Your cat may lick your hair as social behavior, or to show affection, spread scent, show interest, or it may be a symptom of anxiety, boredom, or a medical condition that needs veterinary attention.
Most cats lick their owner’s hair as a social act. As part of the same family, your cat believes that you and they should have the same scent. Licking your hair is not always just a way to “tag you,” though it can sometimes be a symptom of an underlying condition.
We have put together a quick guide to help you get to the bottom of your cat’s behavior. In it we cover:
- Why Cat’s Lick Their Owners
- Why Cats Lick Hair Specifically
- What Happens When Your Cat Licks Your Hair?
- Whether It Is Okay to Let Your Cat Lick Your Hair
- How to Stop Your Cat From Licking Your Hair
Why Do Cats Lick Their Owners?
Grooming As Social Behavior
Cats establish family groups, and grooming is a means of reinforcing bonds within that group.
Unlike dogs, where the submissive dogs groom the dominant dogs in the pack, the opposite behavior is seen more frequently in cats.
Studies have found that dominant cats in the family group are more likely to groom other cats in the family. Conversely, submissive cats are more likely to get groomed by the dominant cat while in a more submissive posture.
Grooming As a Way to Show Affection
Grooming is also a way for cats to show affection or to request your attention. So, your cat may be returning the favor after you pet them, or they may be not so subtly asking you for affection.
Grooming As a Way to Spread Scent
Grooming helps cats “tag” each other with a scent, so all cats in the same family share the same scent.
Grooming As Stress Relief
Cats also groom each other as a means of stress relief. Kittens often display this behavior when they feel anxious.
Researchers believe that a cat’s licking behavior stimulates the release of endorphins that relieve anxiety. Evidence of cats that obsessively self-groom when faced with anxiety-inducing situations is further proof of this hypothesis.
Cats are also known to groom out of boredom.
So, when your cat is licking your hair, it could be that they are feeling anxious or bored!
Grooming Out Of Interest
When something changes in our environment, we want to investigate it. Our cats are no different, and if they smell a new product like shampoo or gel in your hair, they want a closer look. For cats, a closer look sometimes means “taste smelling.”
Cats have something called a Jacobson’s organ on the roof of their mouth. This organ allows your cat to both taste and smell (taste smelling) something simultaneously. When your cat licks your hair, they could be taste-smelling your new hair products!
Grooming As An Instinctual Behavior
Female cats lick their kittens to soothe them, keep them clean, and stimulate them to use the bathroom. If your cat has recently had kittens, she may carry this mothering behavior over to interactions with you too.
If your cat is grooming you as an extension of her mothering duties, her behavior should wane as her kittens become more independent.
Why Does My Cat Lick My Hair?
So, why does your cat lick your hair more than any other part of you? Some people believe that cats target our hair simply because it is the closest thing that humans have to fur and our cats instinctively groom fur.
Why Does My Cat Lick My Hair After a Shower?
If you have noticed that your cat only licks your hair after a shower, it could be that they are simply licking the water droplets off your hair. It is also possible that they are showing affection, taste smelling your shampoo, or re-applying the “family scent.”
Is My Cat Cleaning My Hair?
Grooming has multiple health benefits for your cat which include:
- Stimulating the sebaceous glands to produce oils to protect and lubricate the fur.
- Removing loose hair from the coat.
- Preventing fur mats.
- Removing dirt and debris.
- Stimulating circulation.
- Cooling the body through evaporation.
But when cats groom each other, it is less about cleanliness and more about socialization and family togetherness. Since your cat sees you as another – exceptionally large – cat, their behavior likely falls into this category.
Why Is My Cat Obsessed With My Hair?
If your cat is obsessed with licking your hair, it could be repeating behavior that you have positively reinforced in the past. You may not even know that you have been positively reinforcing your cat!
Examples of positive reinforcement include:
- Giving treats
- Giving praise or attention
Doing any of these things while your cat is licking your hair is akin to offering a reward. Most animals learn to repeat a behavior that you reward them for.
You cannot “undo” positive reinforcement, but you can stop rewarding it.
What Happens If a Cat Licks Your Hair?
If a cat licks your hair, they are showing you affection and forging or strengthening their bond with you.
If you are concerned about becoming ill from your cat licking your hair – do not be. While it is possible to contract an infection or illness through your cat’s saliva, the bacteria from their saliva must enter your body through a cut, bite, or by other means of ingestion.
Is It Okay To Let My Cat Lick My Hair?
When your cat licks your hair, you do have to be aware of a couple of things:
- Chemical Exposure
When your cat licks your hair, it might swallow strands that can form a hairball. Although your cat may be able to regurgitate that hairball, it may also cause a life-threatening blockage.
Do not let your cat continue to lick your hair if you notice that they are eating it!
If your cat begins overgrooming you, it could be a symptom of stress or anxiety, and it is a good reason to check in with your veterinarian.
Licking your hair may expose your cat to dangerous chemicals. Hair products contain ingredients like non-ionic and anionic detergents, acetic acid, aluminum sulfate, hydrochloric acid, and sulfuric acid, all of which can be dangerous to your cat when ingested.
If you use hair products, do not allow your cat to lick your hair or at the very least, use organic, all-natural hair products!
How Do I Get My Cat To Stop Licking My Hair?
Before you can stop your cat from licking your hair, you need to know why they are licking your hair.
Is Your Cat Eating Your Hair?
Is your cat eating your hair as well as licking it? If so, they may have a nutritional deficiency. A visit to your vet and getting bloodwork done can correct that deficiency and put an end to eating your hair!
Does Your Cat Show Signs of Anxiety?
If your cat is licking your hair due to anxiety, you may notice other symptoms too, including:
- Appetite loss
- Excessive self-grooming
If you notice these signs, talk to your vet! There are multiple treatments for anxiety that may help your cat to achieve a better quality of life.
Is Your Cat Bored?
If your cat has little stimulation during the day and is licking your hair out of boredom, the problem is easily fixable with interactive toys, playtime, and training! The more you enrich your cat’s environment, the less time they have in which to experience boredom!
Is Your Cat Bonding With You?
If your cat is licking your hair in the same way that they lick other cats, they are bonding with you and showing you affection. If there are no negative side effects from your cat’s behavior, you may consider allowing these short “grooming sessions.”
Stopping Undesirable Behavior
If your cat is licking your hair and their behavior is undesirable, try one of these correction techniques:
- Immediately stop bad behavior – for example, if your cat is licking your hair, move or move them so that they cannot lick your hair anymore.
- Reward good behavior, but not the bad – this reinforces what you want your cat to do and tempts them to repeat it.
- Consider intervention methods – If your cat’s behavior is out of control or unmanageable, talk to your veterinarian and a trained animal behaviorist or qualified trainer.
- Do not shout, yell, or use physical punishment with your cat, they are only doing what comes naturally. You are asking your cat to assimilate to your world, so it is your job to teach them what you expect of them in a way that they can understand.
In most instances, cats lick their owner’s hair as a means of socialization. If your cat’s licking is new behavior, or if their licking has worsened recently, however, it could be a sign that something else is going on, and it is best to check in with your cat’s veterinarian.