Earwax in Cats. Should You Be Concerned?


Earwax is a normal bodily secretion that helps clean and protect the ear canal. While most humans find earwax unappealing, many cats seem fascinated by it and may try to lick or eat it if given the chance. But is it actually bad for cats to eat earwax? The short answer is no, as long as it’s done in moderation. Eating small amounts of fresh earwax is not considered dangerous for cats. However, the habit can be unhygienic for both pets and owners, and excessive wax consumption may cause digestive upset in some cases. This article explores why cats eat earwax, the potential risks, and how to curb the behavior.

What is earwax?

Earwax, also known as cerumen, is a waxy substance produced by glands in the ear canal. It is composed of a mixture of secreted oils, dead skin cells, and hair (Earwax (Cerumen): Types, Causes & What It’s Made Of, 2023). Earwax contains approximately 60% sebum, which is an oily secretion produced by sebaceous glands. It also contains dead skin cells that have migrated from the outer ear canal. In addition, small hairs trapped in the wax contribute to the overall composition of earwax (Ear Clinic, n.d.). The sebum provides earwax with its waxy texture while the dead skin cells and hair give it the yellowish-brown color commonly associated with earwax.

Why do cats eat earwax?

One of the main reasons cats are attracted to earwax is because of its salty taste. According to the experts at Daily Paws, cats have a biological drive to seek out foods that are high in protein and fat. Since earwax has a salty, fatty composition, it aligns with a cat’s natural cravings (Source).

A cat’s sense of smell also plays a role. As explained by The Dodo, earwax contains pheromones and fatty acids that give off a distinct scent that appeals to cats. So when a cat smells earwax, it can trigger their natural instinct to taste and consume it (Source).

In summary, the combination of the salty taste and appealing aroma compels many cats to seek out earwax as a desirable snack, even though it may seem unappetizing to humans.

Risks of eating earwax

While eating earwax is generally harmless for cats, there are some potential risks to be aware of. The main risk is gastrointestinal upset or blockage if a cat consumes a large amount of earwax (Source). Earwax is primarily composed of fatty acids, cholesterol, and wax esters. Too much of these fatty components could lead to vomiting or diarrhea in sensitive cats.

Additionally, a large clump of dried earwax could potentially cause a blockage or obstruction if swallowed. This would require immediate veterinary attention. To avoid this, try to keep earwax cleaned from ears regularly. Overall the risks are low, but monitor your cat if they are obsessively eating earwax in case it leads to any digestive issues.

When it’s a concern

If a cat consumes large amounts of earwax, it could lead to potential health issues. Some key concerns include:

Gastrointestinal upset – Eating too much earwax may cause vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation in cats. The waxy buildup can be difficult to digest and may irritate the stomach and intestines (1).

Blockages or impactions – A large mass of earwax could potentially cause an obstruction in the digestive tract. This is uncommon but can be dangerous if severe (2).

Toxicity – Earwax contains traces of medications or chemicals that the human used in or around their ears. Consuming enough wax over time may cause poisoning in pets (3).

Dehydration – Significant vomiting or diarrhea from eating earwax can lead to dehydration. Left untreated, dehydration can become life-threatening.

Weight loss – Cats who experience frequent gastrointestinal upset from eating earwax may start to lose weight. This can become a serious issue if prolonged.

So while an occasional lick of earwax is fine, veterinary care is advised if a cat ingests excessive amounts on a regular basis. Monitoring for signs of illness and restricting access to earwax buildup can help prevent problems.

Preventing the Behavior

The best way to prevent your cat from eating your earwax is to not give them access to areas where they can find it, such as used cotton swabs. According to Daily Paws, you should throw away used Q-tips right away instead of leaving them out where curious cats can get to them.

Keep bathroom trash cans covered or out of reach of your cat. Consider switching to reusable cotton swabs that won’t have earwax on them after use. You can also keep your cat out of the bathroom when you are using cotton swabs so they don’t have the opportunity to try and lick them.

Cats love earwax because of the salty, fatty deposits. But allowing them access to dirty cotton swabs provides places for bacteria to grow. It’s best to deny access completely.

Alternatives for Cats

Since earwax can pose health risks for cats, it’s important to redirect their craving for salty snacks to safer options. Here are some healthy alternatives cats can enjoy:

Chicken, beef, or fish broths make great lickable treats for cats. Opt for low-sodium varieties and serve just a small amount in a shallow bowl. The savory, salty flavor will satisfy your cat’s cravings without the dangers of earwax.

Plain cooked chicken or tuna also offers a hit of saltiness cats love. Shred a little bit of lean meat and let your cat lick it right off the plate. Be sure to avoid seasoning that could upset your cat’s stomach.

Unsalted popcorn or plain air-popped popcorn is a crunchy, savor treat cats often love. The saltiness is minimal but enough to entice many cats. Just be sure to avoid butter, salt, and flavorings.

Whiskas makes Temptations cat treats that are specially designed to satisfy cats’ cravings for a salty crunch. The three main flavors are tuna, chicken, and salmon. They offer a healthy alternative to earwax that cats enjoy.

Talk to your vet about the safest store-bought cat treats to redirect your cat’s desires. Look for all-natural options with minimal salt and real meat as the first ingredients.

Seeing the vet

If symptoms of blockage like vomiting, lack of appetite, lethargy, or abdominal distension appear in your cat, it’s important to see a veterinarian right away. According to PetMD, intestinal obstructions can quickly become life threatening if left untreated. Your vet will likely do an abdominal x-ray to look for foreign materials causing a blockage.

Treatment depends on the location and cause of the blockage. In many cases, surgery may be required to remove the obstructing object. According to Berkeley Dog and Cat Hospital, costs for intestinal blockage surgery typically range from $1,500-$5,000. Prognosis is generally good if treated promptly before sepsis develops.

To prevent future blockages, your vet may advise removing hazardous items from your home environment and switching your cat to a hairball formula food. With quick treatment, most cats recover well from intestinal obstructions.


In summary, some cats may eat human earwax because they like the smell or taste. Earwax is generally not toxic to cats in small amounts, but eating a lot of it could potentially cause an intestinal blockage or other digestive issues. To prevent issues, keep ears clean and try redirecting your cat’s attention when they go for earwax. Provide appropriate snacks and toys as alternatives. See your vet if your cat’s earwax eating seems obsessive or results in symptoms. Overall, occasional earwax ingestion is fairly common in cats and not too concerning, but monitor the behavior and take action if it becomes excessive.


Smith, Jane. “The Effects of Earwax on Feline Health.” Journal of Feline Medicine, vol. 14, no. 2, 2021, pp. 135–159.

Lee, Chris. Feline Nutrition and Behavior. Wiley, 2019.

Roberts, Sarah and Michael Jones. “Why Cats Eat Human Earwax.” Veterinary Quarterly, vol. 5, no. 3, 2019, pp. 201-215.

Peterson, David. “Preventing Earwax Eating in Cats.” American Veterinary Medical Association, 2021, www.avma.org/resources-tools/pet-owners/petcare/preventing-earwax-eating-cats.

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