If you are fortunate enough to have a cat as a companion, you are probably used to sharing your bed, couch, lap, and even your food with your furry friend. But what happens when your cat starts showing an interest in your earwax? Is this crossing the line in your relationship and possibly making you gag?
It may seem like a strange pastime for your cat to forage for earwax, but there are actually some logical reasons why this odd substance holds such appeal for them. Whether they are digging through the trash or directly targeting your ears, we have some advice to redirect their behavior.
There are two main reasons why cats may be attracted to earwax, and it's not as strange as it may seem. Earwax, also known as cerumen, is a waxy and protective oil produced by glands in the ear canal. While it doesn't sound like a delicious treat to us humans, a 1991 study conducted by the University of Toronto revealed that earwax contains various components such as dead skin cells, fatty acids, and cholesterol.
Though these may not sound like enticing ingredients to us, they actually smell like survival to cats. As obligate carnivores, cats require a diet primarily consisting of meat in order to obtain the necessary nutrients. Therefore, the animal proteins present in earwax may be very appealing to your feline friend, causing them to say "Bon appétit!" to any remnants they find in the trash or in your ears.
If your cat's interest in earwax is primarily focused on your ears, it may not be solely because of the substance itself. Your cat could simply be grooming you as a sign of affection. "Allogrooming," which refers to grooming behaviors between members of the same species, is common among cats, says Pam Johnson-Bennett, author and owner of Cat Behavior Associates. It helps create a communal scent for familiarity, as scent plays a crucial role in feline identification and recognition. When cats engage in allogrooming, they often focus on areas around the head.
For bonded cats, grooming their owners, including their ears, goes beyond creating a communal scent. Johnson-Bennett explains that it is a display of affection. Therefore, the majority of cats that groom their owners around the head and face, including the ears, are doing it as a sign of love rather than an attempt to retrieve earwax.
So, in other words, your cat sees you not only as a fellow cat but a bonded companion. It's actually quite endearing, even if you still prefer more traditional signs of affection like sonnets and flowers.
Now, let's address the burning question: is human earwax harmful for cats to consume? The answer is simple: no, it is not. The only thing this behavior is likely to harm is your own appetite.
However, if your cat cannot resist rummaging through your trash, this becomes a more serious issue. Johnson-Bennett emphasizes that cats getting into the trash is unsafe due to objects such as dental floss and razor blades. While your cat may be after the wax on your used cotton swabs, there is a high chance that they will ingest some or all of the swab itself.
To prevent this, Johnson-Bennett suggests using a trash bin with a locking cover or keeping it in a cabinet. If your clever cat manages to open the cabinet, she recommends installing an inexpensive childproof latch to keep them out.
If your cat is more focused on grooming your ears and it is becoming overwhelming, there are ways to redirect their attention. Johnson-Bennett suggests using food-dispensing toys as a more constructive alternative. There are numerous puzzle feeder toys available on the market, allowing you to find the perfect match for your cat's abilities.
This redirecting strategy is not only beneficial for preserving your bond with your feline friend but also for keeping your ears dry. Another option to divert your cat's tongue away from your face is to use a Lickimat. "There are several styles available," says Johnson-Bennett. "All you need to do is spread a small amount of wet cat food on the plastic mat."
So, while your cat's fascination with earwax may initially seem strange, there are valid reasons behind it. And now you have the tools to manage their behavior and keep your ears safe.