It's normal to see cats grooming each other, or even other pets like a cat-friendly dog. Some owners wonder however, "Why does my cat lick my hair?" Sometimes, their cat even tries to bite or chew on their hair. There's an understandable reason for this sometimes cute and sometimes annoying behavior.
Why Does My Cat Lick My Hair?
Cats groom each other as a way to deepen social bonds. This behavior is known as allogrooming, and they are just as likely to do it to a person as to another cat. If your cat starts licking your hair, this is a sign they feel affection toward you and consider you part of their social group.
A Cat Licking Hair Establishes the Group Scent
Another reason cats will lick their human's hair is to remove traces of unacceptable scents from your hair. You'll often see cats combine this behavior with rubbing their head, chin, and cheeks against you. Known as bunting, this behavior is how they disperse their pheromones, or scent, onto you. When cats form a social group, they will groom and bunt each other in order to develop a "group scent" that is familiar to all the cats in the group. Your cat in this case is simply making sure you are smelling in a way that feels acceptable to him and makes him feel secure.
Your Cat Bites Your Hair for Attention
If you wonder, "why does my cat bite my hair?" consider context. Context is important when looking at cat behavior, as the same body motions can have several meanings depending on what's happening with their body language and the environment. A cat licking your hair and rubbing against you while you're lying down together is definitely an affectionate moment. However, if your cat starts biting at your hair and doing so energetically, this can be a solicitation to get your attention. Your cat may want you to play with him, or perhaps he wants you to bring him dinner.
Batting and Biting Hair Is Play Behavior
Another reason cats will bite at your hair is that they may think of it as a fun toy. Cats do enjoy playing with long stringy objects like yarn, ribbons and streamers, so sometimes cats will bite at and bat your hair with their paws or bite it because it's simply a lot of fun. You, however, may not find this as much fun as he does, so the best thing to do is to move him gently away from your hair and get up and walk away. Or, you can pull out a toy similar to your hair, like a toy attached to a string. Redirect him towards pouncing and chasing the toy any time he goes for your hair, so he eventually gets the idea that your hair really isn't much fun at all.
Hair Tastes Good
If you use a lot of hair products, especially ones with a strong scent or oils, your cat may lick your hair because he likes the taste. Their strong sense of smell will be attracted to strong smelling shampoos and conditioners, particularly ones that you leave in your hair after a shower. You can try switching out the products you use to see if you notice a decrease in the hair licking behavior. Cats hate the smell of citrus, so you can experiment with hair products with lemon, orange, or grapefruit scents.
Hair Licking Can Be a Sign of Stress
Cats will sometimes start licking your hair, or increasing the normal frequency of this behavior, if they're feeling stressed. It could be related to adding a new pet to the home, or a baby, or moving to a new place. They could also be stressed by something in the environment such as loud noises or feral cats in the neighborhood, or pain from a medical condition. Cats will increase grooming both themselves and you if they're stressed as a way to calm themselves. You can work to alleviate their symptoms by determining what is making them upset and visiting the vet for a full medical checkup.
Coping With Cats Licking Your Hair
If your cat licks your hair, know that most often this is a sign that your cat really loves being with you. It can sometimes be related to illness and stress, so you do want to look at his overall demeanor to make sure this is a positive behavior. If you appreciate the compliment but prefer he didn't groom you, just move him away from your head or walk away from him and give him something else to do. He should get the message with some repetition that licking and biting your hair isn't an option for him.