Catster is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Why Do Cats Rub Their Faces on You? 3 Vet-Reviewed Reasons

Written by: Kit Copson

Last Updated on April 12, 2024 by Nicole Cosgrove

Gray cat licking owners face

Why Do Cats Rub Their Faces on You? 3 Vet-Reviewed Reasons


Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo


Dr. Paola Cuevas

MVZ (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Learn more »

A cat rubbing their face on you is one of the highest compliments you can receive from your furball, and it’s seriously adorable to boot. This behavior is called “bunting,” and it’s a common way cats greet their human companions, but why exactly do they greet us this way?

In this post, we share the three main reasons cats rub their faces on us and what it means for your relationship with your cat.

3 cat face divider

The 3 Reasons Why Cats Rub Their Faces on You

1. Marking You With Their Scent

Some of a cat’s scent glands are located in the cheeks, chin, and on the top of the head (there are more in the base of the tail and the paws), and when a cat rubs against something with their face, these glands release chemicals called pheromones onto you.

Depositing pheromones is a cat’s way of marking you as part of their territory and as a trusted and safe person, so it’s a real compliment! Your cat will continue to bunt you regularly to “reapply” those pheromones, especially when you get home and have new smells on you.

This ritual helps your cat to feel safe and secure and is a reflection of cats’ behavior in the wild, where they distribute scents among their social groups to create a sense of community.  It also helps them root out who is and isn’t a member of the colony.

cat walking next to its owner
Image Credit: Irina Kozorog, Shutterstock

2. Getting to Know You

In addition to marking you as “territory,” cats bunt to gain information about you. This kind of bunting tends to happen when a cat is meeting someone for the first time, and it is a cat’s way of figuring out who you are and what you’re about.

However, this is more of an “assessment” rather than an invitation to be petted, so it’s best to avoid petting a cat right away if it’s the first time you’re meeting them. Let them do their thing, and if they keep coming back to you, then you can try petting them.

3. Getting Your Attention

Since cats can’t verbally communicate with you, they find other ways to let you know they want or need something, including vocalizing, following you about incessantly, and bunting you or objects like cupboards (where they know their food is).

This typically happens around routine times, like when you feed your cat, and it’s an indication that you should probably check their food bowl, water bowl, or litter box in case it needs a clean-out. As you get to know your cat, it should start to get easier to tell what your cat is trying to communicate when they rub on you or objects.

cat rubbing against owner
Image Credit: Irina Kozorog, Shutterstock

Other Reasons Cats Rub Against You (or Things)

When healthy cats bunt, it’s either a sign of affection or a means of marking you or letting you know they need something. However, if a cat isn’t feeling so good, they may rub against you to alert you to it.

Uncharacteristic, aggressive rubbing in particular against people or objects can be a sign of illness, so you’ll want to get this checked out by a vet.

Keep an eye out for these other signs that your cat may not be feeling their finest:
  • Excessive vocalization
  • Head tilting
  • Changes in eating or drinking habits
  • Changes in bathroom habits
  • Eye flicking
  • Losing weight
  • Lethargy
  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Overgrooming
  • Hiding away
  • Sitting in a hunched position
close up of cat meowing
Image Credit: ClaraMD, Pixabay

3 cat face dividerConclusion

It’s fascinating to see how cats interact with humans and communicate to us their affection and needs, and tuning in to your cat’s cues can really help you understand them better and strengthen your bond.

However, if your cat has started acting out of character, like rubbing aggressively against you or showing signs of illness, please get them checked out by a vet.

See also:

Featured Image Credit: Caterina Trimarchi, Shutterstock

Get Catster in your inbox!

Stay informed! Get tips and exclusive deals.
Catster Editors Choice Badge
Shopping Cart


© Pangolia Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved.