Feline Love Languages: Why Do Cats Rub Their Face on Things?

Does your cat rub his face on everything? We've decoded the 7 most-common reasons why — and what your cat's trying to tell you.

Updated October 13, 2023
man and cat rubbing faces

Most cat parents have experienced their cat rubbing its face on things. In fact, we, as humans, often love when cats come over and rub their heads against us. It feels like a way for your cat to show they love you, but is that really the reason a cat rubs their face against you? 

Understanding Why Cats Rub Their Face on Things

If you've ever wondered, why does my cat rub his face on my face, you aren't alone. This adorable feline behavior does indeed involve a display of affection, but there are actually several other reasons cats do this. You may see a cat rubbing their face on your face, other cats, or even walls and furniture. This behavior, that experts call bunting, serves several purposes for your kitty.

Your Cat Is Showing Affection

Another reason cats rub their head and face against you is to let you know they love you. Take their face rubbing as a compliment. It’s their way of thanking you for being so wonderful. This is only reserved for their most special humans. You can tell they’re showing you affection for sure when they combine this behavior with purring or chirping. And if your cat rubs against other cats and dogs in the house, it’s a sign of a super happy, loving pet family.

Your Cat Is Claiming Something As Theirs

Cats have scent glands in certain areas of their body, and their head region has several by their chin, mouth, ears, neck, and cheeks. Scent glands are also on a cat’s paws and along their tail. When a cat rubs a scent gland against something or someone, they’re leaving their pheromones, or scent, behind to “mark” that person or thing. It’s a way that cats claim territory and communicate this information to other cats in the area. Even if you live in a single cat household, cats will still do this instinctively. It's a behavior that dates back ages.

Your Cat is Saying "Hello"

If you live with multiple cats, you'll notice them rubbing up against each other as a greeting. According to researchers, by sharing scents, they’re showing bonding in their home or colony. It creates a communal scent that tells the cats in the house that they all belong there. If you have ever taken your cat to the veterinarian or groomer and noticed them getting the cold shoulder from the other cats when they got back, it’s probably because they have lost this community scent. 

Quick Tip

Brush all of your cats regularly and use the same brush on all of them so they all keep the same family scent. 

Cats rubbing heads

Your Cat is Gathering Information

You know how dogs are super obvious about sniffing literally everything to grab the information they need to know? Cats keep things more on the down-low than dogs by collecting the info they want by rubbing their faces against others, especially anyone new. While the face-to-face rub is usually saved for their favorite humans, you might notice your kitty rubbing up against a guest’s leg.

Your Cat Is Leaving a Timestamp

Bunting also puts a timestamp on anything your cat touches. Another cat can smell what your cat left behind, which lets them know to back off of your cat's space. If there isn't a scent there yet, the other cat will likely rub their face up against the wall or object to mark it as their own. 

Your Cat Is Releasing Tension

Cats who are feeling anxious in the moment or stressed about a situation may rub against objects to help relieve some tension. By filling the area they're in with their own scent, they can make themselves feel more secure. If you move to a new home or adopt a new pet, you may notice this behavior more frequently than normal. Since the new house is completely new to the cat, they'll spend a lot of time rubbing their scent against objects and walls. Once they're done, the house will begin to feel more familiar.

Your Cat Is In "The Mood"

Bunting is also a behavior female cats use to tell male cats they’re ready to mate. If your female cat’s not spayed, she might be telling the world she’s ready to mingle! When lady cats are in the mood for love, there’s a good chance they’re about to go on a face-rubbing spree. But once her estrus phase is over, she'll be back to her usual self.

If you have a boy cat, they’re actually more likely to rub their faces against objects like walls and furniture more than female cats. They don’t have heat cycles like female cats, but mating tendencies can still be the root cause. They rub their faces against objects to mark their territory to make sure other boy cats stay away from their female. 

Quick Tip

Even male cats that are neutered have a tendency to bunt objects.

Different Objects Mean Different Things

What (and who) your cat rubs against makes a difference and can give you a clue into the underlying meaning. The reason your cat rubs up against catnip is probably different than why they’re obnoxiously rubbing against your phone as you’re trying to watch TikTok.  

Why Does My Cat Bite/Bump/Headbutt/Rub Her Face On My Phone?

While there isn’t really a scientific answer to this one, there are some fun theories. Not that they really want it, but rubbing their face against your phone could be to mark it as their own. It’s something you carry around with you so that explanation makes sense. Our cats are also little heat-seekers soaking up anything they can to get comfy. If your phone is warm, they might be just getting cozy.

Your cat may alternately send you a message with the head rub. How are you supposed to focus on them when you’re busy playing with the phone? Your kitty may be saying, “lower the screen time and increase the ‘me’ time, purrrlease.”

Why Does My Cat Rub Her Face On My Laptop?

If you’re not paying attention to your cat and they want attention, they’re going to do what they need to get it. Rubbing their face on your laptop is their way of saying, “Hey, I want love and I’m right here.”

If your cat combines this with sitting on your keyboard, they may also enjoy the heat and hum of your laptop. It could be soothing. Whenever I leave my laptop for a little, there’s a good chance my cat will be cozied up next to it or on top of it when I return, especially during the winter months.

Why Does My Cat Rub Her Face On Catnip?

Cats have an intriguing relationship with catnip. The main reason your cat rubs their face against catnip is to get a whiff of a compound called nepetalactone (whew, that's a complicated word). When this compound comes into contact with your kitty's nostrils, it stimulates cells in the brain, giving them a sense of euphoria. A wave of calm happiness rolls up on them and may cause them to roll, purr, or even rub their face against things even more.

Need to Know

Not all cats respond to catnip—it's thought to be an inherited sensitivity. 

Why Does My Cat Rub Her Face On My Face?

Not everyone is going to get this treatment from a cat. Cats reserve this for their most special humans. Whether they’re claiming you as their own, or giving you a kitty “I love you,” you can trust that this headbutt is only for their best buds.

Cats Rub Their Heads On Things for Many Reasons

Most often, a cat rubbing their face against yours is a clear sign of love and affection. But sometimes it can also involve territorial scent marking and mating behavior between cats in or out of the house. Cats can also use this behavior to calm themselves down and get used to a new environment. Overall, it's a positive behavior that cats owners enjoy and encourage, especially if it adds purring and kneading paws as part of the package.

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Feline Love Languages: Why Do Cats Rub Their Face on Things?