Does your cat ever bite or chew on your hair? It might not be something that bothers you since you probably know instinctively that it is a positive behavior. Our cats often exhibit this conduct when you are quiet and cuddling together, but sometimes it can be a result of fear or stress.
Although felines living in the wild are solitary creatures, cats that live in groups frequently exhibit mutual grooming called allogrooming.1 Group cats will rub, lick, and gently bite the other cats in the group. They are seen most often interacting in this way with those individuals with whom they share the closest bonds, often siblings and parents. Through these intimate grooming moments, bonds are solidified and tensions are reduced. The interactions also tend to confirm social hierarchy.
Among these groups, individual cats form special partnerships or preferences with individuals, termed “preferred associates”. These cats interact with each other in a special way, hanging out together, and trading mutual grooming more frequently.
Early weaning is thought to force some kittens to develop oral type behaviors, including chewing hair and sucking on their humans. Some people believe it can be related to a self soothing behavior, like thumb sucking in children and can be associated with times of stress. But not every cat that chews on their human’s hair is stressed or experienced early weaning.
Of course, your hair smells like you and clearly belongs to you, so your cat includes it in her repertoire of grooming you. You know your cat the best. If she engages in this behavior when you are petting and cuddling her, it is probably not a stress related or self soothing behavior. When she does this, she could be proving to you that you are a preferred associate or someone who is her favorite.
If you do not like this action, try to redirect your cat to do something else or even end the cuddle session. Since he probably enjoys the time with you, he will be able to learn that you don’t like it and cuddle you in another way, as long as you are consistent. Every time he grabs your hair, be sure to redirect, so that he knows exactly what you don’t want him to do, but don’t punish him. After all, he doesn’t want to be a preferred associate with just anyone. You have been included in a very elite group by a very discriminating creature. Take it as a compliment.
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- Social organization in the cat: a modern understanding. J Feline Med Surg.2004 Feb;6(1):19-28. Crowell-Davis SL, Curtis TM, Knowles RJ.