You’re getting ready to start the day and just hopped out of the shower when suddenly you notice a little feline figure behind you…
But instead of living up to the elegant and regal feline image (a persona that cats have spent a lot of time cultivating) your cat is passionately and intensely licking the shower curtain. What a little weirdo!
So what’s going on here? Why does your cat lick the shower curtain? The most likely reason is that your cat simply likes to drink the water from the shower curtain. Cats generally prefer fresh moving water whenever it’s available and your shower curtain is a great source. In other cases, cats might just like the taste of the plastic as it may contain gelatin.
But the reasons can be as varied as the feline personalities behind them so let’s dive a little deeper and find out why so many cats can’t get enough shower curtain.
Reason 1: Cats Are Very Picky About Water
When it comes to finding the perfect water source, cats can be very picky. But it’s for good reason! As veterinarian Deb Greco tells the folks at VetStreet, cats might prefer moving water instead of the water in their bowl because “instinct whispers to them telling them standing water isn’t always safe. It might be contaminated, for instance. For most wild animals – and I think we can safely say that most cats are at least wild at heart – running water is a better bet.”
While your cat might not have the chance to track down a hidden freshwater stream, your shower curtain does present a great chance to find clean, fresh, and moving water. So while it might seem like your cat is just being a weirdo they’re actually being quite practical. You can learn even more about why cats like moving water in this article.
But just because your cat has decided to drink from the shower curtain doesn’t mean they’re necessarily thirsty or that you’re not providing enough water. Sometimes, it has less to do with how much water is available but instead where the water bowl is located. But that’s not just my opinion- a detailed study by the folks at Royal Canin confirmed this when they found cats drinking from random locations throughout their outdoor territory even when they had a fresh, full bowl at home. Researchers concluded that “cats apparently like to use different drinking options, and should therefore be offered several possibilities.”
Reason 2: Plastic Shower Curtains Contain Animal Fat (And Cats Like The Taste)
What if your carnivorous cat could taste the animal ingredients contained within your plastic shower curtain?
Sound a little far fetched? Not according to veterinarian and feline specialist Dr. Arnold Plotnick. When discussing why cats lick plastic bags, he explains that “The most logical reason I’ve heard, however, is that cats like licking or eating plastic bags because rendered animal fat (also called “tallow”) is utilized during the manufacture of some plastic bags, and that some cats can detect the smell and enjoy the taste.”
Like bags, many shower curtains are made from plastic and also contain gelatin or tallow that’s sourced from animal fats. Even though it just smells like plastic to us, our cats are regularly experiencing a completely different world of smells. That’s because their sense of smell is as much as 14 times stronger than our own!
Interestingly, this could also explain a variety of other feline licking behaviors as Dr. Plotnick explains: “Gelatin, in fact, is used in the manufacture of many items including the emulsion used in photographs, which may explain why my own carnivorous cat, Emma, enthusiastically licked clean all of my unattended family photos one afternoon.”
That means shower curtains aren’t only a good source of freshwater but depending on your shower curtain it could even be fat-flavored water! Yummy?
Reason 3: Cats Like The Texture and Temperature
I’d argue that cats don’t need a good reason to lick the shower curtain and many folks suggest that cats lick plastic curtains simply because the texture feels nice. Compared to other items around the house, shower curtains have a somewhat unique feel and cats may find it comforting to lick them. It’s also entirely possible that licking shower curtains started as a unique source of water for your cat but they continued to do it because they enjoyed the way it feels on their little tongues.
The same could be said about the temperature. The shower curtain could be warm after you’ve just showered or it could be nice and cool if the water has been sitting for some time. Either way, it’s probably a different temperature than the rest of the house and certainly adds some variety to what your cat typically licks!
Reason 4: It’s Chemical
Plastic is just about everywhere in our world…but that’s not always a good thing. Some chemicals inside plastics can actually mimic the smell of pheromones and cause some strange reactions in cats. The folks at Canidae explain that these pheromones could explain why cats lick the shower curtain but they go on to say “Licking the plastic could cause a flehmen response, and could also be why a cat will urinate on a plastic bag.” These pheromone-like signals can be very interesting for your cat even if they’re spayed or neutered already.
The tricky part about plastics is that even though it’s such an integral part of our world, it’s hard for the average person to figure out what’s actually in them. NPR conducted a study where they analyzed the chemicals found in common plastic items after they were soaked in salt water or exposed to other conditions. They found that “more than 70 percent of the products released chemicals that acted like estrogen.” While estrogen isn’t the same as pheromones it still illustrates that there are things in plastic that we can’t readily identify with our own senses- but it’s certainly possible that our cats can.
Reason 5: They Like The Attention
While licking the shower curtain may have started as an interest in finding a novel water source or maybe your cat liked the smooth texture, some cats may continue the habit because of your reaction. I believe that positive reinforcement is an often-overlooked reason why some cats continue weird behaviors.
