Pets have a palate all their own, but certain delicacies strike their owners as more than a little strange.
Stray cats seek out their dinner in trash cans and takeout boxes. While domesticated cats forgo the garbage, they have a taste for something even less conventional – earwax.
The protein inside of earwax makes each piece smell delicious to cats. This attraction stems from their survival in the wild and lingers in long-since domesticated generations.
While a standard part of a pet’s diet, owners should deter cats from eating earwax because of its unsanitary nature.
While grotesque to humans, seeking out these protein sources is all part of an animal’s lifestyle. Understanding your pet’s instincts can help owners protect and nourish their pets all the more.
Do Cats Like The Smell Of Earwax?
Have you ever smelled earwax before? You may assume it smells bad, but in actuality, we can’t detect any scent from it. Our cats, however, can – and to them, it smells like the perfect meal.
To understand why this would be the case, we need to understand what earwax is. Earwax, officially called cerumen, is a naturally occurring substance made in the ear canal. It combines oil, sweat, dead skin cells, and even dirt.
What Is Earwax?
Despite its unappealing composition, it plays a beneficial part in our lives. Earwax moisturizes our ear canals and repels insects from flying inside.
It even acts as a barrier that prevents bacteria from entering and infecting our system.
But if it’s such a boon to humans, why would cats care about it? Because the ingredients that mix to make earwax are fatty acids. These fatty acids make up an essential component in any cat’s diet.
Why Do Cats Like Protein?
Before they were domesticated, wild cats would have to survive from animal proteins found in their prey. Thus, their instincts drew them to any source of protein they could find – earwax included.
Although they have thankfully lost their killer instinct, cats still find themselves attracted to the proteins. Only now, they don’t mind cleaning it out of people instead of clearing it off of their prey.
But if earwax doesn’t have a smell, how do cats detect any scent?
Cats, like most animals, have a significant difference in what they can detect and fail to detect in the air. Since we don’t need these proteins, we can’t smell earwax – but cats can.
Does Earwax Taste Good To Cats?
Not only does earwax smell good to cats, but it tastes even better. To humans, the thought of eating earwax would repel us. So how can cats find a delicacy in something we find disgusting?
The answer is simple: cats have fewer taste buds than humans. Cats possess about 500 taste buds, compared to the 10,000 taste buds of humans.
You might assume this would mean that they can taste even less effectively than we do. However, it’s not that each item’s taste is diminished. On the contrary, it limits the size of a cat’s palate but enhances the taste of each piece eaten.
Why Do Cats Groom Earwax Out Of Ears?
While cats are typically independent creatures, you might find them surprisingly affectionate at times.
Right as you think they’re about to cuddle up, you feel their tongue in your ear. That experience can repulse – and confuse – even the kindest pet owner.
Contrary to what you might believe, your cat isn’t trying to scare or trick you. In fact, they think that they are helping you. To clean the earwax out of your ear canals is an act of grooming.
Instinct drives animals to groom those they care for. When a cat gives birth to their young, this intuition leads them to lick each kitten clean.
However, when those same animals come to care for us, they can provide the same assistance.
Of course, if they’re showing affection, you may want to permit them to do as they please despite your discomfort. That begs the question: would doing so cause more harm than good?
There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that eating the earwax from your ears has little chance of causing adverse effects in your cat. The bad news is that this would prove dangerous to you instead.
Cat Saliva Causes Bacterial Infections
Cat saliva contains about 200 species of oral bacteria. Stop and consider all of the objects and locations that your pet’s tongue licks on a daily basis. Each of those germs sticks to their tongue and can transfer onto you.
Allowing your cat to transfer these contaminants onto you can infect you with any number of bacteria.
As grooming simultaneously removes the earwax meant to block bacteria, this makes those groomed all the more susceptible to sickness.
Cat Saliva Causes Allergic Reactions
Grooming presents one additional – and unexpected – danger to a pet owner’s wellbeing. Cat saliva has a high chance of causing allergic reactions to those they come in contact with.
Most assume that cat dander is the leading cause of allergic reactions to cats. This is a common misconception. In actuality, two-thirds of allergic reactions are caused by cat saliva instead of cat dander.
Even if you don’t ordinarily suffer from cat-related allergies, the bacteria in feline saliva can trigger an unanticipated reaction. To prevent risking your own health, keep your cat’s tongue far away from your mouth, nose, and ears.
