If you have a cat and it has some interesting grooming habits, you might be wondering, why does my cat lick my ear? Your cat may occasionally wash and lick at your ears, and this may seem like peculiar behavior to you. What is your cat doing and why?
Often, your cat does this because it is grooming you. This is a means of bonding and a sign of affection among felines, and your cat is showing you that it loves you.
It may also do this because your ear smells interesting and it is curious. Many cats are oddly attracted to earwax. Sometimes, cats lick their owners to get salt residue off their skin.
Reason One: Grooming You
Your cat may lick at your ear because it is grooming you, and many cats do this. In the same way they groom themselves and others that they consider part of their family, they are often keen to wash their humans.
You might be wondering why. Cats often seem to groom each others’ heads and ears, which are areas that are particularly tricky for them to reach themselves. Cats can turn around to wash their backs and the rest of their bodies, but they cannot reach their heads with their tongues.
Most cats lick one paw and then use this to wash their faces and ears, but it is better to have another cat do it directly – and therefore, they groom each other to be helpful and keep their family members clean and safe.
Your cat is likely doing the same thing for you. It does not know that you shower or bathe regularly; it is just trying to help out by washing a body part that it’s hard for you to reach with your own tongue. It may not be the pleasantest sensation, but it’s nice to know that your cat cares about you and your hygiene.
You should take grooming as a compliment, because it means your cat is invested in your well-being. Cats do not groom things they do not care about, but you will often see them wash each other and their kittens. Humans are just an extension of this.
Reason Two: Bonding
Your cat may also be washing your ears as a means of bonding with you. Because cats only wash family members, this is a sign of trust and affection, and doing it strengthens familial bonds. This may be quite important for a species that is generally solitary.
So, if your cat cuddles up to you and starts washing any part of you, whether it’s your ears or your hands, it may want to reestablish its bond and connection with you. Your cat may be feeling insecure or just particularly affectionate right then.
You don’t need to try and wash your cat back to strengthen this bonding experience. If you don’t mind the sensation, allow your cat to groom you, and then go and clean the area that it has licked to remove any unpleasantness that its tongue may have transferred.
If you want your cat to feel you are reciprocating its gesture, you can try petting its ears and chin to show affection and a strong bond.
Reason Three: Earwax
Interestingly, many cats are fascinated by human ears for another reason, and it’s quite an odd one. They apparently like the smell of earwax. This might seem strange, especially if you have never noticed the smell yourself.
Earwax does not have a strong scent to us, but cats can smell it, and they are attracted to it. This may be because earwax carries the scent of the human, so the cat is interested because it is a concentrated version of your scent.
The other reason cats are attracted to earwax isn’t very pleasant – but basically, earwax is protein, and they can smell it. Cats do not have a very complex sense of taste, so they depend upon their sense of smell quite heavily, and it tells them that earwax is food.
Earwax does contain nutrition, and while it may not be something you would ever consider eating, it is understandable that cats will consume it. They may not even be aware of what it is; it just smells of food to them.
You may notice that cats washing each other are keen to lick inside each other’s ears, and this may be the reason. You might also see your cat taking an interest in dirty Q-tips – so make sure you dispose of these in a sealed bin if you have a cat that is curious about ears. It may try to eat them otherwise.
The earwax consumption may sound pretty gross to us, but it is just a natural part of how cats behave.
Reason Four: Salt Residue
It is possible that your cat is licking at your ears because it can smell some salt residue on your skin. When we sweat, we excrete salt, and many cats are curious about this. Salt is a relatively rare commodity in the wild, and many animals seem to enjoy it.
It is therefore possible that your cat is licking at your ears because it can smell salt on your skin. This may happen more often if you exercise, making yourself sweat, because then there is more salt on your skin.
Your cat may lick at other parts of your body to pick up traces of salt, too, so don’t be surprised if you get a thorough grooming after your workout! This will also be when you smell most strongly of your unique scent, which we will cover next.
Reason Five: Scent Sharing
Cats that live communally generally like to share at least some scents with the other creatures they live with. They want some of your smell on them and some of their smell on you. This builds bonds and tells other animals that you are part of a pack.
They may therefore groom you and lick your ears as a means of transferring their scent to you. You will often see that they then lick themselves afterward, which transfers your scent to them. Both of these things help to spread a shared scent that proves you are part of the same group.
Cats do this with their kittens a lot, spreading the community’s scent to the kittens and bringing each kitten’s scent into the community. Because they have such a strong sense of smell, this is very important to cats, and it tells them who is who and where they belong.
It will also help other community members recognize which creatures are part of their pack and which ones aren’t. Sharing scents is a bit like a sports team wearing the same color and logos to recognize each other easily.
As you can see, there are several reasons that your cat might lick your ears. It may be trying to help you keep clean, or it might want to eat your earwax. It may also just be washing you to bond with you and make sure that you both smell like the other one, so that you are clearly part of the same pack.