If you’ve noticed that your cats seem to have an affinity for ears and earwax, then you’re not alone. Many cat owners first notice it when watching their cats groom each other. Often, cats seem to spend more time licking and grooming the ears than any other part. And not just the outside of the ears, but the inside as well.
Another common occurrence is to find that your cat has dug through the trash to get the old Q-tips that you’ve already used to clean your ears with. Does it seem like a trend is emerging? In truth, cats are drawn to earwax. They really do like the waxy golden substance — it’s not just in your head. But to figure out why we’re going to need a closer look at both cats and earwax.
What’s in Earwax?
You’ve probably never given much thought to what’s inside your earwax, and that’s perfectly normal. For most, it’s just another bit of waste that your body creates. Get it out, throw it away, don’t think about it again. But there’s more in your earwax than you might realize. Earwax is full of dead skin cells from the insides of your ears. Fatty acids also accumulate in earwax, as well as cholesterol.
Why Do Cats Like Earwax?
These fats and proteins represent nutritional value to a cat, even if we would never think of earwax as a nutritional substance. As such, cats are naturally attracted to it. Subconsciously, their brains are picking up the scent of those proteins and fats as nutrition, which attracts them to it. This is why you’ll catch cats licking each other’s ears so fervently. They’re essentially trying to get fed!
How Are Cats Drawn to Earwax?
But how is a cat’s nose so sensitive to the scent of these fats and proteins? It appears that cats have developed an incredibly strong sense of smell to make up for their lack of taste buds. On average, humans have about 10,000 taste buds, but cats have just 500! So, their noses work double effort, attracting them to the sources of nutrition they need.
Cats can’t taste anything sweet. They’re attracted to fats and proteins, like those found in earwax. A feline’s nose isn’t nearly as strong as a dog’s, since cats have fewer scent receptors. But cats might actually be more discerning with their noses. This is because cats use their sense of smell to make up for taste, in a similar way to how our own noses enhance our eating experience. If you’ve never tried it before, hold your nose while you eat something. You’ll be amazed at how little you taste it when scent is removed.
What if Your Cat Tries to Lick Your Ears?
Cats often use grooming as a bonding experience. But when they’re digging into each other’s ears, they’re going after more than just bonding. So, when your cat starts licking in your ears, you might think they’re trying to bond, but they’re actually trying to get something tasty that they can smell inside your ear. It might seem gross, but that’s the reality of it.
Should you let your cat engage in this behavior with you? Probably not. Your cat’s saliva is full of bacteria that you don’t want to get into your bloodstream through any small abrasions you may not be aware of.
Moreover, cat saliva contains the allergen that causes two-thirds of cat allergies. Getting a high concentration of that allergen injected into your ear canal isn’t the safest idea. Additionally, cat breath is pretty smelly, so that’ll also encourage you to keep your distance.
As it turns out, cats really do like earwax. The scent of all the dead skin cells, fatty acids, and cholesterol is just too appealing for a feline to resist. So, when you see your cats engaging in excessive grooming of the ears or going after your used Q-tips, you’ll know why. It’s nothing to worry about. However, you probably shouldn’t let your cat go after the wax that’s still inside your ears, just as a general safety precaution.
Featured Image Credit: AJR_photo, Shutterstock