People ask why their cats sniff their face when they’re sleeping. The answer must be a common sense one. Cats use their sense of smell far more than we do. They use their sense of smell as much as we use our eyesight. It is almost as if domestic cats are “seeing” with their noses.
Cats, though, have decent eyesight. They can recognise us from a distance. Therefore it does seem a little strange that a cat should sniff us while we sleep. Why can’t a cat recognise us while we sleep if they want to make sure that we are there?
My firm impression is that cats sniff our face while we sleep to seek reassurance that we are there and are still with them. They will see us sleeping but they want that extra reassurance that we are there. They may also be seeking reassurance that we are alive. Don’t forget that cats are active at night. We might be fast asleep. We might give the impression that we are no longer living or at least totally inactive which raises a question mark in the cat’s mind as to what is going on. That may seem like an extreme concept but it may be true.
A cat knows our scent extremely well. In fact it is probably fair to say that a cat can identify us with more certainty through our scent than through our appearance.
To recap, therefore, the reason why cats smell our face when we are asleep is to confirm that we are who we are, to seek reassurance that we are well but simply inactive.
It may be the case that sometimes a cat will try to wake their owner while they are asleep and this procedure may begin with smelling their owner’s face and then perhaps nipping their nose or using their claws in a delicate way to wake up their owner. This will normally happen in the early hours of the morning at a time when a domestic cat is active and wants to be fed for example. Or he may want to wake up his owner so that his owner participates in some interactive process or perhaps lets him outside or does what the cat usually asks at that time.
It goes without saying the cat’s owner should react kindly towards their cat if they are awakened by their cat sniffing their face at 4 am. Don’t shout at her…