My Cat Rubs Their Face on Everything
See files for Cats
We know that cats do not show love to their guardians in the same way humans do with each other. They cannot speak verbally with us, so they have to rely on body language and other forms of communication. When we see them rubbing their face against us, it is a clear sign of affection or perhaps a petition for something they want. For this reason, it can be a little odd to see cats rubbing their face on everything and anything in the home. Your cat may rub their face against a chair leg, door frame or even toys and other freestanding objects. Does this mean they love our furniture? Do they want something from their blanket?
At AnimalWised, we explain why my cat rubs their face against everything. To do so, we not only need to understand feline behavior, but we look at the anatomical reasons why face rubbing is such a common cat behavior. We also find out if it is a behavior which should be stopped.
Why cats rub their face against things
When we rub our face against someone, it is a tender moment which conveys intimacy. This can be the case with cats, but there is another biological reason which helps to understand this feline behavior. Cats have glands on certain areas of their body which secrete pheromones. These are coded scent signals which are registered by other felines which convey information even when the original cat is no longer present.
Cats interpret these signals thanks to their a vomeronasal organ (VNO), also known as Jacobson's organ. This organ is an auxiliary sense organ which is related to the cat's olfactory system. The cat registers the pheromones which send a signal to the brain for interpretation. Although other animals can register the scent of cats, only other felines of the same species which have the same receptors will understand the pheromones.
A cat's face has a localized proliferation of pheromone glands. When they rub their face against something or someone, they are secreting these pheromones for various reasons. The glands which secrete pheromones are also present on other parts of the cat's body such as their paws and the base of their tail. Pheromones are found in the body's natural fluids, such as urine, sweat, specialized exocrine glands and mucous secretions of the genitals.
We can see that cats not only rub their face against anything, they will also rub their back and sides of their body. They will also scratch with their paws. Not only does this help condition their claws, but it releases pheromones through the glands in their paw pads.
Types of pheromones in cats
Cats have different types of pheromones depending on the area of the body where a gland is located. While there is crossover between them and much is still not understood about feline pheromones, we can categorize them in the following groups:
- Sex pheromones: there are pheromones which are important for sexual behaviors, mostly released by the perianal glands, in urine or via secretions of the reproductive organs. These substances serve to indicate to the opposite sex the reproductive state of a cat in the given moment. They are also used to mark the territory. Unsterilized male cats mark the home with urine. The same occurs with female cats in heat.
- Paw pheromones: likewise, cats release pheromones through the pads of their legs. These pheromones are released together with sweat. Cats only sweat through this area of their body. These substances also serve to mark the territory. We can see cats scratch this behavior when they use scratching posts or simply claw on the couch. It is why many cats do not like to use toys and accessories of other cats.
- Facial pheromones: finally, cats have pheromone-releasing glands on the lips, cheeks and chin. This type of pheromone is able to change the negative mood to a positive one. They are emitted to reassure the cat when with people they consider family or when they feel their territory may be threatened.
Now we know about the types of pheromones in cats, we can understand why they rub their face against everything they see.
Why do cats rub their faces against objects?
As we know facial pheromones are used for territorial behaviors, we can understand why they rub their face on everything. Although domesticated, cats are relatively insecure animals, something which relates to their wild ancestry. In the wild, a cat can be vulnerable to predators at almost any time. Whether asleep or awake, they need to feel reassured.
By rubbing their face on everything in our home, cats secrete their territorial pheromone. Not only does this warn other cats who may want to enter their territory, it reassures themselves by helping them to know they are somewhere safe. On a very basic level is send signals to their brain via the vomeronasal organ that they are home.
A study published in the German scientific journal Journal of Animal Psychology also that both male and female cats also combine facial pheromones with sex pheromones. This can attract the attention of the opposite sex. In addition, they discovered that rubbing against objects not only had a marking function, but it is also part of the visual communication of the cat.
If a cat bumps their head or rubs against something in the presence of another cat or animal they know, it conveys friendly behavior. When with their human guardian, a cat rubbing their face against them shows they feel safe and secure. In other words, it is a display of trust and familial love. They are connoting their state of comfort and may even use this gesture to reassure their guardian.
Learn more in our related article about the different ways cats display affection.
Other reasons cats rub themselves against everything
We will have seen that cats rub their heads against objects and people, but we may still be confused as to why cats rub themselves between our legs or other places. Here we share more specific reasons for this behavior:
- Spatial location: cats mark objects to delimit their territory. They also mark objects within their field of vision that stand out. In doing so, they are creating a map of odors that guide them within their territory. Although we may be moving, cats will try to rub against our legs for the same purpose. This is why some cats may even trip us up in their effort to mark us.
- Emotional stabilization: when a cat arrives in a new place, after making a quick scan, they will begin to mark the territory with its face, so that it is familiar and produces calm and confidence. The same applies when they rub themselves against our legs.
- Communication: in cat colonies or in multi-cat households, several individuals rubbing against the same objects creates a kind of ‘herd smell’. This has a unifying effect for the group of cats that live together.
Should we stop a cat rubbing against everything?
Since rubbing their face and other parts against object is an innate and healthy feline behavior, we should allow it to continue. It helps cats to feel secure and is an important part of their communication. Trying to stop this behavior would not only be futile, but it will cause the cat serious harm. They will likely develop behavioral and health problems due to stress.
We also want this behavior to continue because it helps strengthen our bond. Cats rubbing against us shows they love and trust us. We should not want to stop them showing their love as it is one of the best aspects of sharing our lives with felines.
The only real problem cats rubbing against objects is a practical one. If cats try to rub against objects on shelves, they may knock them over. If they rub against our legs, it can be a tripping hazard. These are merely considerations we need to make when living with a cat. We need to ensure we don't allow them access to places with fragile objects and be careful when walking with a cat in the home.
For more information on cat behavior, take a look at another common practice when cats expose their belly to you.
If you want to read similar articles to My Cat Rubs Their Face on Everything, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.
- Pageat, P. (1998). U.S. Patent No. 5,709,863. Washington, DC: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
- DePorter, T. L. (2015). Use of pheromones in feline practice. Feline Behavioral Health and Welfare, 235 – 243.
- Verberne, G. (1976). Chemo communication among domestic cats mediated by the olfactory and vomeronasal senses part 2 the relation between the function of jacobson’s organ vomeronasal organ and flehmen behavior. Zeitschrift fuer Tierpsychologie, 42(2), 113 – 128.