Cats are much more loving than we generally assume them to be. Often, we simply don’t understand how this species, since it is so different from us, expresses its affections. We must learn that cats live in their own mysterious world where, if we are attentive enough, we can learn to unlock the door to gaze briefly into their world.
Has your cat ever rubbed her face on a doorway, the legs of a table, or the corner of a sofa? Has your ever cat come over to rub her face against you? Let’s look into this seemingly odd behavior, and try to find out the difference between face rubbing against inanimate objects--and face rubbing against you, her person.
Cats and Scent Marking: Cats use the glands on their faces as well as their chin, ears, cheeks, and neck to leave their scent. These glands become activated from rubbing up against various objects. Called head butting or head bunting, this rubbing means that they are showing other felines their territory. The release of feline facial pheromones tells other cats they are here to hold their ground and this object, and even this person, is part of their territory!
Cats’ Behavior Comes From the Wild: As cats have been domesticated only 10,000 years or so, and not as long as dogs, their behaviors are closer to when they lived in the wild. So, this chemical signaling, which is even more developed in the large wild cats, is very important. When the large cats do this, they are showing the geographical extent of their territories so they don’t overlap with each other. Also, it is thought that head bunting helps them attract mates by chemically displaying the virility of the males. So, this reliance on pheromones for socio-chemical communication within the species can literally mean the difference between life and death out in the wild.
Since these pheromones are behavior altering, in addition to sexuality, they can trigger alarm alerts as well as bonding. These same pheromones can help cats discover where to find food as well as when they should approach or when they should stay away, i.e. whether situations are potential dangers, or not.
Cats Rub Faces to Show Affection. There are many quirky ways in which felines show their affection. The cat behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett says that this behavior is exclusive with bonding, socializing and comforting. So, the cat who rubs her face against you is being affectionate. She further explains that head butting or bunting is also used to seek attention. If your cat rubs up against you with her head, then turns it down and to the side, she is asking to be scratched around the ears, neck, and face. This messaging and scratching releases endorphins, so the more she rubs her face on you, the more she is letting you know she loves you-- even if to her, that love comes in the form of her ownership of you!
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