Do cats like it when you rub your face on them the way they do to you?

Face rubbing is one of those things that all cats do to their owners.

So, it makes sense to wonder if they’d like for us to do it to them.

Keep reading to find out the answer.

Do Cats Like it When You Rub Your Face on Them?

a cute grey kitten rubbing face on a lady

Face rubbing is a fairly common thing for cats to do to us owners. It’s right up there along with the closely related head butt.

They do this to display both affection and ownership.

However, just because they can do it to us, doesn’t necessarily make it a two-way street.

I recently came across a question in one of the forums asking if cats liked for us to face rub them the way they do us.

So, let’s discuss, starting with a deeper look at why they do it.

Why Face Rubbing is a Thing

Let’s be clear- no one REALLY knows why cats do anything.

Scientists and animal behaviorists make educated guesses, but as we’ve said before, cats are horrible research subjects.

As far as face rubbing goes, science has a few potential answers, depending on what they’re rubbing up against.

In general, experts say it’s all about marking [1]. Cats have glands [2] throughout their sweet little faces that leave behind their scent.

So, when they rub up against something- say their favorite naptime chair- they’re basically saying, “I was here. This is mine. Don’t steal it.”

Since we’re talking about why they rub against you here, though, the most likely answers are as I said above: it’s both a sign of affection and ownership.

But face rubbing has many meanings, so we’re going to discuss all these reasons why your cat rubs face on you in a moment. 

Why Do Cats Rub Their Face on Things and People?

So, you’ve probably noticed that your cat loves to rub its face on various objects around the house. 

But have you ever thought about the reason behind this cute gesture? Here are 7 surprising explanations. 

#1 Marking Territory

As I already explained, cats have glands in their cheeks and chins, which release pheromones whenever your cat rubs against something. 

Grey cat rubbing face on a screen

Using these scent glands, cats communicate with other felines and warn other felines to stay away from their territory. 

Moreover, cats can determine when another cat has been around, thanks to these pheromones. In this way, your feline friend can avoid conflict with other cats. 

Humans can’t smell these subtle scent marks, but the chemicals are so pungent that cats don’t have problems recognizing each other by scent alone. 

#2 Reestablishing Ownership 

Let me tell you a secret. Cats don’t like to share things or people with other pets. 

And they have got such an excellent sense of smell, it’s a piece of cake to pick up any scent marks or chemicals left by strange cats on you. 

If your kitty doesn’t swat you with its paws to punish you, you can expect a cat face rub to remove the smell of unfamiliar cats and establish its ownership.

The same thing will happen if you decide to introduce another cat. Your kitty will rub faces on objects to reestablish its claim and say, “This is mine!”

And when you have guests, your cat will seek to re-mark its territory and favorite objects as soon as the visitors are out of the house. 

Interestingly, cats often choose to rub against the coffee table’s edges, corners, box edges, or anything else that sticks out.

#3 Looking for a Mate

Do you know that male cats are more likely to rub their faces and bodies against objects than female cats?

Likely, this behavior has to do with your cat’s sexual impulses.

Cat rubbing face on a grill

The more objects the cat rubs faces on, the more likely they will attract females during the mating season.

In this case, intact cats say, “I’m interested! Come and find me!”

Moreover, rubbing faces on things and people also sends a message to other potential tomcats in the vicinity, warning them to stay away. 

#4 Picking up Scents

Cats not only leave their unique scent mark behind when they rub against objects and people. 

They also pick up tons of information, such as who has been around and when. That’s how your cat knows when you’ve been eating something tasty without sharing. 

Moreover, cats often rub their faces on people and things to merge their scent with the scent of their favorite person/object, especially in a multi-cat household. 

If you pay close attention to your cat’s body language, you’ll notice that cats who get along often use rubbing and bunting as a form of greeting.

In this way, cats create a unique scent, making it easy for cats to distinguish friend from foe. Rubbing also helps with the bonding.

#5 Seeking Comfort 

an affectionate cat headbutting the lady

Have you ever noticed that your cats head bunt more often when they are nervous? 

In times of stress, some cats and kittens will do several face rubs to spread their scent on objects or people in an attempt to create a familiar environment. 

So, when my kitten rubs its face against mine, I know the little one is seeking a little bit of extra comfort and reassurance. 

#6 Seeking Attention

Why is a stray cat rubbing against me? 

If you feel like a cat magnet no matter where you go, the explanation is simple. Cats are trying to attract your attention and get something tasty in return. 

Moreover, I’ve noticed that my cats will often rub their faces on the furniture whenever they’re trying to make me get up and open the wet food can. 

#7 Cats rub on you to say “I love you” and “I own you.”

Why does my cat rub his face on my face?

Lady rubbing face against a kitten

When a cat rubs his face against your body, he is showing that he loves you by increasing his contact with you.

That’s why it’s often accompanied by blissful purring.

He is also showing ownership (as in, his ownership of you) by transferring his scent onto you.

It’s a calling card of sorts. It’s his way of saying, “Hey all you other cats, this human belongs to me!”

Which is also a sort of affection, if you think about it.

Related: Is it normal for cats to rub against your legs?

Do Cats Like to be on the Receiving End of Face Rubbing

The short – and unsatisfying – answer to this question is some do. Some don’t. It all depends on the cat.

man kissing her cat

A particularly friendly cuddle bug of a cat is most likely going to ADORE you putting your face all over him.

I have one cat that is all about the cuddles. He loves to be held like a baby and snuggled in close against my cheeks.

