Cats and Earwax: What is that Fascination About?Published September 3, 2009
I often am amused by some of the very unusual subjects cat owners inquire about as I indulge in one of my favorite hobbies; helping folks in a popular cats' community devoted to questions concerning folks with kitty concerns. In fact volunteering on that website has substantially added to my repertoire of feline knowledge for which I am eternally grateful. However, the other day I just about fell off my chair in amazement when I ran across this particular one which I am paraphrasing. "I've had this cat for just over a year now. My mum has this strange habit of picking earwax out of her ear with a pen. I noticed that when she put the pen down, my cat ran as fast as she could, to save her life, to lick the pen. I considered for a moment that my cat was a "psycho" cat, but I got to wondering whether this was unhealthy for him, and if indeed it is really strange for a cat to do this. Please help! " Signed, 'Waxing and Waiting, in Great Britain.' Photo credit: MSN Lifestyle Message Board I was instantly compelled to research the question, not only to help the curious cat keeper, but one never knows if a question like this might come up in a feisty Trivia game. "Always be prepared", is my motto! So off I went to Google-land in search of authentic data about what motivates a cat to be attracted to ear-wax. After all, it is incumbent on any cat lover to gather any piece of useful information to help in the care of their kitties. Here was my response: "Dear Waxing and Waiting In Great Britain. Thanks for your very unique question concerning your cat. While it may appear a bit bizarre to you, there is nothing dangerous about your cat's attraction to earwax. There is a logical reason for cats to be drawn to the substance it. Interestingly, someone actually did a scientific study about this topic to complete her nursing degree. So it seems that this is a rather common habit in which cats indulge. This is what I found. A feline's taste buds are not sophisticated. Cats only have about 500 taste buds compared to humans who have close to 10,000. Felines compensate for the difference with a huge number of olfactory receptors. But similar to humans, they respond to the four basic taste types; bitter, salt, sweet and sour. Of course the "sweet" receptor is their weakest. Some people even suspect that cats cannot taste "sweet" at all. Cats therefore combine their sense of smell with their sense of taste to decide if a food is appealing to them. Since the main components of earwax are sloughed off dead skin cells and sebaceous fluids and are composed of triglyceride fatty acids, cholesterol esters and waxes, it is high in protein, which cats crave as obligate carnivores. Earwax is bitter and sour, so not attractive to humans, but cats may delight in grabbing a "fast food" protein offering of what we consider to be distasteful. The sour and bitter components of ear wax pales in comparison to the opportunity of ingesting what they may consider to be a "wholesome and nutritious aroma." This also explains why our cats spend a huge amount of time grooming each other's ears, digging deeply inside to clean them, and I am relieved to know why Hubble has chosen to undertake the chore of diligently cleansing my ears. Are your cats also ear "freaks"? Leave a comment and let us know.