Earwax: Ambrosia for Kitties?
Find out why some cats are enamored with earwax!Published August 3, 2012
Flickr User hand-nor-glove
Some of the email I receive from puzzled cat guardians concerning their kitty’s strange behavior really gets me scratching my head in wonderment. Thinking naively that I had heard it all and nothing could surprise me sufficiently to throw me off my game, I was in for a big surprise. I was totally baffled when I received a message the other day from an exceedingly frustrated lady, begging me for suggestions about how to handle what she considered a really bizarre habit that Priceless, her four year old domestic shorthair kitty, could not kick.
Apparently, her mother (with whom she shares her home) has an equally outlandish habit: she uses a fountain pen to pick earwax out of her ear. And the moment she has completed excavating her auditory canal, and sets the pen down, the kitty, wearing a look of determination on her face, dashes across the room to lick the pen, like a moth drawn to a flame.
This lady was clearly at her wit’s end, considering that she might have a “psycho” cat on her hands. But she also was concerned if her cat was in danger from ingesting earwax and if I had ever heard of any other cats who shared Priceless’ strange compulsion.
After doing extensive online research, and in consultation with my vet (whose dog loves its taste), I was able to alleviate her anxiety. Apparently there are lots of cats and dogs who are attracted to the scent of earwax.
Of course, neither species, to my knowledge, has yet shared the reason for their enticement by the stinky substance, nor therefore will we likely ever know why pets like it for sure. But happily, ingesting earwax presents no danger to our companion animals.
And while this behavior may seem quite bizarre, there is a logical reason why cats and dogs enjoy its flavor. Cats’ taste buds are not all that sophisticated, and felines have only 500 of them. This is a paltry number when compared to humans, who are endowed with a whopping complement of close to 10,000 taste buds. Cats compensate for their lack of taste buds with a huge number of olfactory receptors.
Cats are obligate carnivores. The main components of earwax (not to gross anyone out) are sloughed off dead skin cells and sebaceous fluids which are composed of triglyceride fatty cells, esters, cholesterol and waxes, therefore it’s reasonable to assume that its high protein content beckons them.
Although humans may not enjoy snacking on what their kitties consider Manna from Heaven, many cats seem to delight in this protein ambrosia. It may also explain why cats may spend a great deal of time grooming each other’s ears, cleaning them thoroughly by deeply digging inside them.
Are your cats attracted to earwax? Tell us about it in a comment.