Beast Mode is Slate’s pet advice column. Have a question? Send it to email@example.com. We love dogs and cats equally, and reserve treats and positive reinforcement for questions about your turtle, guinea pig, bird, snake, fish, or other beast.
Dear Beast Mode,
I have two cats, a boy and a girl, both of whom have been fixed. I’ve had them for eight years, and I love them to pieces.
Today, something happened that I thought couldn’t happen because they’re fixed. I looked over at my male cat, and his whole penis was out and he was licking it. It made me super uncomfortable, partly because I’ve never seen him do this before and partly because it was on my bed.
I feel stupid asking this, but is this normal grooming and I’ve just never seen it before? Or is he uh, enjoying himself on my bed?
—Cat in the Act
Dear Cat in the Act,
There’s an old joke about why animals lick their own genitals, and the punchline is generally accurate: “because they can.” Your cat was blessed with Gumby-like pliability, and he’s just taking advantage of this in order to befriend his Pokey. Apologies if that unfortunate euphemism has ruined Claymation for you; I can be a real blockhead sometimes. Where was I? Oh yes, feline autoeroticism.
“Cat masturbation is relatively common, even in altered cats,” certified animal behaviorist Mikel Delgado tells me over email. “The most common form of this behavior is humping things like blankets or stuffed animals, but we do see males grooming their penises, too.” Different strokes for different folks.
What you interpreted as a shocking affront to decency was in fact some pretty mundane behavior. There’s no use in getting bent out of shape, even if you see the cat doing exactly that just to pleasure himself.
No matter how much this self-love may make you uncomfortable, you should just ignore it. He’s a cat, and there’s no use in trying to impart society’s prudish mores onto him. A strong reaction to his licking can actually encourage the behavior, so please play it cool lest he get the idea that there’s something in it for him (beyond the obvious). Overgrooming can cause irritation, and you really don’t want to turn this occasional habit into a compulsion.
While he’s acting totally normal, there may be a small chance that something’s off. “Sometimes it can indicate some anxiety or an irritation in the penis or urinary tract, so it doesn’t hurt to mention it to your vet.” Delgado says. “If your cat is prone to anxiety and you think this behavior is a response to stressors in the environment, work with your vet and/or a qualified behavior specialist to address the stressful triggers.”
It’s always best to be proactive in contacting your vet directly for advice, so run this by them to ensure your cat has a clean bill of health. If that’s the case, there’s nothing to worry about. Really. According to Delgado, she’s never heard of a case where a neutered cat produced ejaculate from this type of behavior.
Your cat—and your bedspread—will be fine.
This piece has been updated to recommend proactively contacting your vet in this scenario.