As every cat owner knows, cats sometimes do funny things. They make our minds start to wonder, “why are they doing this to me?” My ginger tabby, Tom, has a strange obsession with licking, or “grooming” my feet. It doesn’t matter if I’ve just gotten out of the shower, taken off my shoes, or I’m sitting at my desk, his foot fetish is always in full effect.
We all know that cats groom themselves because they are the epitome of cleanliness.
In fact, the average housecat spends about half their day grooming themselves. But they also do this to get our “nasty” human scent off of them. Cats have a profound sense of smell (it’s their strongest, actually), so if something seems tempting to them, they sometimes have a little lick to see what it’s all about.
Another reason that cats groom, is as a means to relieve their stress. I mean, we like to pamper ourselves when we want to relieve our own stress, so why not do the same, right? But there are times, however, when cats can use “power grooming” as a way to intimidate other felines and chase them away from a favorite territory.
But what about when your cat chews your hair or tries to “groom” you?
Surely that must mean something, right? Turns out, it does! But what’s more purrfect is that your cat is doing this as a way of showing affection for you. Just as a mother cat will groom her young as a way to bond with them, your cat is doing this because they are wanting to bond with you in the same way.
Now, if your feline is licking you fresh out of the shower, or when you’ve perspired and you’re nice and salty, clearly they just want a “taste” of what’s all over your body.
There are rare cases in which a cat will lick compulsively. This can actually be a sign that your cat has developed a compulsive disorder which requires medical attention. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, “a behavior is typically considered compulsive if a cat has trouble stopping, even when you try to distract him with another activity.”
If your cat is in their golden years and they’ve suddenly started routinely trying to groom you out of nowhere, this is something that be a cause for concern. Senior cats are prone to developing hyperthyroidism. Odd changes to their behavior are a telltale sign of this condition.
Now, what about when your cat “styles” your hair?
Cats like to look their best at all times, and why shouldn’t they? Although your cat routinely grooms himself, if they take a liking to chewing or “styling” your hair, they’re doing this as a social behavior.
Although felines living in the wild are solitary creatures, cats that live in groups frequently exhibit mutual grooming called allogrooming,” Dr. Kathryn Primm, DVM.
If you have multiple cats in your home, have you ever noticed them grooming one another? When cats are bonded and cordial with each other, they’ll groom as a way to spread their love. Licking also spreads their scent, so often cats who live in close quarters will smell similarly. Think of it like a “family perfume” they all proudly wear.
It is this “family scent” they share that lets them know there is safety and friendship among them. And guess what? The same applies to you if you find yourself in their styling paws, or mouths we should say! If your cat is drawn to the scents from your shampoo and conditioner, you may find that she’ll sniff you to catch some pleasant whiffs of it.
Now, while it’s strongly suggested that cats will “groom” your hair as a term of affection, they can also perform this act for other reasons:
“Some people believe it can be related to a self soothing behavior, like thumb sucking in children and can be associated with times of stress. But not every cat that chews on their human’s hair is stressed or experienced early weaning.”
“Grooming is big,” Marilyn Krieger, certified cat behaviorist, explains. “Feel honored, because she feels that you are part of her family and part of the colony. She’s put her smell on you.”
So your cat chooses to spend their precious time spoiling you with a grooming session; great! Now you know that it is usually meant as a good thing and to try not to overthink it. Our cats do not possess the ability to speak human (sadly). So they use their feline methods to show us that they care. Enjoy it!
REMEMBER: ADOPT, DON’T SHOP; MICROCHIP YOUR PETS & SPAY AND NEUTER!