Cats are well known for frequently grooming themselves to keep their coats clean and healthy. But some also groom their owner’s hair by chewing on it and eating it. Some owners might not give it a second thought, but there are several reasons behind this behavior.
Many cats eat human hair. Cats most commonly do this to show affection and bond with their owners. They also lick hair to transfer their unique scent from their salvia onto them. However, hair-eating is also a sign of behavioral problems, including pica, stress, or inappropriate suckling behaviors from being weaned too early. Cats that eat hair may have hyperthyroidism, or they could be hungry.
While human hair itself isn’t dangerous for cats, it can cause long-term problems, such as blockages in the gut. Similarly, you must be careful with the products you use on your hair, as they may be toxic to cats.
Why Do Cats Eat Human Hair?
There isn’t a simple explanation for why cats eat human hair. Some enjoy the taste, while others exhibit this behavior due to an underlying health or phycological issue.
If you’re wondering what it means when cats eat your hair, these are the most likely reasons:
Cats eat human hair as a way to bond with their owner. Wild cats living in groups perform a mutual grooming process called allogrooming, during which cats will groom, lick, and rub each other.
As described by the Encyclopedia of Animal Cognition and Behavior, allogrooming is a form of physical contact caregiving. Animals, including cats, use their mouths, paws, or other body parts to touch another animal.
In cats, allogrooming is licking and nibbling, which is why some cats chew on their owner’s hair. This is a technique that cats use to show their owners that they’re bonded with them and see them as part of their group.
Teaching Us To Groom
Cats lick and eat human hair to teach us how to groom ourselves. Grooming is a learned memory passed down from a mother cat to her kittens. As cats get older and become part of your family, they pass these skills onto you, who they see as part of their family.
Cats will eat your hair as a by-product of the grooming process. They ingest their own fur and discard it through their feces or vomit, so this isn’t unusual.
Like bonding, cats eat their owner’s hair during the grooming process as a sign of affection. You’ll know that your cat eats your hair out of love because it will:
- Appear relaxed within your presence
- Sit close to you
- Hold its tail upright with a slight curve at the top
- Purr or vocalize when you touch it
- Maintain eye contact
- Blink slowly at you
As a result, your cat is grooming and eating your hair because it likes you and feels comfortable around you. Not all cats will feel relaxed enough to do this.
Similarly, cats are intuitive and pick up on our moods. If they can sense we’re feeling sad or low, they’ll groom our hair to show affection and cheer us up.
Cats have unique ways of telling us when something’s up. If it’s approaching your cat’s regular feeding time or you’ve forgotten to put out fresh food, it’ll let you know by licking your head and hair. Depending on its hunger levels, it might even eat your hair to sustain itself.
Alongside their hair-eating behavior, cats may vocalize, paw at you, and appear as if they’re begging for food. Feeding your cat its regular food at regular times may stop it from eating your hair.
For some cats, hair chewing is a form of self-soothing behavior exhibited during times of stress or fear. Cats do this for several reasons. For example, it could be because you’ve recently moved to a new house or introduced a new animal into the home.
At the same time, many cats will over-groom themselves as well as eating your hair. This helps them feel reassured, especially if they’ve formed a strong bond with you. Licking also releases endorphins that can help relieve anxiety and feelings of stress.
While this behavior may only last for a short while, you’ll need to get to the root of the problem if your cat’s hair-eating is due to phycological fear factors. The important thing to remember is not to shout or scold your cat, as this will only enhance its stress levels.
Chewing, licking, and rubbing helps cats transfer their unique scent onto you through their saliva, claiming you as their own.
At the same time as eating your hair, cats will rub their heads against yours. That’s because cats have scent glands on their lips, cheeks, and forehead. They release pheromones that relay messages, communicating with other animals that you’re off-limits.
Weaned Too Early
Hair-eating can be a sign that your cat was weaned too early. Because of this, it’s likely to exhibit several inappropriate suckling behaviors as it gets older. Not only does this include eating human hair, but it can involve sucking on blankets, pillows, or body parts.
Cats that are weaned too early do this because they have difficulty learning how to groom themselves. Mother cats teach their kittens how to groom, so when a kitten’s removed from her too early, it misses out on this crucial life lesson.
Cats must remain with their mothers until they are at least eight weeks old. Some breeds, like Persians, should stay with their mother until they are 12 weeks old or more.
When cats have pica, they have a compulsion to eat non-edible items. According to Applied Animal Behavior Science, pica is most common in kittens and infantile cats. Most cats outgrow this behavior, but it can cause a range of problems, including:
- Abdominal pain
- Fever or low body temperature
- Loss of appetite
- Swollen, distended belly
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Lethargy and depression
Some cats are genetically prone to pica. It’s also a symptom of phycological stress, nutritional deficiencies, early weaning, and pregnancy.
You’ll know if your cat has pica because it won’t just swallow the hair – it’ll grind it with its back teeth first.
Hyperthyroidism is another term for an overactive thyroid gland. It’s more common in middle-aged and older cats and is caused by increased hormone thyroxine production from an enlarged thyroid gland in the cat’s neck.
Hair-eating is one of the most prominent symptoms. As described by the College of Veterinary Medicine, other signs include:
- Weight loss
- Excessive thirst
- Increased urination
- Poor fur quality
- Increased shedding
If your cat displays these symptoms at the same time as eating your hair, take it to the vet for an examination. Treatment usually involves surgery.
Why Do Cats Eat Hair Off The Floor?
Cats are curious, so if they see hair on the floor and don’t know what it is, they might eat it to determine whether it’s something tasty. While this is rare, it can happen.
