Facts about the animal kingdom

Why Does My Cat Lick My Hair? - Reasons Cats Groom Humans

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. September 23, 2020
Why Does My Cat Lick My Hair? - Reasons Cats Groom Humans

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Cats are capable of finding amusement out of most anything. They can make a box into a playhouse, string into a snake or even play for hours with a piece of trash. While me not see why these activities are so entertaining, they don't usually impact on us. When our cat starts licking our hair, we might feel like it is an imposition. At the very least, we might think it odd. Do they like the taste of it? Do they think we are a cat?

At AnimalWised, we explain the reasons why does my cat lick my hair? We explain why carts have this strange behavior and what it might mean for the relationship you have with your cat.

You may also be interested in: Why does my Rabbit Lick Itself?


  1. Reasons why a cat licks your hair
  2. Cats groom humans due to hygiene
  3. Cats groom humans due to smell
  4. Cats groom humans as a show of affection
  5. Cats groom humans because they want something
  6. Cats groom humans because they are stressed
  7. How to stop a cat licking your hair

Reasons why a cat licks your hair

If you have a cat in the family you will know that one of their most frequent activities is to lick themselves. If you have more than one cat, you will see they will also like to lick each other. As very hygienic animals, the purpose of this licking is to remove dirt and debris which may collect on their coat. It also helps to protect them from parasites and generally maintains health and well-being.

Often when you are lying down in repose, your cat may come over to you and lick you. They may spend a great length of time doing so, they may only do it for a few seconds. Some cats have been known to jump up on their owners and lick even when standing. The reasons why your cat licks you include:

  • Hygiene
  • Smell
  • Sign of affection
  • Wanting something
  • Stress/anxiety

As you will see, the reason why a cat licks their owner is usually benign. However, there is one circumstance where it might relay a problem. We explain further in the sections below. Before we do, you can learn more by taking a look at our article on why cats lick each other.

Cats groom humans due to hygiene

As we have stated above, cats lick each other and themselves to keep them clean. When a cat is licking us, they may be doing the same thing. We may think this implies we are dirty, but cats will lick themselves regularly to maintain themselves. It doesn't matter if they have any visible dirt, it is a regular part of their routine which they would only miss if they were ill.

This is why it is common for cats to groom humans when the person is lying down. When a cat goes down to rest, it is common for them to have a wash. This means they will lick themselves and then curl up or lay out for a nap. When our cat sees us lying down, they may come over to lick us so we are clean before we sleep. The cat will often lick a human, lick themselves and then go down to sleep at our feet.

Feline taste buds are not only used to recognize flavor. They are formed in such a way that they create bristles similar to a hairbrush. This is because they are made out of a hard substance known as keratin. It feels a little like sandpaper on our skin, but some people find it quite pleasant. Cats will lick our skin, but they will often lick our hair because they can also brush it for us, as they would do their own.

Although a cat might lick us before we go to sleep, you may want to know more about why cats lick us when we are sleeping.

Why Does My Cat Lick My Hair? - Reasons Cats Groom Humans - Cats groom humans due to hygiene

Cats groom humans due to smell

This is much more simple and doesn't have much to do with feline behavior. It may simple be that you have something in your hair which is appealing to them. Whether it is a little bit of food or something they find interesting, once they smell it, they may lick to investigate it. The smell of shampoo or conditioner we use may also be appealing to them and cause them to groom you.

Cats groom humans as a show of affection

Cats will lick other cats they consider family. They will not lick a cat they are uncomfortable with as they are territorial animals and will more likely perceive them as a threat. When a cat licks a human, at the very least it means they feel comfortable around them.

All cats are individuals and some are more friendly than others. Even at this, few will feel comfortable licking a stranger. We usually have to develop a close bond with them before a cat will feel comfortable enough to sleep beside us or lick us. When they do, it is not only a sign of comfort, but a sign of great affection. They consider you part of the family.

Humans have their own body language and communication methods. For cats, licking is a form of their communication. It means they want to protect you, keep you clean and healthy, because they love you. It is one of many ways cats display their affection to humans.

Cats groom humans because they want something

Cats also have various ways to try to get our attention. Often they will meow, something they seem to do more with humans than they will with other cats. It is possible the cat will lick then bite you, something which may indicate they are upset or want you to stop petting them. However, they may lick and bite to simply get your attention. The reason why a cat licks your hair may also simply be to get your attention, especially if you have been sleeping and they want to wake you up gently.

Cats groom humans because they are stressed

When a cat is stressed, they will have to find different ways to relieve their anxiety. They may become energetic, destructive or even aggressive. This only usually occurs when the causes of the stress are prolonged. When the cat is stressed over a long period of time, it can manifest in various ways. This is why we always need to be careful to look out for the different signs of stress in cats.

One such sign is that they will groom themselves too much. Although a healthy and happy cat will groom themselves a lot, a stressed cat will do it too much. Especially since they have a rough tongue, the cat can even tear parts of their fur out.

How stress manifests in cats will vary according to acuteness and individual circumstances. However, if a cat licks your hair too much, it may mean they are stressed any trying to feel better. Assess any reasons why the cat may be stressed and address the problem.

Why Does My Cat Lick My Hair? - Reasons Cats Groom Humans - Cats groom humans because they are stressed

How to stop a cat licking your hair

As you can see, as long as the cat is licking your hair without showing signs of stress, it is likely a pleasant and positive sign for your relationship. It means you have a strong bond and letting the cat lick your hair and groom is a good way to strengthen it. However, there may be some valid reasons why you do not want the cat to lick your hair.

Some people may have very thin hair and find the cat licking them to be uncomfortable. Others may worry about the cleanliness or simply find the sensation unpleasant. Whatever the reason, if you really don't want your cat to lick your hair, there are some things you can do to stop it. You should follow these tips:

  • When the cat begins to lick you, do not stroke or talk to them. These stimuli will reinforce in their mind that licking you is positive.
  • As soon as the cat runs its tongue through your hair, move away from them so they stop the action. After doing this enough time, the cat should start to understand it is not something you enjoy.
  • If you do not want to get out of bed, you can wrap your head in a towel, sheet or piece of clothing. You can even put a pillow over your head to prevent the cat form gaining access. You will have to be careful as it is possible the cat will think you are playing hide and seek.
  • Offer a toy to distract them.
  • Never yell, scold or push them away violently. This will only lead to negative feelings and may hurt your bond.

Cats licking your hair, themselves or other cats have different interpretations depending on the context. Take a look at our video gallery at the bottom of the page to learn more about what cats licking might mean.

If you want to read similar articles to Why Does My Cat Lick My Hair? - Reasons Cats Groom Humans, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

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