It’s a moment we enjoy: Kitty comes to greet us after he hasn’t seen us for a while. One of the first things he does is rub his face all over us. Why does he do this?
Cats and Scents-ibility
A major way that cats communicate and interpret their world is through smell. Cats have scent glands at various places on their faces and bodies that release pheromones—chemicals that are perceived as scents. When cats rub against us, they deposit their scents on us.
Each cat has a unique scent. For that matter, so does each dog, each human, and every person living in the household. Together, everyone's scents combine to form a group scent—the only one like it in the world. Although our noses aren’t sharp enough to recognize this group scent, to a cat who’s a member (or leader) of the group, the scent is an important identifier of his family.
When kitty rubs his scent on us, he’s reaffirming that we’re part of his exclusive club; his scent, blended with ours and the scents of other household members, is like an identification mark. One of kitty’s self-appointed tasks (the only kind of tasks for a cat) is to make sure we’re always wearing “eau de kitty and friends.” If we pick up other scents during the day, from the office, the grocery store, or—perish the thought—petting someone else’s animal, kitty takes it upon himself to cover up the foreign scents on us by reapplying a good dose of his own through rubbing.
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