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A cat lick can feel strange enough on human skin, but it elevates to a new level when your kitty lands her sandpapery tongue on your locks, producing a sticky cowlick.
Is your feline trying to comment about your hairstyle? Giving you a hint about your cleanliness? And is hair licking something to be concerned about?
To find out, we asked board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. E'Lise Christensen Bell, DVM, of Veterinary Behavior Consultations of NYC, part of NYC Veterinary Specialists in Manhattan.
Dr. Christensen Bell says hair licking could be a cat's way of expressing fondness.
“It's normal for cats to groom the head areas of 'preferred associates’ or friends — especially if they are related,” she explains. “Obviously, cats aren't related to their people, even though we often pretend they are, but hair licking could have its roots (pun intended) in this natural grooming behavior.”
According to Dr. Christensen Bell, some cats may also just enjoy the taste of hair products or even the natural oils found in human hair.
She adds that people often inadvertently reinforce the behavior. “Many cats get extra attention and petting when they lick hair, which can teach them to lick longer and more often over time.”
You can take steps to stop such licking if it is bothersome. “For instance, you should not look at, talk to or touch a cat who is licking hair, unless you are comfortable having the behavior increase in frequency. If you want to stop the behavior in progress, get up and leave,” Dr. Christensen Bell says. “If you're in bed, cover your head with blankets until the cat goes away. Be careful, though, because some cats really enjoy this hide-and-seek game!”
If you remove your hair from a cat’s reach as soon as she starts to lick it, the behavior should decrease in frequency.
“In addition,” Dr. Christensen Bell says, “providing other oral outlets, like food-dispensing toys or frozen cat food smeared on a plate at trigger times (such as bedtime), can enrich a cat's environment and decrease the likelihood that she will lick your hair.”
Dr. Christensen Bell also recommends making your hair less appetizing by spraying it with a scent that your cat doesn’t like, such as citrus.
If your kitty is slow to respond to these tips, don't fret. Hair licking is unlikely to harm your feline. “Unless the cat is eating the hair or obviously becomes sick after licking human hair, this is usually not something to worry about,” says Dr. Christensen Bell.
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