Why do cats eat hair?

Woman laughing with cat on her head
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Why do cats eat hair? It's a question that may be on your mind if your fur friend has recently started nibbling on your locks. While it may seem strange to us humans, your cat's hairy new hobby is likely nothing to worry about.

If you feed your kitty a diet of the best cat food, you might be wondering why on earth they're choosing to eat your hair as a snack in between meals. Although it's a bizarre behavior, eating human hair is one way our cats may choose to communicate with us. 

There are so many strange things cats do that are actually quite normal, and believe it or not, chewing on hair is at the top of the list! From showing you how much they love you to demanding you play with them, your cat may choose to lick, chew, or eat your hair for many reasons.

To help us understand more about why our feline friends are so enamored with our locks, we sought the advice of expert vet, Dr. Rebecca MacMillan. Below, she reveals the most common reasons behind this behavior, when to be concerned, and what to do if you want your kitty to stop. 

Why do cats eat hair?

Let's be honest — there's nothing weirder than curling up on the couch to watch your favorite show only to have your feline friend plonk themselves down next to you and begin chewing on your hair. When you think about a relaxing evening at home, having your hair eaten by your kitty is likely not the first thing that springs to mind! 

Just like the answer to 'Why is my cat play biting?', your kitty may choose to eat your hair for a variety of reasons. Below, Dr. MacMillan outlines five of the most common — and they may just surprise you!

1. Sign of affection

Are you the proud pet parent to one of the most affectionate cat breeds? If so, their loving and cuddly nature may be behind their desire to nibble on your hair. 

"Your cat may lick, nibble, and even eat your hair as they practice something known as allogrooming," Dr MacMillan explains. "Allogrooming is the term used to describe when cats groom each other. 

This is usually started at an early age with mother cats grooming their kittens. As such, it is seen as a form of affection. Only cats that get along with each other will do this, so the fact that your cat is ‘grooming’ you is often a good sign. It indicates that your cat feels really comfortable in your presence."

2. Attention-seeking

Why does my cat attack my feet, scratch the couch, or chew my hair? These are all common questions pet parents find themselves asking when they have a kitty in the house and all of them share one thing in common — these behaviors are often deployed as a way for our cats to get our attention.

"Some cats may eat your hair because it gets a reaction from you," says Dr MacMillan. "It doesn’t matter whether it is a positive or a negative reaction, a bored cat just wants to provoke some sort of response from you!"

If you're looking for ways to keep your kitty out of mischief and prevent attention-seeking behaviors, here are 32 ways to bond with your cat that will help bring you both closer. 

Bengal cat

(Image credit: Getty Images)

3. They want to play

While all of our feline friends love to play, high energy cat breeds in particular need a lot of mental and physical stimulation to ensure they stay happy and healthy. If your kitty is eating your hair, it could be their way of letting you know they need more activity in their day.

"Similar to attention-seeking, some cats will eat hair because they want to play," Dr. MacMillan confirms. "Engaging with you in this way might remind you that your cat is there, initiating you to play with them. Other cats just enjoy the texture and feel of hair, particularly if it’s long. Batting your hair around and chewing on it is a good game, especially for kittens."

If you'd rather your kitty didn't use your hair as a chew toy, investing in some of the best interactive cat toys can be a great way to divert their attention. 

4. Stress or anxiety

While we often think of stress and anxiety as something that only affects us humans, stress and things like separation anxiety in cats are very common. When your kitty is experiencing these things, eating hair may be their way of trying to soothe themselves.

"Compulsive behaviors can be seen in cats with underlying stress or anxiety," says Dr. MacMillan. "This may manifest as overgrooming themselves but could also result in them overgrooming you too. If the behavior is sudden or new, it would be worth thinking about whether anything has changed in their environment that could have triggered this anxiety, for example, a new family member, pet, or building works."

You can also check out these 32 ways to destress your cat for some simple things you can do to support your kitty if they struggle with anxiety. 

5. Pica

"If your cat is obsessive about eating your hair, actively seeking you or your hairbrush out, there is a chance they are suffering from pica," Dr. MacMillan explains. "Pica is a term that describes the consumption of non-food items. It is unclear why exactly cats will do this, but it could be a nutritional issue, an underlying health problem, or a behavioral quirk. Other household items that cats with pica seek out may include hairbands, elastic bands, fabric, kitty litter, and houseplants."

Is it bad for a cat to eat hair?

Woman cuddling her cat

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There are some things you only know if you're a cat owner — like what it's like to have dirty paw marks all over your fresh sheets or that you can spend a fortune on cat toys only for your feline friend to prefer a piece of string. 

But other things aren't so obvious, like whether your cat eating your hair is bad for them. Thankfully, Dr. MacMillan has the answer:

"While small amounts of hair are unlikely to cause issues, eating excessive amounts could be problematic," she explains. "I would certainly take steps to try and reduce the amount of hair that your cat eats. 

Hair is not very digestible so can cause problems in your cat’s stomach and intestines. It can clump causing hairballs, which are either vomited back up again or in some cases try to pass through the digestive system and get trapped. This can cause an obstruction which may result in abdominal surgery to correct. 

Also, if you use hair products like hair sprays or gels, these could be irritating to your cat’s digestive system leading to issues like excessive drooling or vomiting."

How do I get my cat to stop eating my hair?

Couple laughing with their two kittens

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If your kitty eating your hair is one of those weird cat behaviors that you're worried about, Dr. MacMillan says there are some simple things you can do to encourage your feline friend to stop. 

"The next time your cat advances and starts licking your hair, calmly stand up and walk elsewhere. Laughing, screaming, or shouting at your cat will reward them with attention which could make things worse. It is best to ignore your pet and not to react, just leave the room quietly. Your cat will soon take the hint that you don’t want to be groomed. Only fuss and praise your cat when they are interacting with you appropriately," she advises.

To tackle the issue further, Dr. MacMillan says it's important to ensure that all of your cat's needs are being met. 

"This includes lots of mental and physical stimulation throughout the day so that they don’t get bored or anxious," she explains. "You could try using puzzle feeders and interactive toys, as well as giving them plenty of positive attention. It also means checking they are on a good quality, complete diet that is appropriate for their life stage."

Finally, ensure that you keep your hairbrush out of reach from your cat if you find they tend to nibble or lick at that too. And if none of these seem to do the trick, Dr. MacMillan recommends speaking to your vet and a qualified pet behaviorist who will be able to offer advice.

Looking to strengthen your relationship with your feline friend?  We've got you covered with these 32 ways to be the best cat owner

Dr Rebecca MacMillan
Dr. Rebecca MacMillan

Rebecca is a vet surgeon who graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in 2009. She has a wealth of experience in first opinion small animal practice, having done a mixture of day-to-day routine work, on-call emergency duties and managerial roles over the years. She enjoys medicine in particular and she is proud to have recently achieved a BSAVA postgraduate certificate in small animal medicine (with commendation). She writes on various feline and canine topics, including behavior, nutrition, and health. Outside of work and writing she enjoys walking her own dog, spending time with her young family and baking! 

Kathryn Williams
Freelance writer

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has been a member of the PetsRadar family since it launched in 2020. Highly experienced in her field, she's driven by a desire to provide pet parents with accurate, timely, and informative content that enables them to provide their fur friends with everything they need to thrive. Kathryn works closely with vets and trainers to ensure all articles offer the most up-to-date information across a range of pet-related fields, from insights into health and behavior issues to tips on products and training. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with her family (which includes one super sassy cat), drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.