Do Cats Have Earwax Of Their Own?
If cats are so keen on eating earwax, you may be wondering why they don’t consume their own.
Cats do, in fact, produce earwax inside of their ears. However, in comparison to humans, the amount procured is minuscule at best.
A cat’s negligible size when compared to the average human causes this discrepancy. Most cats average out to be between 9 to 10 inches, whereas humans are either 5’ 4” (for women) or 5’ 8” (for men).
With such small bodies, they do not require significant amounts of wax to protect or nurture them.
In uncommon circumstances, this wax can build up over time. Buildups can shift the hue of your cat’s ears from a healthy pink to a muddy brown. If you notice this, you may need to address the issue head-on.
Should I Clean My Cat’s Ears?
Under ordinary circumstances, you should never need to clean your cat’s ears. However, there are times when cleaning becomes necessary.
Certain cats suffer from an increased number of wax build-ups or ear infections. If this is the case for your cat, be sure to check their ears consistently and dislodge any unwanted materials.
Every cat’s ear canals form a shape that can make it difficult to dislodge deeply embedded materials. If something gets stuck inside, they may need your help in getting it out.
Cats who repeatedly paw at their ears or rub them against the carpets may be sending a silent signal for assistance.
However, be forewarned that you should not clean your cat’s ears beyond when absolutely necessary. Overcleaning can lead to ear irritation and even infection.
How Should I Clean My Cat’s Ears?
Whenever the need arises to clean out your cat’s ears, it’s best to educate yourself before beginning to do so. The good news is that anyone can learn these cleaning methods – and you likely already have all the needed materials.
Pour a small portion of ear cleaning solution onto a cotton ball and dab it gently over the affected area. Let the area dry and reapply as needed.
Be sure to reward your pet with a treat afterward to ensure they’re willing to cooperate again in the future.
However, unlike with human ears, avoid using cotton tip applicators, like Q-tips. Even if they aid us, these applicators can push the materials trapped in our pets’ ears further inward.
How To Stop Cats From Eating Earwax
Have you ever cleaned your ears and left that used Q-tip in an easily accessible trash can?
If so, you’ve likely discovered your cat digging around inside not long after. Wax that has left the ear attracts cats all the same. Cats can consume earwax without any problems to their digestive tracts.
However, when that wax combines with the cotton from Q-tips or other such materials, it can cause digestive problems. In order to avoid unwanted complications, we need to prevent our pets from accessing the trash.
Cover Trash Cans
Bathrooms typically contain open-lidded trash cans that cats can climb into and out of. To remedy this, invest in a covered or flip-lid garbage can and dispose of all earwax therein.
Ensuring your trash can has a lid only humans can use keeps cats from digging around inside. Be aware that, with flip-lid cans, cats can still dive inside from the right angles.
If so, you may hear them yelping for help and escaping soon after.
Clean And Store Headphones And Earbuds
Earwax clings to more than just Q-tips. The most common source of earwax? Misplaced headphones and earbuds.
To stop your pet’s feast, be sure to wash out any built-up wax in your headgear consistently. Not only does this save your cat’s stomach, but it prevents infections in your ears too.
When done with your headphones, only store them somewhere out of reach from your pets. As cats can climb onto most household furniture, we recommend putting valuables in jewelry boxes and other lidded containers.
Redirecting Your Cat’s Attention
If you notice your cat heading towards a source of earwax, it’s not too late to stop them. Always keep items on hand that have a smell stronger than earwax.
Use these items to lure the cat away from the spot, then hide or dispose of the wax-ridden item.
What’s the difference between ear wax and ear mites?
Ear mites are microscopic arthropods that infect a cat’s ear canals. However, given their size, it’s almost impossible to distinguish them from ear wax.
The primary difference between them comes from their smell. Ear wax from mites will produce a rotten odor. It will also discolor the wax to be a considerably darker brown, akin to coffee grounds.
What other proteins can cats eat?
Stacy is a lifelong animal lover who truly believes life just isn’t complete without pets. She’s had pets her whole life (including three dogs and a cat living under the same roof, somewhat harmoniously). She currently resides in NOLA with her husband, son, and two pups, Scooby “Dooby” Doo and Zoey. Stacy always makes a point to learn everything she can about her fur babies, and she has been writing about the pet-parent life for over two years.