However, what’s more likely is your cat enjoys the taste of hair, especially if it’s marked with your scent. Also, cats that eat hair straight off the floor may be suffering from a nutritional deficiency. The longer it goes without proper nutrition, the more hair your cat will eat.
Pica is another likely cause. We’ve already mentioned that this is a compulsive condition associated with non-edible food items. Cats suffering from it are more likely to eat the hair off the floor, as they’ll eat anything they can get their paws on.
As we’ve described, the most common symptom of pica is that your cat will grind the hair with its molars before swallowing it.
Is It Bad for Cats To Eat Human Hair?
While human hair doesn’t isn’t toxic for cats, it can cause problems. For example, if your cat eats too much, the hair could block the digestive tract. That’s because human hair is made with an insoluble protein called keratin, which cats can’t digest.
In most cases, the hair will pass through your cat’s gastrointestinal tract, where it’s excreted out as a stool. If this doesn’t happen, your cat will vomit it out. But if the hairball gets too large, it could become lodged in your cat’s small intestine, making it impossible for the body to remove without surgical intervention.
Human hair tends to be much longer than cat fur, so it can form large hairballs much more quickly. Signs of a lodged hairball include:
- Retching with nothing coming out
- Refuses to eat for more than a few days
- Difficulty breathing
If your cat frequently eats your hair and you notice any of these signs, take it to the vet for an x-ray.
Another thing to note with hair products is that those designed for regrowth contain minoxidil, which is a medication for hair loss. This is toxic to cats and can cause heart failure. As a result, avoid taking these products if your cat’s prone to eating your hair.
My Cat Licks My Hair And Bites My Head
It’s not unusual for your cat to gently nibble your head or ears as it licks and grooms your hair. That’s because it’s a display of affection. Similarly, some cats enjoy the taste of hair or the products on it and may become a bit too eager when chewing on it.
In these instances, your cat doesn’t mean anything by it – it probably doesn’t even realize it’s hurting you.
However, if your cat bites your head a bit too hard and scratches you while it’s eating your hair, it might be suffering from a behavioral or health problem that you need to address.
You’ll also need to let your cat know that its behavior isn’t acceptable. You can do this by moving your head away from its mouth and firmly stating “No” every time it bites your head. Don’t reward your cat with a treat or toy, as this will only encourage it to continue.
Instead, provide a scratching post that allows your cat to destress. Whatever you do, don’t cause your cat more stress. That’s the most likely reason why your cat is biting your head – if you make your cat more anxious, its behavior will only get worse.
How To Stop Your Cat Chewing Your Hair
There will be certain cases where you need to stop your cat from eating your hair. This could be because you don’t enjoy the feeling or because it signifies something wrong with your cat, either physically or mentally.
As a result, you can prevent your cat from chewing on your hair by following these steps:
Find The Cause
Before you do anything, try to determine what’s causing your cat to eat your hair. It might be that as soon as you improve the conditions, your cat naturally stops. Similarly, if your cat’s unwell with pica, hyperthyroidism, or OCD, getting the treatment it needs can reduce your cat’s desire to eat your hair.
However, in many cases, your cat doesn’t eat hair for a sinister reason. Instead, it’s merely showing its affection or grooming you. If that’s the case, you might want to allow your cat to continue, as it’s showing it cares about you.
Reduce Your Cat’s Stress
If you’ve determined that your cat eats your hair in times of stress, you’ll need to address the cause and improve conditions to make it feel more comfortable.
For example, if your cat doesn’t enjoy strangers in the house, provide it with a safe place to go where it can hide and protect itself.
Or, if your cat loves to be outside, fit your door with a cat flap so that it has constant access to freedom. Domesticated cats aren’t that far removed from their wild cousins, and some need an element of outdoor access.
Discourage Your Cat’s Behavior
Whenever your cat attempts to chew your hair, discourage it by moving away. If you remain in place while your cat eats your hair, it’ll see this as a signal to continue and won’t understand that what it’s doing is bad.
Similarly, for the same reason, you should try to avoid petting or talking to your cat whenever it exhibits this behavior. This will confuse the cat and encourage it to carry on.
You must act quickly whenever your cat starts doing this. Even if you allow it to chew your hair for a couple of seconds, it won’t get the memo to stop. If you’re in bed and have no way of moving, hide your head under the covers or pillow.
Distract Your Cat with Toys
One of the best training methods is to use fun toys and games to distract your cat whenever it goes to groom your hair. That’s because cats love physical and mental stimulation. As soon as your cat gets into a position close to your head, throw its favorite toy across the room and encourage it to play.
Similarly, you can give your cat treats to encourage it to stay away from your hair. However, be careful not to overfeed your cat, as you could make it gain too much weight without realizing it.
Change Your Hair Products
Some cats enjoy the taste of certain shampoos and conditioners. If you notice your cat eating your hair more often when using certain products, try using a different one for a while to see if it improves things.
Similarly, cats don’t like the smell of citrus, so try using products scented with orange, lemon, or grapefruit. Cats will also avoid mint-scented products, so tea tree oils may ward off hungry cats.
You might need to apply an element of trial and error with this method, but once you have a hair care product that your cat seems to stay away from, use it for a little while until it breaks the hair-eating habit.
While hair-eating isn’t abnormal cat behavior, it could be a sign of an underlying issue. If your cat only eats your hair once in a while, it’s not really worth worrying about. However, if this is something your cat regularly does, you must be mindful of hairballs.
To prevent this, choose food that’s designed to help hairballs pass through the gut easily. There are also several hairball control products available in pet stores that help remove hairballs and support digestion.