So my new cat, Bjorn, a stray/feral cat from our neighbourhood who we took in end of January, developed something of a taste for soap last week.
For those of you who aren’t here because your cat’s done the same – yup, you imagined right, my cat likes licking bars of soap and all things related.
How did I discover this? Let’s jump into the backstory, then get into the theories about why cats could possibly like licking soap.
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How I Discovered Bjorn Likes Licking Soap
Bjorn has been a “licker” since day 1. I knew this about him plenty before we took him in, as when we met him and he began to drop by our backyard more and more, when we’d cuddle him he’d end up licking our fingers and sometimes even licking then biting us if we let him give us little love bites.
There was an instance a few months ago where I got just a drop of oil from a tin of cod I’d eaten for lunch on a pair of leggings, then threw that pair of leggings into a laundry basket that happened to be on the floor. He somehow discovered it, dragged the leggings out of the basket, and licked and sucked on the single tiny spot of oil until a large part of my leggings were soaked. When I discovered them on the floor, I stashed them and the rest of the laundry away in a room he isn’t allowed into unsupervised. I really didn’t think it was about oil in general, I thought it was more about the mild scent of the fish. Now, I think it’s more likely he just adores licking up any type of animal fat and adores the texture of both oil and fat.
So onto the day my husband Thomas and I discovered Bjorn likes licking soap.
I fed Bjorn – within the past half hour, a huge meal. It’s one of two he gets each day, and with water mixed in so he truly feels full afterward instead of feeling like he’s running on an empty stomach until he drinks enough water. Bjorn has an obsession with sitting on the counters in our bathrooms – something about them being made of marble (upstairs bathroom) or tile (downstairs bathroom). I think he really enjoys the cool and smooth texture, paired with feeling the warmth of the sunlight streaming through the windows. The photos included in this post are from one such day – pre-soap fetish. Anyway! All this to say – I thought nothing of the fact that Bjorn kept jumping onto the counters in the bathroom that day.
I’ve been working on training Bjorn to keep off counters, since I dislike the idea of cats being allowed up on both counters and table tops for their own safety (hair straighteners, hot stove tops, knives), and for human hygiene purposes, but I know this to be a gradual process, and training can take especially long with stray/feral cats, especially when they haven’t experienced life with humans for a very long time (we found out Bjorn is 3 or 4; that’s a long time to go without any house training).
Right, so flash back to Bjorn consistently trying to get up on the bathroom counter. I walk in seeing him lick something in the sink. I think nothing of this, assuming he’s lapping up little droplets of water (many cats really like doing that) – but as I got near, I notice he’s licking right around the center of the sink, where the drain is, where soap had fallen. Assuming he’s trying to lick water “flavoured” with the taste of a little bit of mold (as there was a teeny bit of that, and I’ve seen the cats outside sometimes go for water “flavoured” with outdoorsy sludge over the fresh water I give them), I take Bjorn away and clean out the sink.
I tell Thomas, explain my thoughts on him licking the mold, then less than ten minutes later (Bjorn knows to wait until I’m distracted before repeating something naughty), he hops back on the sink – again I arrive to see the soap smack dab in the middle of where he’s licking water.
Now I’m convinced it’s not about mold, and Bjorn’s somehow ended up like Jenna Marbles’ dog Kermit who adores soap. I’m convinced he’s a creative genius and somehow managed to form soapy lather for himself to lap up, and that this was really about the solid hand soap rather than anything else at all. I take away the soap. Purposefully, I leave the soapy residue/soap scum to see if he’ll be there in another ten minutes, meanwhile waiting for him to take the bait while I do a quick Google search to see if other cats are soap-obsessed or if it’s just dogs and my cat. Lo and behold, there are other cats – and a moment or two later – Bjorn’s back up to the sink, this time on the side that had the bar of soap, lapping up the residue. Riddle solved. Soap scum is cleaned; bar of soap removed, and now a week into switching to liquid hand soap, we haven’t had a problem (yet).
Theories on Why Some Cats Like to Lick Soap
There’s a few theories circling the net as to why some cats like to lick, bite, chew, or even eat soap. I’ll go into these now, but keep in mind: 1. You should tell your vet about this in case it’s some kind of a symptom, and 2. We don’t seem know the answer as to why cats sometimes lick soap for certain.
As far as I can tell, this topic has never been scientifically studied before. That being said, some of the theories other pet parents have posited seem to fit, and at the end of the day, the really the important thing is not to know exactly why cats are sometimes attracted to soap, but to work out a system where you’re able to keep the soap away from your cat. It’s definitely not a good thing for a feline to be ingesting on the regular or in large doses, but we’ll get into that very soon. First, let’s go over the theories.
Theory 1: Cats who like licking and/or eating soap have pica.
In case you aren’t caught up on pica and what it is – WebMD defines it as: “The urge to eat nonfood items.” It’s not just cats that have pica, other animals do, too; most notably, dogs sometimes have pica.
I have a brother with a cat who has pica, and let me tell you, based on his experiences with his cat Beau, and my experiences vicariously through his stories – Bjorn absolutely does not have pica in my experience. He just really likes the taste of soap. He also likes to chew on some plastics – likes to lick plastic, too – but not to ingest it, though that’s way more of a common cat behaviour than eating soap, and in my experience, nearly every cat likes chewing on either cardboard or really thin plastic (think flexible plastic used to package items), so that’s not in my head a sign a cat has pica at all either.
