat owners ask.
The truth is kind of gross but, if you’re a cat lover, also pretty fascinating. As it turns out, it all has to do with what is inside of your earwax – animal proteins created by your very own body.
It also might have something to do with how animals are taught to preen one another from birth and build their communities.
Hide Your Q-Tips!
Way back in 2005, a user named Angela posted on The Cat Site forum that her cat liked to lick earwax off of her boyfriend’s fingers. The Internet responded with a collective shudder… and a sprinkle of personal anecdotes.
Angela’s query led to a bunch of grossed out responses and some rather insightful ones as well. Another user posted that cats are attracted to earwax because it contains animal proteins.
Q-tips, wax earplugs, and even earbuds seem to be fair game for cats since they collect little bits of earwax.
But is there any scientific validity to these claims? Or do a few people just have really weird cats?
Does this theory hold up?
If anecdotal evidence is to be believed, cats really are naturally attracted to earwax! Just check out how quickly this cat responds to his owner placing a finger full of earwax in front of him.
In fact, you can search YouTube and find an abundance of videos just like this one.
But it seems to support the hypothesis that cats are naturally attracted to earwax. Here’s where we need to get into the nitty-gritty details of why cats love earwax.
The Sensory World That Cats Live In Blows Ours Out of the Water
First of all, we have to address the fact that cats have an amazing sense of smell, far superior to our own.
According to CatsInternational, While we humans have 5 million odor-sensitive cells lingering in our noses, cats have 200 million. Obviously, this means that cats live in a state of heightened senses.
Smells play a huge role in cat-human relationships. Just think about how your cat treats their litter box.
If you put scented cat litter in their box, your cat might avoid going in it because they dislike the overwhelming perfume scent. Some cats don’t mind if, of course, but others can’t stand it.
Cats also respond to their owners’ unique scents. For example, if your cat slips out the door, leaving out a coat or blanket that smells like you or that your cat normally sleeps on might attract them back to the home.
With that in mind, think of what your earwax might smell like to your cat. Not only does your earwax contain some of your own scents, but it also contains animal proteins to which cats are highly sensitive.
So, what is it about these animal proteins that are so darn yummy?
According to Owlcation, We humans tend to think of earwax as a gross bodily substance that is annoying to have to pick out with a Q-tip. As it happens, earwax is actually something that keeps our ears safe and healthy.
Earwax is essentially a coating inside of the ear canal that grabs the pesky debris (like dust, dirt, and dead cells) that makes its way into our ears. It can even kill harmful microorganisms!
The work that our earwax does is essential for protecting our inner ears and ear canals from damage.
Of course, our human bodies do not always work as they are supposed to. Our bodies might make too much earwax, which leads to it secreting out of the ear.
When you jam your finger into your ear canal’s opening and pull out a clump of earwax, you’re pulling out excess earwax that has seeped out.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, In that little lump of earwax, there are animal proteins. These are actually antimicrobial peptides, ten of which are already identified by scientists as being present in earwax.
These peptides actually help prevent fungal and bacterial diseases from developing in our ears.
While these proteins are helpful to us for preventing illnesses, they’re actually helpful to cats, too.
Cats Crave Animal Proteins For Nutrition
According to PetWebMD, Consider what is in your cat’s food: a lot of animal proteins. These proteins tend to come as byproducts (also known as “meal”) as well as purely from sources like beef, chicken, and fish.
Since you probably feed your cat these proteins and nutrients that they need every day, they’re quite used to the scent.
Whether they consciously or subconsciously know it, cats are driven to satisfy their nutritional needs, just like us human beings.
Cats likely do not know what type of animal proteins are in earwax, but they sure seem well-equipped at picking up these proteins’ scents. At least, that is what the theory holds.
To sum it all up, your cat likely thinks you are feeding them when you offer them some earwax on the tip of your finger.
Your Cat Might Also Be Grooming You
Another aspect of the theory as to why cats like to lick your earwax is that they think they are grooming you.
According to TheJakartaPost, Cats spend about one quarter of their lives preening themselves. They also like to groom each other and, yes, even their humans.
Grooming is something that cats learn from kitten-hood. Mother cats spend countless hours grooming their babies until the kittens are self-sufficient enough to clean themselves.
Essentially, grooming themselves and each other is a learned behavior present from birth.
Why do cats do this? Well, it is all based on creating their own community. Cats are communal creatures despite the human misconception that cats are solitary creatures.
When cats groom one another or their humans, they are leaving saliva behind as a mark of their territory.
Not only does your earwax meet some of their nutritional drives, but they are marking you as theirs. They might also be giving you some physical affection.
It certainly seems awkward and even rather repulsive, but this is common feline behavior.
Cats groom themselves in order to get rid of excess debris from their fur and skin. It is how they try to combat fleas, ticks, dirt, and their own dander.
Perhaps, on some strange cognitive level, cats believe that you need them to get rid of this rather tasty, nicely scented human debris.
But doesn’t earwax taste horrible?
Cats only have 500 taste buds. Compare that to the 10,000 the average human possesses. Cats have to compensate for their lack of taste buds while we humans have to compensate for our lacking sense of smell.
Earwax likely does not taste as bad to cats as it does to us humans since they lack our number of taste buds. In plain terms, cats just are not as sensitive to the taste of earwax (or anything else) as we are.
Do cats like each other’s earwax too?
Ever wonder why cats like inside each other’s ears? Theoretically, it could be that they are trying to lap up some of each other’s earwax. Their earwax also contains animal proteins.
Getting to that precious earwax sure does lead to some interesting behaviors. But don’t forget, cats lick each other to show community as well.
They just seem to go above and beyond when it comes to gathering up nutrients.
There you have it – the theory behind why cats like earwax. Sure, it sounds quite bizarre at first and definitely gross. But, for cats, there are likely some natural urges that drive their taste for earwax.
Yeah, sure, it seems weird at first, but the science behind the theory strongly suggests that cats somehow know that earwax is good for them.
It is perfectly healthy – and normal – for your cat to want to nibble on a little blob of earwax. The next time your cat starts licking your ear, do not hesitate to give them a tiny taste of your ear’s best defense mechanism.