Cats are not known for being overly accommodating to their humans. If a cat wants something, they will let you know it, and heaven help you if you don’t comply. If you’ve spent over a year trapped in your home due to the recent pandemic, you might have noticed your feline companion is more presumptuous than ever.
More specifically, you might have noticed that your cat always wants to lick your beard, and you might wonder if it’s a good idea to let them do that.
Your cat is licking your beard for the same reason that cats lick human hair or their own fur, for that matter. They’re grooming you! Cats have many reasons for grooming us: affection, curiosity, even stress. While letting your cat lick your beard constantly isn’t a great idea, it won’t stymie its growth.
Let’s dig a bit deeper into your cat’s psychology and how its licking might affect your facial hair. You might come away looking at your furry roommate in a whole new way.
Why Do Cats Lick Us?
Cats like to lick. They lick themselves constantly. They lick companions and their kittens, and, of course, they lick their owners.
Some of this tongue behavior is connected to cleanliness, but quite a bit of it is social in nature. One of the primary interactions a cat has with its mother is grooming. So, when your cat hops on your chest and starts lapping away at your facial hair, it’s probably a sign of affection or even something territorial.
The licking can also be a sign of stress. Like small children, cats comfort themselves by sucking and licking. Allowing your kitty to nuzzle into your beard is a nice way to provide some solace for whatever is bothering them.
Really, there are countless reasons that your cat might try to groom you, but it all comes down to proximity and familiarity. You two are close, and your cat might be craving a little social interaction or emotional comfort. Grooming is the language they speak.
Is There a Reason Your Cat Focuses on Your Beard?
There’s nothing inherently attractive to a cat about a man’s beard. Not that I’ve interviewed many cats on the subject, but there is, believe it or not, some research about this. In fact, cats appear to be visually repelled by facial hair.
A rather peculiar 2011 study (actually, it’s the most recent in a long line of such studies) involved researchers showing photos of various bearded men to cats and gauging their reactions.
The study found that cats did not like photos of men with long, dark beards. They were merely unimpressed with shorter-bearded men, and they were perplexed by men with partial beards.
It’s worth noting that the partial-beard photograph was of Robert Bork – he was President Nixon’s Solicitor General; later, he failed in a bid to be appointed to the Supreme Court. Perhaps the cats in the study were just liberal-leaning.
For all the silliness of that study, it does suggest that if your cat is obsessed with licking your beard, it’s not an aesthetic thing. Most likely, the cat likes that your beard is close to your face, that its hair might be similar in length to the cat’s own, or that it smells vaguely of food.
Should You Let Your Cat Do This?
Whether or not you should allow your cat to lick your beard has more to do with personal preference, boundary setting, and cleanliness. It’s less to do with beard health.
As we will discuss in greater detail shortly, there’s not much innate risk to letting your cat lick your beard. With that being said, any cat-owner knows that once you let a feline get away with a disruptive behavior, your chance of breaking the cat of the bad habit later is nil.
Additionally, as a dedicated beardsman, you probably put a decent amount of time and money into styling and caring for your facial hair. You very likely don’t love the idea of that good beard balm and styling cream getting licked away by your nosy kitten.
Bearing all this in mind, however, you can decide for yourself how concerned you want to be about the cat licking your face. If it’s pleasant for the both of you, why fight it? Just be aware of its potential ramifications on your beard.
Will a Cat Tongue Affect Your Beard?
As stated above, the most evident consequence of your cat licking your beard is that much of the good beard care you’ve done will be obliterated. Cat tongues are notably quite rough. This is because they are covered in keratin papillae.
These converse-facing protrusions are composed of the same material as feline claws. As a result, cat tongues are really effective at shearing loose material from a surface. Just think of a lion licking a bone clean. It’s like that with your beard.
A side concern of this licking is that your cat is lapping away a lot of the moisture from your beard and skin. You will want to replace that with conditioning and beard oil applications.
Finally, be aware that cat tongues contain a lot of bacteria. Letting them lick your face presents genuine cleanliness concerns. The worst-case scenario for cat-borne bacteria is probably ringworm. If your cat is infected with ringworm, they can pass it to you with their tongues. This could result in a rash, scaling, and hair loss.
To be clear, that scenario is more possible than probable. You shouldn’t let the fear of ringworm dictate how you interact with your pet. The best action is preparation. If your kitty has been licking your face, it’s best to wash up afterward.
How Can You Dissuade a Cat from Grooming Your Face?
So, you want to stop a cat from licking your face whenever it wants to? Best of luck with that!
Seriously, though: there are tactics you can use to dissuade a cat from licking your beard:
- Play with them regularly to reduce stress.
- Offer catnip to deflect their attention from your beard.
- Provide a treat when your cat lies next to your leg instead of your face.
- Gently move your cat away when they approach your face.
- Place your cat’s favorite toys near your feet to distract them.
You should temper your expectations for this conditioning, especially in the short term. Cats are notoriously willful, so you need to hold the line. It may take some time to sink in.
As you can see, there’s nothing odd about your cat’s inclination to lick your beard. Most likely, this activity will be little more than an inconvenience to your beard care routine. However, there are ways to dissuade your cat from licking facial hair.