If your cat – male or female – has ever rubbed his or her face against yours, chances are high you believe this to be a form of affection in some way, even if you’re not quite sure why or how.
You may think to yourself that it feels like a very cat thing to do. That it feels like some kind of affectionate way of engaging with you, but not know exactly why or how this might be the case and want to delve into a further explanation.
I’m going to delve into this topic in this particular article, and explain a few things about cats that you may have heard here and there, but not had enough of an explanation or really deeply understood.
Or maybe you’ve never heard any of these terms and explanations before because you’re new to cats and the world of really odd cat behaviours, which are numerous, by the way, and this is far from the oddest.
Cats have quite a few odd behaviours around human faces, two of mine sneeze on my face quite frequently, some cats lick their pet parents’ faces, and some of them (like two different cats I know than the sneezing ones I have!) even put their paws on humans’ faces, which is an ever-so-cute behaviour!
Only one of my cats frequently rubs his face on my own.
His name is Avery and we’ve had him for ages and he’s done this since we first got him.
He definitely does it more often when he’s moody – like right before he eats.
Or when he’s gotten extra super duper cuddles and feeling hyper affectionate. Or when he hasn’t had cuddles in a while and he’s just gotta give me one of these “cat kisses” as I like to clal
The others will more often rub their faces on my fingers or hands or whatever I’m using to pet my cat with.
But the one that rubs his face on my face is typically the type to rub his face on other things – in general, a lot more often.
I’ll start by explaining this more general behaviour – of a cat rubbing their own face on things and people and objects – and then I’ll get into the face-to-face version a little bit later in this article.
Why Does My Cat Rub Her Face on Things?
When your cat rubs his or her face on things, they are “scenting” or “marking.”
Either of these descriptors works, though they mean slightly different things, and I’ll describe what they mean and why they explain away this common cat behaviour with something you most likely already know about.
That’s “marking” in the sense of a typically male cat – who has not been neutered – peeing on spots to “mark” them as their territory.
I think dogs do this (correct me if I’m wrong!) along with most likely a slew of other animals that I really have little to no knowledge of.
But the fact remains – that act of “marking” is a territory thing, and it’s a way of letting anyone else who may sniff, “This is mine.”
This place, this thing, this person, whatever the case may be.
Why does it work? Well urine contains the smell of the animal – quite potently – and while you can’t smell the difference between one cat’s pee and another cat’s pee, your cat can, and other cats can, and I’m guessing it might also be possible for dogs to tell the difference too.
We don’t smell all that well, but if we did, we would likely see the world completely differently in an instant.
It would become a lot more obvious what things smelled like one cat over another, one dog over another, that type of thing, and those scents that smell familiar would be much more calming and anxiety reducing to us because they would be familiar feeling.
So when you bring a new object, like a blanket, into the house, and you present it to your cat to use, what initially happens?
He or she smells it! Immediately, and it’s like the cat can’t get enough of it.
What happens after a few days? Your cat no longer cares, and that blanket, after having been “worn in” by being used, now smells like your cat to your cat.
That’s from all the sweat, oil, hair, and just general living. And that’s not a gross or disgusting or bad thing. It’s like if you took some rosemary and rubbed it on a blanket, that blanket would smell of the rosemary.
It’s just how smells work, and it’s perfectly natural and fine, and not gross or dirty in any way.
So that brings me to “scenting” – which is the other term that can describe your cat rubbing his or her face on things.
It’s a form of “marking,” but doesn’t include urinating when most people use it.
Instead, it’s a method of a cat making something smell like itself, spreading his or her smell onto a person or object or place, that uses these scents through the oil glands on their face, or even mouths, which rubbed off makes the “scent” smell more like the cat itself.
So when your cat “scents” – it’s like marking, like peeing on things to mark those things as territory.
But moreover, it’s for making a place or person or whatever the case may be, smell a bit more familiar and like itself and like home.
Licking, grooming, or cleaning you would get the same job done. Like cats do with their young and sometimes also with the other cats in their home.
But scenting does this in a much more subtle way. Still effective, however!
