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 put forth 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, and 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 like the mouth and feet are also sites of pheromone production.