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October 5, 2009 9:08 PM   Subscribe

Why does my cat lick my beard?

Every time I lay down, my cat hops onto my chest to lay down. More often then not, he will start licking my beard and not stop until I push him away every several times. If I don't stop him, he will keep going for hours. Is this preening/grooming/loving behavior? It's kind of sweet, but kinda painful and more often then not pretty annoying.
posted by mediocre to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Inside the cat's mind, he's thinking, "Mmm, tastee. Teh hooman drops noms in his beard."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:11 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I would think that, if it didn't happen right after I got out of the shower and such other times when noms weren't present for him to can has.
posted by mediocre at 9:11 PM on October 5, 2009 [4 favorites]

My cat does the same's sort of a "OH CHRIST, YOU GOT WET AGAIN, HERE LET ME HELP!?" reaction.
posted by iamabot at 9:12 PM on October 5, 2009 [9 favorites]

Best answer: yeah, grooming/preening. mine do this to my arm and/or hand and will lick it raw if I don't stop them.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 9:15 PM on October 5, 2009

My cats do this to the hair on my head. I think it's an affectionate grooming thing. Probably they also like your scent feed them and they love you.
posted by Ouisch at 9:36 PM on October 5, 2009

Well, I don't think they love you. They're just fulfilling their portion of the social contract.
posted by 5ean at 9:47 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Man beard is awesome smelling
posted by kathrineg at 9:47 PM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

I've got one who was weaned way too early, so she "nurses" in my armpit and licks my skin a lot. Does yours knead while he does it?
posted by MsMolly at 9:49 PM on October 5, 2009

Most mornings, I am awakened to the soothing sensation of my cat lying on my chest, happily chewing away on my arms. Occasionally, she also enjoys creeping up behind me and gnawing on my scalp. I assume they do this with love, believing you enjoy being groomed as much as they do.

You could try clicker training to get him to stop licking, if you don't like it. If that doesn't work, you can use the clicker to teach him other tricks, which might be cute enough to take your mind off it.
posted by lemuria at 9:51 PM on October 5, 2009

Social grooming is one of those mammal bonding things. If you raise a zebra from its childhood, it'll try to groom you and expects you to do the same. Your cat probably does too...mine tries to lick my toes and groom my hands. It also probably just looks so ripe for the licking.
posted by problemcat at 9:54 PM on October 5, 2009

It's definitely a grooming behavior, but a very social one. Cats who are affectionate towards one another will do this. I usually consider it a "good thing" if some feline of whom I have made acquaintance will begin to do this. A friend had both a cat and a dog. The dog would knock my arm off of the table just so she could hold my hand in her mouth for about half an hour — retriever with a crush on anything male. The cat would then appear after the dog left and meticulously clean my hand, finger by finger, then the palm, taking also about half an hour. It was like a hand soak and then exfoliation. Sometimes, the cat would also go for my neck, ear, etc. It's usually a sign of returned affection: you have been grooming (petting) me so much, I should groom you some, too.

You've just got too much of a good thing going on. You can sometimes break the loop by petting them some, too. Do it with a firm fingertip, with short strokes. You're emulating return licks. It doesn't always work, but sometimes the cat will react with a "oh, it's my turn now," stop grooming you, then behave in the usual "pet me" manner.
posted by adipocere at 9:57 PM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

I have a cat who does the exact same thing when presented with a beard, even that of a stranger that he wants to get away from. His drive to lick beards is actually stronger than his drive to escape perceived danger. It's a grooming behavior, I guess, but it seems hardwired to the point of involuntary muscle response, and is not something I'd classify as "affection." He's big on licking generally, but beaards do seem to be the ultimate prize. I wonder if he'd react the same to a close-cropped scalp, or if there's more to it than length.
posted by contraption at 10:38 PM on October 5, 2009

My hair is generally clipped very short, number 1, and our cat will methodically groom my whole scalp if I let him.

(I've only done this once in the name of science because the scrapy wetness is unbearable after a while, and let's face it, you have to wash all the cat spit off your head cause it's not nice).

I agree with adipocere that some kind of reflex is involved -- Raoul is implacable and I always get the feeling he would like to stop but can't. I think there is something about the relative coarseness of human hair compared to fur that is particularly stimulating. He is especially prone to doing this if he's just been licking himself, or, and I think this is where the social part comes in, if I have just been stroking him.

He will also lick if I'm sweaty after exercise but gives up after a good taste, so it's not the salt.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:00 AM on October 6, 2009

Actually the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that coarseness and shortness are factors. He prefers my eyebrows over arm hair, but scalp stubble over eyebrows. I'm afraid allowing him to lick pubes is a threshold I won't pass even for science.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:12 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah, social grooming. A lot of bizarre cat behavior makes perfect sense if you realize that your cat thinks you're also a cat. A large one.
posted by rokusan at 1:44 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I do think that there's a texture issue. My cat is very cuddly and affectionate with me, but she doesn't groom me, save the occasional licking of the fingers. However, when presented with my Mr. Mustachio's short clipped hair, she goes completely nuts.

I don't have video, per se, but I did make an animated gif of the phenomenon a while ago.

It's beyond licking and grooming - she really seems to like the way his head feels and smells.
posted by louche mustachio at 2:48 AM on October 6, 2009

posted by plinth at 2:58 AM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Cats just eat strange things. Google "cats eat strange things" and you'll find many references.
posted by andreap at 3:40 PM on October 6, 2009

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