Cats are quirky and have strange habits which makes them unique and entertaining. But some of their odd habits are just disgusting. One of these is licking human earwax.
There are many videos showing how cats react when earwax is placed in front of them. They don’t get turned off like us. They just lick it like it’s sweet candy to them.
Why are cats drawn to earwax?
Senses of Cats
Cat’s sense of smell is far superior to ours. While we have 5 million odor-sensitive cells on our noses, cats have 200 million scent receptors in their nasal cavity. Aside from this, they have a second “nose” located in the roof of their mouth, called the vomeronasal organ which picks up pheromone scents that regular receptors can’t detect. This makes their sense of smell a powerful mechanism.
While most of a cat’s senses are very sensitive, the taste is the one dulled out. They only have a few hundred taste buds, compared to over 10,000 taste buds for humans. It’s no surprise then that a cat will rely more on what its nose can smell than what its eyes see to figure out its environment. This makes cats not sophisticated when it comes to their sense of taste.
Like humans though, they only respond to the four basic taste types of sour, bitter, salt and sweet, with their response to sweet being the weakest. Most of our experience of flavor is actually due to smell. It is our sense of smell that determines why different food tastes different. For cats, it is reasonable to assume that they use a similar blend of smell and taste in determining the palatability of food.
As horrible as it looks and tastes for us, earwax does not taste as bad to cats. In short, cats are not as sensitive to the taste of earwax as we are. On the flip side, cats often hate smells that humans do not.
We see earwax as icky and gross. There’s nothing fancy about finding a gooey yellow substance in your ears or other people’s ears. But earwax is actually very helpful to our overall health.
It’s not easy to believe that something so unappealing can be so important in your ears’ good health. Yet the earwax being sticky and smelly is exactly why it is beneficial. Earwax is a natural barrier that prevents dirt and bacteria from entering the innermost parts of your ears. It also acts as a moisturizer and protective coating for your ear canal. It also acts as an insect repellant. The smell of earwax keeps bugs away, while the stickiness traps those that accidentally go inside.
Cats like earwax because of its content. In a lump of earwax, there are animal proteins. These are antimicrobial peptides, ten of which are already identified by scientists as being present in earwax. Cat food has animal proteins which tend to come as byproducts from sources like fish, chicken, and beef. Cats are attuned to the scent of animal proteins so they are drawn to licking earwax that contains them.
Cats may also lick your earwax because it wants to show some physical affection as in grooming.
Cats groom themselves to clean wounds and remove dead skin cells, hide their scent from predators and lubricate their coat and skin. Cats learn grooming from their mothers. They emulate their mothers and start self-grooming when they’re a few weeks old. If they are a part of a litter, they likely lick and groom one another.
Grooming also communicates a cat’s fondness for a person. The licking marks you as a member of the animal’s family and spreads the cat’s scent. Just as cats scratch certain places to mark their territory, licking your skin is a way of claiming you.
Learning why cats like earwax hopefully took a little bit of disgust from you. Cats are mysterious and do weird things but that is what makes them unique and fascinating. After all, licking earwax is not the only gross thing that they do.