Why do cats touch your face with their nose?

I expect the majority of cat owners to know the answer to the question in the title but (a) as the question is asked on the Internet and (b) it is useful to spell out the reason for the sake of clarity, I discuss the topic on this page.

There will only be two reasons why your cat touches your face with her/his nose. Touching noses is a greeting behaviour. It is most often seen between cats who are friendly towards each other (“preferred associates” in technical jargon). Females and males are equally likely to touch noses with the same or the opposite gender. Therefore the degree of friendship between cats determines whether they touch noses or not and the gender is not a determining factor.

Therefore, if your cat touches your nose with his nose then (a) he is treating you as a friend and (b) is greeting you. It is a pleasure for humans to experience this act of domestic cat behaviour.

If your cat touches an area of your face other than your nose then he/she is probably simply sniffing you. She is sniffing your scent. That would simply be out of interest as cats use their sense of smell all the time to “see” things.

The first reason is by far the most common reason why a cat would touch your face with their nose. It must happen all over the country all the time. If it does not happen in your household I would be a bit surprised to be perfectly honest.

If your cat does not touch your nose with their nose then it may be because they are a little bit fearful of placing their head so close to yours. From me, it’s a question of size differential. Cats are naturally cautious and humans are much larger and therefore the default position for a cat is to be slightly cautious even, sometimes, with their human caretaker but of course it depends upon the caretaker and the cat’s character. A reasonably confident cat and a loving caretaker who creates a good environment for their cat should experience the nose-to-nose touching behaviour on a regular basis.

P.S. The question in the title is not exactly how I would ask the question but as it is one that is asked by a lot of people I have used it. My preferred wording would be “why do domestic cats touch noses with their owner?” Or something like that I think would be preferable and more precise.

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Why do cats touch your face with their nose? — 3 Comments

  1. May I ask a follow up question. My cat is over 10 years old. I’ve had her for 7 years now. She and I bonded instantly. She follows me from room to room. Sleeps with me. Greets me at the door like my dog if I have gone somewhere. Stays in bed with me for days when I’m sick. I absolutely adore this animal my daughter blessed me with. But she was found abandoned with two other litter mates almost before they could walk. My daughter bottle fed her and nursed an upper respiratory infection the veterinarian said not to both spending your money on because there was no hope. So she was not raised by a mother cat. Her litter mates died. She doesn’t even know how to purr. So I don’t get what I would call normal cat behaviors from her. Other than the ones instilled by nature or God. She is litter box trained. Has developed a low volume meow when my husband goes through the morning ritual of the wet food feeding (they have dry food during the day).
    So to your question why cats touch their nose to yours. Mine never has. But she will come in the one room she has claimed as hers, the bathroom. She loves the fluffy bathroom mats and the dogs are off limits in there. She also knows she has a captive audience when I’m in there and she will come all the way in from the backyard (she watched our two small dogs use the doggy door so she learned how to use it-which made us have to raise up our fence and learn how to to block her from leaving because my daughter had her declawed 😖.) Anyway when I’m in the restroom no matter where she is she will come in and place her cold wet nose on my leg if I ignore it she will move it a few times. If I continue to ignore it she walks over to the top of my thigh and gives a very tiny bite like a pinch. She’s saying “I will not be ignored, you can’t leave. Now pet me!” So for my cat who has not had an social training from other cats. It’s her decisive way of getting attention. And Yes many time I’ve hoped for the coveted nose to nose. It truly intimidates her, as well as cuddling does, being picked up does, putting her in your lap does. She loves being pet, on her terms. Laying next to me. Twice after these seven years, twice recently I have gotten her to sit on my chest for some few minutes while I pet her. But that is even hard for her. 😞 I can only suppose it’s because of her non cat socialization as a kitten. But she lived and I love her dearly. Any ideas?

    • Hi Patricia. Thanks for visiting. Not all domestic cats will touch noses with other cats and their owner (which they see as a surrogate mother cat). So I don’t think it is all that unusual. It is quite a brave thing for a cat to do because they have to place their head close to a very large human head and your cat likes her space and is quite shy I’d say. The more shy the cat the less likely they are to like touching noses and being intimate with their human companion, I believe.

      As for the bathroom/restroom and her gently biting you after sniffing you I think this is her becoming excited by the level of scent that you are emitting in the bathroom. Your scent is you for your cat. It is probably the most important aspect of you for her. When there is a big blast of it she becomes excited and sniffs your leg with pleasure and then gently bites in excitement. Biting can be an expression of excitement and happiness. I don’t think this is demanding attention. It is just that she likes your scent(s) because you are her world and she is content around you. You are clearly ‘joined at the hip’ if you know what I mean.

      It is the same with me and my cat and he goes nuts when I am in the restroom. He becomes vocal and behaves slightly differently. Other cat people will probably have different views on this but I think they’ll be wrong 🙂

      • What great insight. Thank you very much for your thoughtful response. I would tend to agree with you. I have been a cat owner/lover most of my 60+ years but only recently have gotten inquisitive about their behaviors. As I somehow thought they were the low maintenance self-contained pet. Then a few years ago I learned how intelligent and loyal cat really are from an article on the web and it just opened up a whole world of questions for me about my cat.
        Thank you once again for your quick response. What a great website. I generally don’t get involved with these things as I had a bad experience years ago on a health site. Too much drama. But this was nice. Thanks again.

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