You can pick your nose, and you can pick your cat, but can your cat...?
June 2, 2016 10:55 AM   Subscribe

Why does my cat lick my nostrils in the middle of the night?

Yes, I know, cats are weird, and I'm anticipating that as the answer to this question.

Every night, my adorable kitten Ladysmith Cat Mambazo (Bazo for short!) pounces on my face and, once situated, licks the hell out of my nostrils. This is a problem because I'm mildly allergic to her (especially if she's all up in my face), which makes me sniffly, and probably produces mucus, which I'm guessing Bazo is licking. So, uhhhhh, buried lede: my cat is picking my nose.

I found some good coping strategies in this previous question about cat face grooming, but I'm still curious about why she's doing this and if there's something I can do to prevent it happening at all rather than having to correct her out of it in my sleep. Would taking a zyrtec before bed help?
posted by Sara C. to Pets & Animals (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It seems like she is grooming you, but in a rather confused way because she is a kitten. How old was she when she left her mother? Sometimes kittens that don't get proper education from mom on How to Cat can have weirder behavior than standard weird cat behavior. Another idea is that something up there is...tasty? Perhaps make a call to your vet. FWIW, I've had 3 cats and none of them have ever licked my nostrils. But uhhhhh yeah cats are pretty weird.
posted by AFittingTitle at 11:03 AM on June 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

She is discovering that she gets a reaction when she does it. Unlike dogs, who like good reactions, cats basically like any reaction. Hence why my cats throw things on the floor and then just look at me when I yell at them about it. Then put another thing on the floor.

I'd say take a zyrtec or keep her out of your room, since not providing a reaction when she licks your nostrils is not likely an option.
posted by zutalors! at 11:09 AM on June 2, 2016 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm not sure how old she was when she left her mother, but she and her littermates were fostered and bottle-fed for several weeks before we adopted her at 8-9 weeks. We have had her for about three weeks now, so she's rounding the corner on three months old.
posted by Sara C. at 11:11 AM on June 2, 2016

Best answer: She probably thinks it's delicious. Most cats I've known like the taste of earwax and sweat. Cats are gross.

Try dabbing a strongly-scented cream or skin product (if you're not sensitive to it) around your nose, and see if that repels her. Cats tend to hate citrusy smells in particular. Vaporub might do the trick, but you don't want your cat eating camphor.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:12 AM on June 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Maybe it started as grooming and then she found she liked the taste, which might be salty. You might be a salt lick.

I wouldn't try camphor without waving it in front of the cat to see if it actually repels... you don't want kitty trying to eat it.
posted by zennie at 11:17 AM on June 2, 2016

Best answer: Aw she just wuvvs to leek your nose-holes! DAWWWWW.

My cat will lick flesh on me she can access, but her absolute FAVORITE is to lick behind my ears at the hair-line. Sometimes I get tired of throwing her off of me, and I lie with my head on my arms, face down, and let her just go to town.

When she goes to the vet for her checkup and they pick her up, she leans over their shoulders and immediately starts licking behind their ears. She's so soft and sweet it's hard to push her away (Cornish Rex).
posted by Dressed to Kill at 11:18 AM on June 2, 2016 [7 favorites]

OHOh- no to the vicks. I've tried that, and my (sorry no pic) freaky Mainecoon luuurvs it! I was using it for migraines.
A poll of friends says it's a cat-whistle scent.
posted by whowearsthepants at 11:21 AM on June 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

It tastes kind of salty (or so I've heard).
posted by JimN2TAW at 11:30 AM on June 2, 2016

my cat is also a freak about licking, and i'll often wake up to her licking my eyelids or really any part of my face she can easily reach. she also likes to lick my ankles and feet while i'm brushing my teeth in the morning and evening, or while i'm trying to stretch. i think it's kind of cute though so i don't really try to discourage her - it almost seems like a sort of oral fixation, and it makes her happy so i let her do it. i figure she's taste-testing me and someday when it's just right i'll get eaten in my sleep
posted by burgerrr at 2:49 PM on June 2, 2016

Best answer: Your cat is young enough to get her okay with you closing your bedroom door at night. Having had both cats that must snuggle and bother throughout the night and cats that just go hang out elsewhere until I emerge from my room, I gotta vote for the plan to keep the cat out of the bedroom. Yes, it seems kind of callous, yes, it will be hard and there will be an extinction burst, no, this has never worked with an adult cat. But oh my god it is so worth it.
posted by Mizu at 6:06 PM on June 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It's been a few days, and I've both gained some perspective and found some answers.

I realized that the easiest thing, rather than either correct her out of this behavior in my sleep or backwards engineer a way to get her not to do it, is simply to make bedtime humans-only by keeping the door closed. So that's the solution for how to get my kitten to stop picking my nose!

In terms of what's up with that, after an afternoon of Netflix and beers on the couch, it turns out it's a grooming behavior. Mambazo curled up with me on the couch, started grooming herself, then started grooming my arm, then my neck, then directly to the nostrils. I think those who've said she likes the taste of mucus are onto something about why that spot as opposed to my chin or cheek or someplace else. Why she pounces directly for my head in the night, I don't know, but the root of the behavior is that my cat loves me so much she wants to eat my snot. So... I'll take it?
posted by Sara C. at 5:24 PM on June 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

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