Why Do Some Cats Like Shoes, Socks, Feet, Bleach, or Chlorine?

cat with shoe
Cat with Shoe, RBerteig, Flickr

After watching their cats go wild over seemingly innocuous items such as shoes or wet swimsuits, many owners wonder if their pets are normal. These behaviours are actually quite common, and although experts don’t know for sure why cats have these intense attractions, the most plausible theory is that they are drawn to pheromones and substances that mimic them.

Why Does My Cat Love Shoes, Socks, or Bare Feet?

Some cats love to chew, suck, or rub their faces all over shoes, socks, or feet. Chewing on shoes or socks may be a variant of the fabric sucking behaviour often seen in cats that have been weaned too early. However, many cats simply find the smell of shoes, dirty socks, and feet appealing. Theories proposed to explain the feline foot obsession include the following:

    • A beloved owner’s scent is highly concentrated on his feet, and by extension, his shoes and socks, and this scent has a comforting effect on the cat.
    • Cats may like the taste of the salt in sweaty footwear.
    • Shoes and bare feet capture scents from the ground they walk over, so owners bring home a variety of interesting smells that tell the cat where they’ve been and what they’ve encountered along the way.
    • Cats have scent glands in their cheeks, and they rub their faces on shoes and socks to cover scents that have been acquired during outdoor excursions, thus re-staking their claim to these objects.
    • Cats react to human pheromones in sweat much in the way they react to catnip (which has an ingredient that mimics feline pheromones).

It’s likely that several of these factors play a role, though pheromones may be a particularly strong draw, especially for cats that behave as though they have consumed catnip when in the presence of shoes, socks, or feet. According to Kohl et al. (2001), although pheromones are primarily associated with the apocrine glands found on areas of the body such as the armpits and genitals, moist body parts such as the mouth and feet are also sites of pheromone production.

Why Do Cats Go Crazy for Catnip and Valerian?

Catnip contains a compound called nepetalactone that attracts cats, most likely by mimicking feline sex pheremones. This theory is supported by the lack of response to catnip among very young kittens and the higher response rate in males (though 20%-30% of cats are non-responders overall).

Because catnip is a member of the mint family, some cats are also attracted to mint plants. Catnip and fresh mint leaves are not harmful to cats, though certain essential oils, including peppermint oil, are toxic to them.

Valerian, another cat-attractant and intoxicant, has a stimulating effect due to a substance called actinidine, which causes reactions similar to those triggered by nepetalactone. Cats get excited and sometimes even a little aggressive under its influence. Fresh-growing valerian isn’t harmful to cats, though some highly-concentrated medications containing it may not be safe.

Why Does My Cat Love Chlorine?

Some cats react to chlorine much in the same way they do to catnip. These cats chew on an owner’s hair or towel after he’s been to the pool, or try to lick surfaces that have been recently cleaned with bleach or other cleaning products that contain it. The most likely reason for this attraction is that the smell of chlorine is perceived as similar to certain constituents in cat urine.

Catnip and valerian exert their effects by mimicking cat sex pheromones, and chlorine may produce a similar effect in some cats. However, unlike catnip and valerian, which are safe for cats, chlorine is toxic, so cats should be prevented from consuming it. If your cat has a chlorine obsession, shower well with soap after swimming, put your swimsuit and towel somewhere inaccessible until they can be washed, and close the doors to any room where you are using bleach to clean surfaces.

Because some cats may perceive bleach or ammonia as the urine of other cats, cleaning areas cats have sprayed or urinated with chlorine- or ammonia-based cleaners can backfire, causing the cat to keep targeting the same spot. Cat urine should be cleaned with an enzymatic cleaner such as Nature’s Miracle to remove all traces. Otherwise, the cat may believe that another cat has urinated there, which will compel him to re-stake his claim to the spot by spraying or urinating over the scent mark of his rival.

For more cat articles, see the main Cats page.

References:

    • ASPCA. (2010). “Peppermint Oil.” ASPCA.org.
    • Feline Advisory Bureau. (n.d.). “The Cat Friendly Home.” FABCats.org.
    • Kohl, J.V., Atzmueller, M., Fink, B., & Grammer, K. (2001). “ Integrating Neuroendocrinology and Ethology.” Neuroendocrinology Letters, 22(5). NEL.edu.
    • Scientific American. (29 May 2007). “How Does Catnip Work Its Magic on Cats?” ScientificAmerican.com.

13 thoughts on “Why Do Some Cats Like Shoes, Socks, Feet, Bleach, or Chlorine?”

  1. I just got out of my pool and my cat is acting crazy licking in between my toes and all up and down my feet

  2. All I have to do is wiggle my toes where my cat can see them and she’s right there rubbing her head on them. Adorable.

  3. My cat & bleach. I have a male cat, age 4. He is a Lynx point, therefore of Siamese breed. He is a highly intelligent cat, He fetched his toys as a kitten, He learned to open every drawer cupboard, dresser drawer, even fireplace-wood burning doors. He is a very adventurous, affectionate cat. I have NEVER seen him hiss or scratch and had him since a kitten. If he smells bleach on my hands he goes BESERK! He wants to CHEW it if my hand with savagery. I know many people say their cat loves bleach. I heard of (on the news) where dogs have chewed their diabetic-masters feet, or a gangrene spot in their foot which saved the masters lives. I can’t help wonder what is going on in my cats mind. Another theory people have is trying to cover a urine scent. Thought I would ad the “disease theory”, this is a mystery,

  4. ~continued~ Also wanted to add (not enough room). A specific ant that live in Oak trees smells like a pesticide, I mean strong & pungent. My daughter has got the smell of those ants on her hands, and my cat has the same effect with these ants as he does with the bleach. I know there is people who want to research this more. I do not know the name of the ant, but my family (tree surgeons) are familiar with them since they live in Oaks, and are potent as hell. Have a good bite too! They also are killing my trees. I would Love to research this more….also I have plenty of ants as well.

  5. ~continued~ Many people say their cats love chlorine. To me, my cat seems to strongly dislike it and wants to destroy it. That is my opinion, with my cat. Anyone, please reply. Your welcome to email me, but be sure to enter CATS & CHLORINE in the subject. lynne.mccartney@yahoo.com.

    1. My cat, King, goes nuts over the smell of chlorine, but I don’t know if he likes it, similar to catnip, or hates it. He rolls around in my towels and swimsuit after I swim, but when he smells me he begins BITING. And they’r not little playful nips either; though he honestly doesn’t nip/bite that much, even when playing. But when I smell like chlorine he goes nuts biting me and holding onto me with his claws. I’m not sure what the deal is, but I’m pretty sure he hates chlorine because of the biting and because he’s never acted this way with catnip.

  6. My female cat loves my woman’s shoes but not mine. She rolls and makes all kinds of noises when rubbing up against woman’s shoes. My two male cats do not do this. Female pheromones must be the attraction.

    1. Same for us. And our female cat was spayed many years ago. She also likes chlorine and to a lesser extent, mint. Perhaps the pheromones aren’t sexual, but remind her of her mother’s smell? She’s very cuddly and happy when she gets in my shoes, especially the ones I wear barefoot (Birkenstocks etc).

  7. It’s nice to come home after a day worrying about your stinky feet to have your cat treat the socks you take off like a lover. (‘;

  8. My cat always go after us everytime each of us finish shower. Then it will sit on the feet and we wonder why. Finally I got the answer hahahah

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