Last updated: August 15, 2016
Cats are amazingly tactile creatures. They love to show their affection with their whole bodies, especially the parts of their bodies that mark you out as theirs. They have many special places all over their little beings that they can use, but the easiest and best is is the face, because it’s just chock full of scent glands! Cats’ faces are complicated bits of kit! Not only are they used for all the ordinary stuff like breathing, sniffing, eating and seeing. They have lots of other uses.
We used to think that dogs were the ultimate smell machines, but it seems from recent findings that cats are as smell aware as dogs, and certainly better than we are. Cats’ sense of smell is fourteen times better than ours. They have incredibly sensitive noses with around 67 million scent receptors, and scent glands just about everywhere, particularly on their heads. But why do cats rub their heads against things and why do they do it so often?
The Jacobson Organ
Cats have an organ at the front of their mouth just behind their teeth which is called the Jacobson’s Organ, which helps the cat to use his sense of smell more effectively by opening ducts into the nasal cavity, thereby helping him to pick up other cats’ scents. While he’s doing this he opens his mouth slightly and looks as if he’s smiling (and you thought it was because of you!) So why do cats rub their faces against things? For all sorts of reasons! Let’s find out about them.
You’re Welcome to Visit – But This Is My Place
You may have noticed that your cat can’t walk in a straight line for more than a yard at a time, not because he’s been overdosing on the catmint but because he’s had to stop about every three inches to mark something with his cheek. This is just his way of saying to other cats in a cordial and polite way: ‘this is mine, and this is mine, and this is mine! My name is Rascal, you’re welcome to come and visit, but don’t touch my stuff and my people.’
Welcome to the Family
Rubbing of cheeks is one of the ways that cats send out pheromones to friendly cats and humans. These are feline feel-good hormones, and they make cats feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and when cats rub their faces against you, not only are they claiming you as their own but they’re saying: ‘I love you – you’re special to me.’ Occasionally this bunting can become a bit overenthusiastic, and may change from bunting to outright head butting! This butting can even be violent enough to knock your glasses off but it’s his way of saying: ‘I really, really, really love you’ or ‘hello! Anybody in there? I want to be scratched, petted, tickled and played with!’ Give him a forehead and cheek rub. That should sort him out for a few minutes at least!
Cats mark objects to tell other cats not only where they are but when they’ve been there. If the marks are still fresh, it means that the resident cat is still around or has been there very recently. The fainter the scent, the further away he is.
The Oldest Reason in the World
I really think this is a no-brainer. An unspayed female will, among other things, rub herself against just about everything and anyone to tell every intact tom in the neighborhood that she’s fertile and ready to mate. This may also be accompanied by a solo vocal performance of the unmusical and earsplitting kind, and she will urinate everywhere!
Although cats aren’t pack animals, if they are friendly with each other or live in the same family they will ‘allorub’ or rub against each other. They may also ‘allogroom’ which is mutual cleaning. They will happily rub not only their heads but their bodies and paws against each other to show acceptance and friendliness, sharing their scents and bonding with each other.
Your cat can help smooth changes both in place and in possessions. When you acquire something new, for example, transfer the cat’s scent onto it by taking a cloth and transferring some of the pheromones from his cheeks with a dry cloth onto whatever it is. He will know his own scent and realize that this chair, table, cushion or blanket belongs to him too. If you move to a new house, transfer his scent this way to lots of strategic places in the house. Similarly, if there is a stranger in your house and your cat is the nervous sort, you can rub the cat’s pheromones on their feet and ankles as they come in the front door. This works wonders – I’ve seen it!
Making You Mine
My cat does the ultimate in head rubbing. He walks over my body when I’m lying in bed in the morning then comes and rubs his cheek against my lips. After that, he looks deeply into my eyes and sits on my tummy. The feel of those sandpapery lips is just one of the best things about being a cat slave. Why do cats rub their faces on things? To wake them up, of course!
Sometimes things will scare your cat. Of course they will – he’s only human after all! (Did I just say that?) But of course cats are just like us, and they are scared by things like loud noises such as firecrackers, and unpleasant ones like the vacuum cleaner. At times like this just like little children, they will come running to the source of their safety and comfort which is, of course, the person who takes care of them – you! Why do cats rub their faces against things? Well, in this case, it’s because they’re afraid and rubbing their cheeks against you makes them feel better and more secure.
So now you know why cats rub their faces against things, other cats, and you. It’s to mark their territory, spread their scent to other cats, and to tell you that they love you!