All of my cats seem to have weird habits and quirks. One of the most bizarre quirks I’ve experienced to this date is when one of my cats choose to bite, chew or lick my hair.
I first experienced a cat chewing on my hair when our family cat, Walker, would sleep by my head. I would often wake up to Walker happily grazing on my hair as he purred, waiting for me to wake up. Was it because my hair smelled good? Was he hungry?
The habit of chewing seems to carry on to my mother as she’s now the primary caregiver for Walker. I still get text messages from her stating things like, “your son [Walker] keeps chewing on my hair! Can you tell him to stop!” and while I’ve explained the ways she could get Walker to stop chewing on her hair, she hasn’t… though I think it’s because she finds it to be a cute habit.
At first, I thought that my cats would only chew on my hair while I was sleeping as a way to wake me up, but that doesn’t seem to be the case at all.
Beau, for example, will frequently stand behind my partner and I while we sit the couch and will nibble away at our hair. Though Beau has been caught chewing and licking our hair, he never actually rips or ingests any of it. So why does he do it at all?
The truth is that, like many other cat behaviours, chewing on an owner’s hair can have multiple meanings for a cat. One of the reasons a cat may choose to chew on their owner’s hair is as a way of displaying affection, although chewing on hair can also be a sign of underlying health problems.
So, let’s cover all of the reasons your cat may be nibbling away at your scalp, how you can tell why they are chewing your hair and how to prevent it.
I LOVE YOU
The most common reason cats chew or lick their human counterpart’s hair is because they are trying to be affectionate.
In the past, we’ve covered some of the various ways cats show affection to their humans, such as kneading, headbutting, biting, then licking your fingers and rubbing themselves against your legs, so you can simply add chewing hair onto that list!
As you may have already noticed, when cats aren’t spending their time sleeping and being lazy, they spend a good chunk of their time grooming themselves and others around them. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re a cat, dog or human; cats are obsessed with cleanliness and need to make sure that everyone in their family is clean.
If you take a closer look at your cat while they groom themselves, you may notice that every so often they will begin chewing on the fur they are cleaning. What is actually happening is your cat is using their teeth to help detangle and remove extra debris that they could not reach otherwise.
As a side note, cats may also use their teeth to clean their paws or even nails, so don’t be surprised if you see this.
Now, cats may still try to groom or clean you even if you’ve just taken a shower as cats don’t recognize fragrances from soaps or shampoos as clean scents. Cats, however, do recognize scents, and they know their own is clean, which leads me to the next point.
YOUR CAT IS TRYING TO SCENT YOU OR MAKE YOU SMELL LIKE THEM
Although considered a less common method of scenting, sometimes cats will chew on their owner’s hair as a way of making the owner smell like them.
A cat can scent you by chewing on your hair as cats have scent glands on the sides of their mouths, similar to why a cat would rub the side of their mouth against you.
Cats who are trying to scent you by chewing on your hair will often rub themselves against you shortly after or may even meow a few times to get your attention. If you notice your cat wants a great deal of attention, they may also be trying to get you that they need something, which we will talk more about later.
I’M HUNGRY/WANT YOUR ATTENTION
Sometimes cats develop some of the most annoying ways to let you know that they want attention or that they are hungry. Not shockingly, hunger is the main reason Walker chews on our hair.
Cats may choose to chew on your hair for attention or hunger, as this method is considered to be gentle and will more often than not get a response out of you.
You mustn’t condition your cat into understanding that chewing on your hair gets them the things that they want. There are much better methods your cat can let you know that they are hungry, but more importantly, it is your responsibility to understand how much and how often your cat needs to eat.
I strongly recommend setting a feeding schedule for your cat, so they begin understanding that there is a routine to the day and will never be left too hungry or worried that they will not be fed.
Scheduling Beau’s feedings and playtime really helped reduce his stress and made his chewing decline to rarely within a few months.
It is essential to understand that cats will repeat behaviours or tactics when they receive the attention or reward they were asking for. Still, I will cover more methods of discouraging behaviour further below.
YOUR CAT WANTS TO SUCKLE
You may not be aware of your cat’s life before they were adopted, especially if you adopted your cat from a shelter or rescue.
Out of the seven cats in our family, we only know where Walker came from since we met him, his siblings and his mother before welcoming him into the family.
Chances are if you are unaware of your cat’s beginnings or where they come from, you aren’t thinking about your cat’s mother or whether or not your cat was separated/weaned from their mother too early. The reason I bring up a cat’s mother is that kittens who are separated from their mother early have been known to exhibit odd behaviours such as suckling on wool, cloth or even plastic.