When your cat rubs his or her face on an object like the end of a table or on your finger, or onto your laptop or phone, your cat is not really only saying “this thing is mine” to other cats, but is also and most likely more so spreading his or her scent onto that item so that when he or she walks around your house they know, this place is safe, this place smells like me, and that brings your cat comfort.
So it’s not just a possessive, “Mine” in a really territorial, “You can’t have it” way – it’s more of a, “Mine” in a “I love this object/person/place/thing” way and “This brings me comfort, it is good and I like it.”
Cats almost certainly find the behaviour of scenting relaxing.
And the benefits of that behaviour are reaped later as well when the cat continues to smell him or herself all over his or her surroundings, all quietly whispering, “Safe, good, happy, I like.” A cat that’s surrounded by this is a happy, relaxed cat.
Which is why it’s such a good idea to bring along some objects that smell like you and like your cat along with you when you move to a new home, without washing them. Even l lining the carrier in a blanket that smells of your cat helps.
Those objects yell, “We are safe in this blanket, it smells like us.” Then your cat can go around scenting new things, and making them safe and smell like him or her, too.
Why Does My Cat Rub Her Face on Mine?
If you’ve ever watched The Lion King before, no doubt you’ve seen and recall parts of the film where Simba and Nala are together, as kids or even reunited as adults, and rub their faces on one another repeatedly, over and over sort of doing a dance where both do this simultaneously.
You may have felt this looks so feline like – and I did too.
Disney does a phenomenal job of studying and getting the movements and behaviours of animals just right in their films, and that looks so much like a lion that’s happy and loves another lion that it’s pretty easy to get it ingrained in our heads as pretty much the image of lion love.
It almost feels like a “lion kiss” in some ways. It’s not that cats really kiss each other, but they all seem to do this behavior, and so maybe two cats rubbing their faces together is more like a kind of kiss.
Well what about this behaviour screams affection? It’s definitely the intimacy of it. I’m letting you near my face and you’re letting me near yours and that’s a lot of trust.
But there’s also the scent aspect of it that you now know – I’m scenting you, marking you, as a thing that is mine, my territory, so others know, but also my comfort thing, my thing that I love, that makes me feel safe and so I want it to smell more like me, so it brings me even more happiness.
Ever smelled a cat’s breath? It definitely smells a little like them. So when a cat uses the edge of his or her closed mouth and scents, this is pretty damn effective at getting that thing to smell more like that cat.
Similarly with the top of a cat’s head – there’s a lot of healthy skin oils on there that smell of a cat, so that’s another easy way for a cat to spread their scent.
And those two in combination – that cat face rub.
Cats will do this to each other sometimes, but they’re also able to do it on your face. To say I love you. To get comfort from someone they love smelling more like them. And you sure as hell wouldn’t let it happen if you weren’t actually safe. You wouldn’t let a cat near your face if you felt it was a threat.
So this behaviour is also a representation of, your cat trusts you, but you also trust it, enough to allow your cat to be close enough to scent you, and to make you smell more like him or her.
To make your smell more comforting, because your two smells blend (as your smell is also comforting to your cat, because he or she knows it, and is familiar with it, and associates it with you!).
So What’s My Cat Rubbing Her Face on Mine Mean?
It means your cat loves you. And trusts you. And your cat knows you love her and trust her, or else she wouldn’t be trying to get so close to your face.
And your cat is comforted by you. And marking you as his or her own. And loves it when you smell more like she does because it lets other cats know you’re hers and you love her. And it brings her even more comfort cause when she smells you she smells herself all over you and that means you’re hers too.
It means you’re accepted as part of the clan, you’re loved, you’re wanted, and you now smell like home.
It means happy.
Your Thoughts on Cats Rubbing Their Faces on Humans?
Why do you think cats sometimes rub their faces on their humans?
Have you a cat who does this more or less often than others? Do you have any theories on why they do this? Did my explanation make sense?
Do you have any theories, stories, thoughts, opinions, or comments in general that you could share on this topic with us in the comments down below? I’d love to hear them!
And as for me, I’m gonna go cuddle with a cat and get a few more of these cat kisses for myself. 😉