Cats are drawn to a lot of things for their own feline reasons that we’d find to be a bit strange. Among those things that they’re drawn to is our very own earwax.
Cats like earwax due to its scent. Though it’s a scent that none of us can pick up on, the cat’s 200 million scent sensors have no issue detecting attractants within earwax. Not only are they attracted to the scent, but they also enjoy the taste of the proteins and fatty acids that make up the wax.
It must be said that not all cats will go for someone’s earwax at any given opportunity. Some cats don’t take part in this behavior at all. But when they do, they do, and can be relentless about it when someone’s trying to sleep.
Cats Target Who’s Special to Them
A cat that enjoys someone’s earwax might not settle for just anyone’s but will stick with who it believes to be its direct owner, or whoever it’s closest to. In other words, if a couple sleeps side by side every night with a cat that goes after earwax, one will remain a target consistently, while the other isn’t bothered with at all.
Though they do like the scent and enjoy the taste of earwax, they have other reasons for going after it that come instinctively. Observing a cat with kittens or a couple of “buddy cats” will show us a few things that explain why this behavior carries over toward us.
A sense of Community
Cats with kittens create a scented type of bond that makes it easier for kittens to know who mommy is. A mother cat will clean inside and around a kitten’s ears to ensure that they’re clean and to also create a familiar scent within their family unit.
The mother gets its scent onto the kittens through saliva from its tongue when cleaning out the kittens’ ears. After cleaning the kittens, the mother cat will then clean herself. This combines the scent and is recognizable between members of the little family.
Cats who get along will also take part in this “smearing of the scents” behavior. This can be witnessed by anyone who has more than one cat in the household.
They’ll clean each other’s ears, then begin cleaning themselves afterward. Any other cat who they might run into would be able to know that these two are from the same house, or are together, due to the mixed unique scent.
Earwax is Tasty!
Who would’ve thought that earwax is a delicious treat?
Out of the reasons a cat might have to be licking earwax from our ears, this is probably the most selfish one. To the cat, it tastes good.
Our earwax is a blend of dead skin cells, fatty acids, and other proteins that cats love. This is a good reason why some cats can be pushy about getting into your ears.
You might like to read a good article about earwax composition and heart health.
Cats don’t have tastebuds as strong as our own or as strong as dogs would be. To compensate, cats incorporate their sense of smell where their taste buds may be lacking. This is why some cats can be such picky eaters, whereas dogs will try anything at least once.
This is also why something that seems to lack much taste, flavor, or smell to us, is amped up from the cat’s perspective. Their keen sense of smell helps them to know when something tastes good and simultaneously aids in making it taste good.
Why Do Cats Lick My Ears at Night?
We’ve talked about why they do it in the first place, but why does it seem to only happen at night, or when we’re sleeping? The answer to this is actually pretty basic.
They can reach your ears when you’re laying down, and because you’re sleeping (or at least trying to sleep) you’re a stationary target. If it happens at night, it’s because you’re trying to sleep at night.
If you’re someone who works at night and sleeps during the day, the cat will do it during the day. Most cats behave opportunistically, day or night. If they have the opportunity to start messing around with your earwax during the day rather than night, they’ll take it if they’re in the mood.
Also, most of us shower after waking up, and much of our earwax washes out and goes down the drain. Some cats might pick up on this pattern, and try to get what they can while you’re sleeping, before their window of opportunity closes once you wake and head into the shower.
My Cat is Keeping Me Awake!
Everything is cute until it either hurts or interferes with things we need to do. Cats cleaning our ears is an endearing act on their part, but it doesn’t seem that way if you’re woken up several times a night before having to get up for work.
In my article “Why Does My Cat Nibble My Ear,” I talk about a couple of tricks that you can try out if your cat’s behavior is making your life difficult. Needless to say, the easiest thing that you can do to prevent your cat from waking you up is to shut the cat out of your bedroom while you’re sleeping.
Cats Finding Used Q-Tips
If a cat who enjoys a little earwax from time to time either isn’t satisfied with what it gets from our ears or is shut out from being able to get it from the source, it might wind up going for the Q-Tips.
Q-Tips are a target either used or unused, as they make a great toy for any kitten or cat. But if they’re used, it becomes a toy that they’ll chew on and try to eat.
This can metastasize into you waking up to your bathroom trash bin’s contents scattered about the floor. Not a very nice thing to have to wake up to.
If you use Q-Tips and have cats that like earwax, make sure to place them in a bin that they can’t get into or topple over.
Ahh, cats. Spreading their strange habits into our lives leaving us to try and figure out why they’re so weird. Even after reading this, you may find that cats liking to eat earwax is strange, regardless of why it makes perfect sense to the cat.
Good reasons or it being an instinctive behavior doesn’t make it any less strange, or any less nasty to us. That’s because we’re the normal ones, not the cat. At least, as a human that’s where I stand my biased ground (as I’m sure a cat would disagree)!