Help needed. My eight-month-old cat, Wesley, grooms my wife’s hair at 4 AM.

You will see quite a lot of this: domestic cats grooming their human caregiver not only on their hand or their arm but also on their head. It is clearly impractical because the hair on a human’s head is far too long for a domestic cat to groom. The hair gets stuck in their mouth. They shake their head and pull on the hair. The whole process becomes quite clumsy and it can be uncomfortable for the human. But it happens instinctively.

Sleep cap for women. Thinking simplistically! This should do the trick. Photo in public domain.
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Wesley likes to lick the wife's hair
Wesley likes to lick the wife’s hair. Photo: the husband (believed).

Domestic cats normally relate to their human caregiver as a surrogate mother but sometimes the roles are reversed and they relate to their human caregiver as a kitten. On all occasions it is highly likely that domestic cats relate to people as other cats albeit a very strange looking cat, even in the eyes of a cat companion.

And when cats are friends with each other they might start by grooming themselves which is called autogrooming and then move on to grooming their companion which is called allogrooming. It’s mutual grooming because the recipient may act reciprocally and allogroom the cat that just groomed them. It becomes a kind of love-in which is great to see.

So, Wesley, is allogrooming his mother, friend, or a kitten. As this cat is eight-months-old, it is likely that he is allogrooming a friend or his mother. And of course, it is a friendly and loving act. It should not be stopped because to do so would confuse him. It would have a negative, albeit a fairly minor negative impact to the bond between cat and person.

And the reason why it happens at 4 AM in the morning is because this is when domestic cats are probably at their most active. Although domestic cats are active during the day and night, they favour dawn and dusk and night time activity. But this depends upon the individual cat. It also depends if they are indoor cats or indoor/outdoor cats. Cats who are full-time indoor cats are not quite so subject to the natural ebb and flow of night and day because they live, to a certain extent, under artificial light. This may affect their circadian rhythm. This also affects shedding. The amount of light dictates whether a cat is shedding or not.

RELATED: 3 reasons why cats know when you’re coming home

Domestic cat allogroomings their female human caregiver which is tricky because the hair is long
Domestic cat allogroomings their female human caregiver which is tricky because the hair is long. Screenshot.

So, what to do about Wesley? The husband wants something done. It is a difficult one. Some people might recommend locking him out of the bedroom at night, which would clearly stop the allogrooming. However, I wouldn’t recommend it because to a domestic cat the bedroom is an important, core area because it smells strongly of their human caregiver. Cats identify very much with smell and they connect with people through their smell. This is why they scent exchange. You don’t really want to bar your cat from a core area of the home range.

But, then again, you don’t want to be woken up at 4 AM in the morning by your cat licking your hair and pulling on it. My initial thought would be for the wife to wear a bedtime night cap or sleep cap 😎 (lateral thinking). They are quite a common item for a woman to wear at night. This would resolve the problem in an instant. And it will allow Wesley to enjoy the company of his humans at 4 AM in their bedroom which he finds very comforting.

Cat Allogrooming
Cat Allogrooming. Photo in public domain.

Sometimes adults domestic cats allogrooming people because they relate to them as their kittens. They also, arguably, relate to humans as the kittens when they bring in prey animals. Under these circumstances, they are training their human to kill prey as if they are training their kittens in their den. So, the roles are reversed sometimes, rather peculiarly.

We have to understand that the domestic cat is a wild cat at heart with all the usual attributes of a wildcat but living in the human home and the human environment. This can cause some confusion for the cat (and the human sometimes 😉). It’s another reason why, for example, some domestic cats visit neighbour’s homes and grab an item of their clothing and bring it back as a prey animal into their home. It looks a bit odd and it is a bit odd but they are following their instincts to capture prey and bring it back to their den.

I think it is fair to say that the core room of a cat’s den would be the bedroom because of the human scent. It’s probably better to build a small area within the human bedroom which could be given over to the domestic cat to make it his or her bedroom as well. Something comfortable and enticing as a bed area in the bedroom might encourage him or her to use it. This, in addition, would help to deflect a domestic cat from licking their owner’s hair.

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