I absolutely could be wrong, and if you at all suspect your cat has pica, absolutely tell your vet, but this definitely isn’t a theory I get behind personally. Though absolutely positively I am not a vet or a trained expert. However, based on the experience with my brother’s actual pica cat, it doesn’t add up. Beau ate pot handles, clothes, shoe laces, towels – you name it. I think I’m pretty safe in thinking Bjorn’s nowhere near this level just because he has a thing for soap.
Theory 2: Soap often contains gelatin emulsion made of animal fat; your cat could be attracted to that.
I absolutely believe this explanation myself, and definitely think it’s enough to explain away the attraction. Some have stated the animal bi-products give off pheromones that smell good to and thus attract animals to the stuff; I don’t know whether this is true, sounds possible, but I haven’t at all done research into it. Regardless, one way or another, I’m guessing if a cat has a lick or nibble on soap, and there’s been a love-at-first-lick attraction to the gelatin emulsion in it, maybe due to the taste and texture or maybe one or the other – there’s a huge chance that first lick is where this habit developed.
Does your cat lick petroleum jelly? Try to get at deodorant? There are gelatin emulsions in each of these, so this explanation covers all those bases.
Theory 3: Other ingredients in your particular soap attract your cat to lick.
I think it’s more likely it’s just the animal bi-products that are attracting your cat, rather than an additional ingredient used to create a nice-smelling scent, but it’s possible that something else in the soap is doing it for your kitty. Which type of soap do you use, and is there one your cat likes to lick over others? Maybe there’s a hint there.
Theory 4: The animal fats in soap are attractive to your cat because he/she isn’t getting enough fat in their diet.
I don’t personally believe this one is true, because as long as your cat is eating a high quality cat food, your cat absolutely should have enough fat in his/her diet – but it’s worth a double check at the vet anyway.
How to Prevent Cats from Ingesting Soap
I would think your cat is probably going to be fine if he or she only had a lick or two of hand soap (again, I’m not an expert, though, so please double check with your vet to make sure!), but if your cat is anything like mine, that one or two licks doesn’t end there, and instead the licking goes into as-much-as-I-can-handle territory – and that’s definitely no good. Enough soap and your cat will absolutely have runny ramifications to his/her behaviour – and sure did for Bjorn. A couple days of diarrhea actually, though luckily other than that he was just fine. Nonetheless – again – please speak to your vet if you suspect in any way, shape, or form your cat has ingested soap, bring the ingredients list to your vet, and let your vet know how much you think your pet ingested to make sure everything is a-okay.
Now let’s get to prevention techniques:
- Stop using bar soap – switch to liquid.
This is the technique I’ve chosen, personally. I genuinely don’t mind this switch, but if I did, or if Bjorn decided it was time to try pulling apart or biting the plastic bottle to get at the liquid soap, I’d try some of the others.
- Close the door to all washrooms, kitchens, & anywhere else you may use soap.
Honestly, this may not be the most convenient way to keep your soap-loving cat away from the lather, but it sure will work like a charm.
- Hide soap away in containers or drawers.
The least convenient method, but again, it works, and may need to happen if you can’t figure out another way to keep your prying kitty’s paws off the soap.
- Find a soap your cat isn’t interested in.
Combine this with tip #1 and you end up with a pretty solid stacked technique. Trying this tip with a new bar of soap instead is risky, but only if you don’t test and just put out a new bar for your cat to discover on his or her own. What I’d do if I wanted to use this technique (even with a bar of soap)? Grab the new option, then let my cat sniff. If Bjorn walks away disinterested, I’d feel I’m pretty good to go for placing it out. If he seems really keen, sniffs a lot, and/or even tries to lick or bite that soap, I wouldn’t dare keep it out to tempt him. In terms of finding a soap your cat would be disinterested in, I’d try a scent you know your cat hates, or if you have no clue what that might be, try one scented with citrus, especially orange like this one by Method, as many cats hate the scent of orange, mandarin, and other strong-smelling citrus fruits.
Have any more prevention techniques in mind? Please share them in the comments below! Who knows, I may need them if Bjorn figures out how to destroy the liquid soap dispenser to get at what’s inside.
Thoughts on Cats Licking Soap?
Does your cat lick, nibble on, bite, or even eat soap if given the opportunity? Does your cat do this with bar soap, liquid, both?
Does your cat have some soaps he or she will try to ingest and others he or she will stay away from?
Please take a moment to leave any and all thoughts you have on this topic below – you could really be helping another pet parent out, even with a short, simple comment!
Dawn Giachino says
My cat licks bar soap. So I have put away all bar soaps. And I have moved to liquid soap this week.
But now my cat has chewed on my sink faucet. When I got home the other day the water was running all day. She must have turned in the faucet while licking and chewing on it.
Elizabeth Mullins says
I open my dishwasher door to air dry dishes to save energy. My cat gets onto the door and licks the dishwasher detergent residue around the dispenser. She also licks Vicks salve so your theory about the emulsions sounds correct to me.
My cat Frost is a rescue and she loves licking bar soap (Irish spring) actually she will lick just about anything with a smell to try it, plant seedlings included.. but she keeps coming back to the soap. We have removed the soap in question.
She also loves canned corn, cake, banana bread, canned tuna, mayo and shrimp. Will try her best to eat them off of your plate or however she can try to get to them. The only place I can keep food safe is on the stove, she doesnt jump onto there but she will even jump into the sink in order to get to food, despite always having food in her dish, if she thinks you have food she wants, good luck to you, your leg may be a clawing post.
Not overly helpful, but I agree, best to just remove the temptation.