Every cat lover knows how much time cats spend grooming, second only to sleeping. Cats groom themselves (autogrooming) and cats who are closely bonded will often engage in social grooming with one another (known as allogrooming). Many cats will also groom their human family, which can include licking their skin and hair as well as chewing and pulling the hair.
Why do cats chew on your hair?
They are showing affection:
Grooming between cats is a sign of familiarity and affection. Mother cats groom their kittens to keep them clean and stimulate urination and defecation. When a cat grooms you, he or she is showing you affection.
Oral fixations and compulsive behaviour:
Some cats can develop oral fixations, especially those who are weaned too early. Chewing on non-food items such as clothing or human hair can self-sooth the cat (just as thumb sucking helps children). Siamese and oriental breeds have a higher predisposition for this kind of behaviour.
Cats who are compulsive chewers (known as pica) run the risk of gastrointestinal obstructions. I don’t imagine chewing their human’s hair runs a big risk, because no human would put up with this behaviour), but other targets such as wool or clothing can become an issue.
To make you smell like them:
Hair chewing can also include head and chin rubs at the same time. This behaviour is called head bunting. Cats have glands on the lips, cheeks, and forehead which release pheromones. These pheromones (which are also located in other parts of the body) relay messages and are a form of scent communication. The pheromones located on the cat’s head induce a sense of calm and wellbeing in the cat. When head bunting occurs, the cat is marking his or her favourite humans with their own pheromone scent. Chewing and licking also help to transfer scent from the cat onto their chosen human.
They like the taste:
Hair products can have an appealing taste or smell to cats. As a child, one of our Siamese cats used to love licking my sister’s wrist which had perfume on it. She would then lick herself, presumably transferring the scent of the perfume onto her own coat.
How to stop a cat chewing your hair:
- Where practical, move away from the cat when he or she attempts to chew your hair. Hair chewing often happens when you are in bed, in which case, cover your head with a pillow or move the cat into another room.
- If the behaviour occurs at other times of the day, such as when you are relaxing on an evening, redirect the cat to an interactive toy.
- Consider switching hair products to see if this stops the hair chewing.
- Give your cat pet-friendly alternatives to chew which can include puzzle feeders, catnip or cat grass, both of which can easily be grown fresh.
Never hit or yell at a cat for hair chewing, all this will do is stress him and make him fearful towards you. The key to changing undesirable behaviours is to ignore the bad and reinforce the good.
If this behaviour becomes compulsive and the cat cannot stop it may be time to speak to a veterinarian who can work with you to stop this behaviour.