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I have a 4-month-old DSH who is the sweetest, friendliest, cuddliest boy. He has started licking my hair and waking me up early in the morning to lick my hair. I think he also wants to play but the noticeable new behavior is lick, lick, licking. Any tips on how to get him to stop licking my hair?

I've read that it's a sign that he just loves me so much he wants to groom me, and if so, aww! I still don't want him to actually lick my hair. I want to show him I love him too but this is not a way he needs to express it. So far, I've been covering my whole face, head and hair with a blanket and hiding under it until he gets bored poking at me and goes back to sleep. However, it's summer and really hot under the blanket, and a little hard to breathe. Any advice would be super appreciated!

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Grooming is indeed a sign of love but getting your attention early in the morning is typically a sign of hunger. He's waking you up because he wants you to feed him. Since he likely has no means of acquiring food on his own, he's entirely dependent on you to feed him and he will remind you of that fact whenever he's even slightly hungry.

I've had good success curbing this behaviour by ensuring there is always a supply of dry food available for my cats. They do get wet food meals twice a day that they look forward to, but there is always food available to them 24/7. As such, they never feel like they're in danger of starving if I don't wake up right this second so they typically don't bother me in the morning unless I sleep in really late.

But do note that this may not be suitable for all cats. Some cats will devour any and all food put in front of them as quickly as possible, regardless of how hungry they actually are, which often leads to weight problems. For obvious reasons, it is unhealthy for them to have access to unlimited on-demand food. But for cats that only eat until they're full, this is an excellent way to get them to stop waking you up.

Of course, he may still attempt to groom you at other times, in which case torek's excellent answer should help you redirect that grooming away from your hair.

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That is indeed a sign of love, and is sweet. But you just need to let him know that it's too much for you. Depending on his age, you can:

  • imitate the outraged squeak a kitten makes to tell another kitten that hurt!
  • growl or hiss just a little bit and stop right as soon as he stops
  • do what you're doing now: remove access (possibly including closing him out of your bedroom).

The kitten-yelp noise tends to stop working much after a kitten reaches a few months old, but during that period it works really well. Closing kitty out of the bedroom may cause him to meow to be let in, of course; if that happens, it's important that you do not give in. He will learn that one meow doesn't open the door, but 20 minutes of incessant meowing, does.

One other thing that may work, specific to hair, is to use a citrus-scented shampoo. Cats generally hate anything that smells of oranges, lemons, and such. Be careful with tea tree oil (which may also repel kitty) as the oil itself is toxic: you don't want him ingesting any of that. (It doesn't take much pure tea tree oil to cause problems, but in shampoo residue, the amount should generally be tiny. Still, better safe than sorry here.)

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I disagree that you should shoo him off or lock him out for grooming you. That will just break whatever bonding you may have with it.

I would bring him near your lap and give it a finger to groom. Teach it an acceptable place to be and what to groom. Gradually remove the finger as well if you don't like being licked by cats.

Cats typically groom their kittens'/mates' heads because it is the one body part they can't reach themselves. There are small dangers to letting it groom your head. While grooming cats sometimes give light bites, you don't want it biting your face area.

So when it starts to lick your head, bring it to your lap or near your stomach and pet it there.

Edit - this is what worked with me. YMMV.

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  • even if they don't bite your head (mine never did when he went through the phase of grooming my hair) it can still be painful because they tend to pull on your hair with surprising force. Mine just stopped doing it after a few weeks of telling him 'no' repeatedly, lifting him away and to the ground. Putting the kitten in your lap will instead teach the kitten he gets a reward when he grooms your hair, not a good idea.
    – jwenting
    Jul 29 at 6:58

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