Cats sometimes lick or chew their humans’ hair as a sign of affection, just like they groom their feline brethren. On occasion, these behaviors can also be provoked by stress or health problems, or they can result when a kitten is weaned too early. You may like the sentiment but might not want your kitty messing up your hairdo with its saliva. Learn why your cat is so interested in your hair, then you can take the appropriate steps to curb this behavior.
EditDetermining the Cause
- Consider whether the behavior is normal. If your cat has routinely licked or chewed your hair a small or moderate amount, this may be “normal” behavior for your cat. It could be a sign of affection or how your cat marks you as its own. Although this behavior may be annoying, and you might want to take steps to stop it, it’s nothing to be alarmed about.
- Grooming is an important part of a felines’ social and emotional life from the moment it is born. Just as cats will lick one another to show affection, your cat may give your hair a few licks here and there to show you that it loves you.
- Your cat may also be putting its scent on you, in effect marking you as part of its territory or part of its group.
- Assess stressful situations. Cats will often begin licking behavior during times of stress, in response to a move, for example, or when a new pet has been introduced into the household. Consider whether any big changes have recently occurred in your cat’s life that may have brought on (or intensified) its hair licking.
- It’s important not to raise your voice or use physical punishments in an attempt to stop the hair licking or chewing. These things will only increase the level of stress your cat feels.
- Remember that what a cat finds stressful may not be the same things you find stressful. Try to put yourself in your cat’s shoes to determine the cause of the stress. Common stressors for cats include having visitors over, hearing family members argue, having a loud dog nearby, or seeing other cats through a window but being unable to get to them.
- Take your cat to the vet. If the behavior is constant or you’re unable to distract your cat from its hair licking or chewing by engaging it in another activity, the behavior may be compulsive and require a trip to the veterinarian. In a few hardcore cases, mood altering drugs like Prozac or clomipramine can help break the compulsive behavior.
- Additionally, if this behavior starts when a cat is older it could be a sign of hypothyroidism. This occurs in 30% of cats who are age 10 and older and needs to be diagnosed and treated by a vet. Treatment should lessen this behavior. If not, continue discouraging the behavior after your cat’s hyperthyroidism is treated.
EditDiscouraging the Behavior
- Move away from your cat when it attempts to chew your hair. If you stay in the same place and, even worse, pet or talk to your cat while it licks or chews on your hair, you send the signal that its behavior is desirable. Instead, get up and leave the area.
- If you’re in bed, you can put your head under the sheets to get away from your cat. You can also try putting a pillow between yourself and your cat (though she may just climb on top of it).
- Be consistent when discouraging the behavior. In order for this strategy to work, you need to resist the chewing every time your cat begins going after your hair, and you must act quickly. Inconsistent responses (allowing your cat to lick your hair some times but not others) will only confuse your cat.
- It will takes weeks, or perhaps even months, for your cat to get the picture, but eventually it will come to understand that the licking or chewing is not acceptable and that when it chews or licks it is not being rewarded by your company.
- Provide distraction. One of the best ways to get your cat to leave your hair alone is to give it something else to chew on: toys, treats, cat grass, or even a piece of rawhide. Physical exercise and mental stimulation, which it can get through more playtime with you, are also great distractions that don’t cost a dime.
- Five to ten minutes of exercise a day might be enough to eliminate unwanted behaviors in your cat by reducing anxiety. You might consider using a laser light or a feather wand to get your cat moving.
- While treats can be a good distraction, be careful that you don’t overfeed your cat. This could result in weight gain and health problems.
- Always make sure that the toys you provide your cat are safe and won’t cause it to choke.
- Help your cat cope. If stress does seem to be the culprit, try to find ways to help kitty cope with the situations that are causing it anxiety. For example, providing a safe space complete with familiar items may ease the stress of being in a new home, while spending extra time together may help to relieve the anxiety related to the arrival of a new furry friend or a new baby.
- It may be possible to eliminate certain stressors. For example, if your cat is licking or chewing your hair because it is stressed out by a cat it sees out the back window, pull the blind on that window so that your cat no longer sees the other animal.
- You can also invest in feline pheromone products which come in wipes, sprays, collars and diffusers. These chemicals mimic the pheromones given off by contented cats helping your troubled kitty cope with things beyond hers or yours control.
- Switch hair products. If the hair licking or chewing behavior always happens when you use a certain scented shampoo or apply a specific hairspray, stop using that product and try something new. Choose an unscented product if at all possible, or find one with a scent that’s not cat-friendly.
- Cats tend not to like citrus-scented products, so you may want to try a citrus-smelling hair product to repel your cat.
- If your vet is unable to determine the cause of the hair licking or chewing and he or she is unable to come up with a solution, your vet may refer you to an animal behaviorist.
- The first thing a kitten experiences is its mother washing its hair and face with her tongue. In a way, when your cat attends to your hair it is showing you that it accepts you as a fellow feline.
- Cats that ingest human hair may suffer from hairballs or worse, a blockage in its intestinal tract. If your cat habitually swallows hair, try very hard to stop the behavior.