Cats are meticulous about their own grooming, and anyone with a cat knows that they spend literally hours every day grooming their fur. In fact, it’s estimated by some experts that adult cats spend up to half of their waking hours self-grooming. However, some cats take grooming to another level and will even lick human hair. My own cat occasionally tries to improve upon my hairstyle with a few swipes of her tongue. What does it mean if your cat wants to be your own personal hairdresser?
While we can never know exactly what goes on in that little furry head, one theory is that this behavior is a sign of affection. Grooming is a social activity, and you’ve probably noticed that friendly cats will often groom each other, especially in places that are hard to reach such as the ears and top of the head. When your cat grooms you, it’s the cat’s way of demonstrating affection. Your cat may also be trying to “claim” you by placing her scent on you, or simply putting a comforting scent upon you, reassuring herself that you’re part of the group. Other cats lick hair because they enjoy the taste or scent of your hair product or shampoo.
Keep in mind that excessive grooming can be a sign of anxiety so if this is a new behavior for your cat, or your cat is exhibiting other signs of stress, a trip to the veterinarian may be in order.
If your cat’s grooming is bothersome, there are ways to discourage this behavior. First, don’t reinforce the behavior with attention; simply walk away if possible, or put your head under the sheets if you’re in bed. Some cats are very persistent, so you’ll have to continue this procedure until your cat gets the lesson. You can also try to divert your cat’s licking behavior to a favorite cat toy. If your cat is attracted to your hair products, switch to unscented products or ones that have a less appealing scent for your cat, especially citrus-scented products.