While it may not be a reason for starting the behavior, some cat owners will give their cat attention when they lick the shower curtain. Whether that’s talking to them in a high-pitched voice or some petting, cats can quickly get used to the positive attention they get from taking a drink from the plastic wall. If you need proof of this positive reinforcement just check out all the videos of cats licking shower curtains on Youtube!
Reason 6: Some Plastics Contain Corn Starch
If it isn’t the tallow or gelatin contents that get cats interested in the taste of shower curtains it could be the corn starch that’s found in many types of plastics including some shower curtains. While corn starch isn’t something that your carnivore cat would naturally eat, you can find corn in dozens of lower quality cat foods and it’s pretty clear that cats are happy with the taste. While I think this one is less likely than some of the other explanations it’s still worth a mention.
Honorable Mention: It Could Be Anxiety
While it shouldn’t the first on the list, it could be anxiety-related. Usually, when anxious cats lick too much they end up overgrooming themselves and removing large chunks of fur but in some cases, cats may direct their licking to something else like a shower curtain. The folks at Cornell Veterinary School explain, “Like people who bite their fingernails, the repetitive act of licking may involve a stress-relieving pleasure component that reinforces the behavior. Thus, feline licking can become a habit that persists after the cause is identified and resolved.”
While it might be a bit of a stretch, you could think of licking the shower curtain the same way that some nail biters turn to chewing pens. Again, it’s much more likely that a stressed cat will turn to their own fur first for obsessive licking but it’s worth considering particularly if your cat seems a bit obsessed with getting to the shower.
Should You Worry About Your Cat Licking The Shower?
Generally, it’s not a big deal if your cat takes on a fascination with licking your shower curtain. Problems can arise though if it turns from licking to eating which is indicative of an unusual condition called pica. Feline pica is when cats eat non-food items and it can have major health consequences for cats that eat the wrong items.
As long as your cat is only licking the shower curtain and not trying to actually bite and eat it, there’s generally nothing to worry about. However, if you’re using a lot of products in the shower, it’s probably worth giving the curtain a quick rinse before you end your shower. Just to make sure you’re cat isn’t ingesting something they shouldn’t.
How Can I Stop My Cat From Licking The Shower?
Even if you aren’t worried about feline pica you may not want your cat to be licking the shower. Luckily, it’s easy enough to discourage the behavior but it’s always important to try and understand why your cat licking the shower. While it can be hard to figure out what’s going on in the furry feline mind, understanding the motive behind a behavior can go a long way in finding an appropriate alternative.
The most obvious thing you can do is shut the door and prevent your cat from entering the bathroom at all. While that will work, you might end up with other problems like a cat meowing or scratching at the door! That’s why it’s important to give your cat an appropriate outlet for behavior rather than just trying to stop it but let’s take a look at a few of your other options.
Add More Water Locations
There’s actually a lot that goes into picking the perfect location for your cat’s water bowl but sometimes it’s easier to just place as many water bowls as you can hoping that your cat will find one they like! Cats that lick specifically wet shower curtains might just want some added variety to their water options. Closing the door will prevent your cat from licking the wet curtains but it won’t stop them from wanting some more interesting water sources!
You don’t need to go fancy with the bowls you select and some of my favorite no tip, flip or spill water bowls are just big heavy bowls (you can see my favorites here). You can also consider a water fountain that will more closely resemble the moving water of your shower curtain. The gold standard for feline water fountains (at least in my opinion) is the Catit Flower Fountain and you can see it here on Amazon.
Change Your Curtain
If you don’t want to go through the hassle of trying to keep your cat out of the bathroom by constantly guarding the door, simply changing the shower curtain will often stop the licking. Whether it’s the temperature, texture, smell, or taste most of it has of the motivations have to do with the plastic so by going for a cloth shower curtain you can usually break the habit.
You’ve got a few options here but the most budget-friendly is going to be something like this polyester fabric curtain on Amazon. They also make a polyester liner to go with it and they both have hundreds of five-star reviews.
Don’t Put Anything On The Curtains To Deter Your Cat!
You might find a few examples of folks suggesting that you put something on your curtains to deter your cat. I know one source that recommended placing essential oils on the shower curtains but essential oils are extremely toxic to cats so please don’t do that! You could consider using essential oils in your bathroom that cats don’t like but never place the oils in a location that cats will lick or otherwise come in direct contact. Even when it comes to cat-safe deterrents it’s going to be difficult to actually set up in the bathroom so it’s probably best to just close off the area and focus on redirecting your cat to other water sources.
Like many interesting feline behaviors, the reasons behind why it occurs can sometimes be more complex than we might think at first. But cats usually have their reasons and in many cases it’s a combination of things that keep a cat coming back to the shower curtain.
But what do you think motivates your particular feline friend to like the shower curtains?
Why do some cats love to bat at everything? We've got 4 reasons to explain why cats love to bop, bat, and paw at the world around them.
Do cats mate for life? Are our domestic cats monogamous? They most certainly are not! Learn more about our polygamous felines in this article!