On the other hand, a more reserved cat is probably not going to be so keen on the prospect of your face all up in his personal space.

My other cat is the complete opposite of my cuddler. She decides when we’re going to snuggle, and she absolutely hates being held.

I made the mistake of rubbing my face against hers once out of the blue and she swatted me!

Why Do Cats Like Their Cheek Rubbed? 

cat lying on his owner's lap

Most cats will melt the moment you rub their cheeks because it feels good. And they might be itchy in this spot, so it’s a very pleasant experience when you scratch this itch. 

And when you rub your cat’s cheek, you get your cat’s scent all over your hand. So, your cat is pleased to have the opportunity to mark you. 

My cat purrs when I rub my face on hers. Does that mean she likes it?

One of the greatest mistakes we humans have ever made in our efforts to understand cats is assuming that purring equals happiness.

Hey, we don’t exactly have a cat Rosetta stone, so we’re bound to make mistakes and misjudge their sounds.

While bliss is among the reasons cat purrs, it’s far from the only one. According to PetMD [3], the other most common reasons include:

  • To stimulate healing [4], especially of bones and tendons.
  • As a natural pain reliever.
  • To self-soothe in stressful situations.

New mama cats also use purring to guide their kittens, who are born unable to see or hear.

Interestingly, PetMD points out that when cats are purring out of happiness, it’s more to train the US to keep doing what we’re doing.

Check out what this video has to say about cats and face rubs.

@ciscotapiaa Does your cat do this? 😹 #catfacts #ciscoscats #cats101 #catthings ♬ original sound – Cisco Tapia

For example, if your cat purrs when you pet her, you associate that with joy, so you keep doing it. If she didn’t purr, you may think she’s not having fun and stop.

Isn’t that intriguing? All this time we thought we were in charge and leading our cats towards behaviors that we want, but really they’ve been training us!

What about Head-Butting? Do Cats Like That?

First, according to cat behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett, author of CatWise, what we call “head butting” is actually “bunting.”

lady petting her siamese cat

Bunting, like rubbing, is all about using those scent glands to send a message.

However, while rubbing can mean “I own this” equally as often as “I like this,” Pam says that bunting is almost always a sign of affection. She writes,

The bunting and rubbing are reserved for bonding, social, comforting and friendly purposes. When your cat engages in head bunting or head rubbing, he is placing his scent there as a social and affectionate gesture.

However, Pam doesn’t go into detail about whether kitties like to be on the receiving end. Again, it really depends on YOUR cat’s personality.

It’s all about Your cat’s personality

Bottom line: your cuddle bug may love face rubbing from you, but if you have a cat that wants affection when he wants it and ONLY when he wants it, it’s inadvisable to put your face directly within striking distance.

Remember, your surly cat can love you and still tell you to back off with his claws.

It’s all about personal preference. For example, the general consensus is that cats hate belly rubs.

However, both of the cats in my home present their bellies before I even make it over to them.

They like belly rubs more than the dogs do! Most cat owners who read this will assume that I’m making it up, but I assure you, it’s true.

Read our complete guide on “Why does my cat like belly rubs?

This type of individual preference holds true with face rubbing as well. So if your cat is a regular feline Casanova for you, feel free to try face rubbing right back.

Check out this cute video of a cat rubbing its face.

@lisasfosters Link in comments! Moo loves this face scratcher! #cat ♬ original sound – Mrsgift

However if your cat is more of a “serve me, human” type of cat, I would NOT recommend it. And remember, NEVER push anything on your cat if he doesn’t want it.

You could end up scratched or bitten, or at the very least, your cat may give you the cold shoulder for a while.

FAQs

What does it mean when a cat rubs against your legs?

When a cat rubs on your legs, your pet leaves scent marks on your body to keep all other cats away. It’s also a form of affection and a way for cats to attract attention. 

Why Does My Cat Rub His Face on Mine?

Cats bunt their owners’ faces to express affection, demand attention, communicate happiness, and bond. 
It’s also a way for cats to mark their owners so that other felines won’t dare approach. 

Why does my cat rub her face on everything? 

Cats love to leave their scent on various objects around the house to mark their territory and create a secure environment. 

Conclusion

Sometimes it’s hard to resist face rubbing your cute kitty while they’re asleep or showing your pet how much your love them by scratching their chins. However, not all cats are fans of face rubs.

So, even if your cat loves nothing more than to rub against your legs, you shouldn’t try to return the gesture or you risk getting the cold shoulder.

Does your cat really like it when you rub your face on him the way he does to you? Check out our cat health tips to find out the truth about face rubbing!

We’d love to hear from you! Does your cat love when you rub your face on him? Share in the comments!

Resources

1. Feline Scent-Marking: Cat Communication -. TexVetPets. Accessed March 10, 2022. https://www.texvetpets.org/article/feline-scent-marking-cat-communication/

2. Johnson-Bennett P. How Cats Use Scent Communication. catbehaviorassociates.com. Published December 5, 2011. https://catbehaviorassociates.com/how-cats-use-scent-communication/

3. Why Do Cats Purr? www.petmd.com. https://www.petmd.com/cat/behavior/why-do-cats-purr

4. von Muggenthaler E. The felid purr: A healing mechanism? The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 2001;110(5):2666-2666. doi:10.1121/1.4777098

BEN B
BEN B

Ben is an animal lover, blogger, and all around geek. He divides his love equally between his family, his animals, and his video games. In his spare time he is attempting to get a blog off the ground. Boy, are they heavy!