Often suckling behaviour is attributed to a condition called Pica, which can also stem from being removed from a mother too early. Although excessive chewing and suckling can be associated to a cat who was separated from their mother too soon, it can also be a sign of a cat who has a nutrient deficiency or an underlying health condition.
Cats who chew on hair because they have the craving or need to suckle should be given alternative chew toys and should be taken to the vet for some blood work, especially if they try to swallow the hair. It’s essential to be on top of your cat’s health, especially because nutrient deficiencies can flood into other aspects of your cat’s life.
Note that the desire to suckle is not always a bad sign or a symptom of underlying health conditions.
It’s relatively easy to stress out a cat, and we often stress out our cats without even knowing.
Stresses can include but are not limited to other animals in the area or home, loud noises, not enough hiding spots, tensions between family members, changes in routine, or change in food.
Cats will often overgroom themselves or others when they are feeling stressed out. You can relate a cat overgrooming to a human scratching their head, itching their skin or tapping a surface because of anxiety.
Cats who overgroom themselves because of stress will often lick their skin raw resulting in hair loss or even whisker loss. You must try to to get down to the root of your cat’s stress before it gets to the point where your cat licks themselves raw as not only is it uncomfortable for the cat, but it can also lead to illness as similar to humans a cat’s skin is a protective shield from illness.
In most circumstances where stress is minimal and caused by a factor that was recently implemented, a vet visit is not required; however, stress can be an ongoing complication that your cat naturally struggles with due to their personality or past trauma.
It is vital that you log your cat’s daily activities as cats are creatures of habit who commonly respond immediately to their surroundings and things that bother them. A log of daily activities will not only help you figure out what is stressing your cat but will also be very helpful if/when you speak to a vet about the behaviours your cat is exhibiting.
If, your cat is stressed and the stress does not seem to be caused by a third party trigger, your vet may recommend a change in diet, a product called Feliway, or may even suggest trying out some calming music for your cat.
Methods will vary in success based on the personality of the cat and the agreed cause of the stress; however, as stress is not a cookie-cutter problem, your vet will require you to put in a reasonable amount of effort monitoring your cat to help get to the root of the problem.
If your vet cannot get to the root of the problem, they may refer you to a feline behaviouralist or another vet who has had more experience with resolving cat stress.
As mentioned before, sometimes when a cat tries to chew on hair, it is a sign that your cat has an underlying health problem. One of the most well-known health problems associated with a cat chewing/biting on hair is hyperthyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism is most common in cats over the age of 12 and is often signified by a cat continually needing to eat, while still consistently losing weight.
It is best to consult your vet if you suspect your cat is experiencing hyperthyroidism, especially because conditioning this illness commonly requires a change in diet and lifestyle.
HOW DO I DISCOURAGE MY CAT FROM CHEWING OR LICKING MY HAIR?
Dependant on why your cat chews on your hair, discouraging the behaviour may be as simple as encouraging a different behaviour that you appreciate more.
Cats are aware when we are unhappy with them and will often do anything to make sure that their owner is happy. So, if your cat exhibits a behaviour, you don’t like, make sure to ignore them and only respond when they have come back with a tactic you do appreciate.
For example, Kalista loves to bite our legs, and I absolutely hate it, so I either ignore her whenever she does it, which often leads to Kalista rubbing herself against me instead. You can also use training words or sounds like “uh-uh” while placing your finger in your cat’s view to help reinforce that this is not desired behaviour.
The most important thing is that you remain consistent no matter what method of training you choose to use. Any signs that you accept your cat chewing, licking or biting on your hair will cause your cat to “relapse” or continue exhibiting this behaviour.
Give your cat a toy immediately after they chew, lick or bite on your hair to help your cat understand that toys are a way to get out the impulse to chew.
Your cat is inevitably going to end up eating or swallowing some hair from time to time, simply due to the way that a cat’s tongue works.
The bad news is that cats are not able to fully digest hair, whether it’s their own or a human’s. Eating or swallowing hair often leads to hairballs or in the best case scenario, ends up in their poops.
Eating human hair is not considered dangerous towards cats; however, it should still be avoided if possible.
At the end of the day, if you are concerned about your cat’s wellbeing or think that your cat is chewing or biting on your hair because of an underlying health condition, I strongly recommend taking your cat to the vet to make sure that everything is alright with them.
Often longterm illnesses go undetected because cats don’t let us know that something is bothering them and will often snowball until you can’t do much to help.
So pet parents, I’m curious, what’s the reason your cat has chewed on your hair? Did you ever get them to stop? Let me know in the comments below!