Your kitty loves to touch you and rub up against you. Little did you know that she is not only giving you love but she is also leaving a little bit of herself—her scent—behind. It’s that scent that makes you part of the feline community.
Feline Body Language
Cats communicate many complex concepts through body language. They lead many actions with a motion of their head: a head pushing forward is a greeting, a head held in an upright position expresses confidence and a lowered head expresses either aggression or submission, depending on the position of the ears and tail. In general, a cat will use every body part to communicate her emotions and intentions, so even though the head begins the communication, the communication does not end until the tip of the tail is involved.
Cats use scent to communicate, as well as body language. The scents they use are called “pheromones,” which are secreted by glands on their foreheads, lips, front paws, flanks, and rears. Because each cat produces its own “formula” of pheromone, cats can use pheromones to recognize each other. When a cat applies her own pheromones to an object or to another animal or person, she is using the scent to mark that object, animal or person as her own. When cats share their pheromones in a group, it might be a way of becoming at ease with each other or creating a pecking order.
Cats touch each other’s noses to engage in a friendly greeting. They are also sniffing each other’s pheromones to identify each other. When cats touch noses, they are taking part in a behavior called “allorubbing,” which may be something like a handshake or a hug in human terms. Allorubbing is more common in feral cats than in housepets. Your cat uses a variation of this behavior, lip rubbing, to mark objects (rather than people or other animals) with her scent.
Head-butting and allorubbing are pieces of the same puzzle. Head-butting, also called “bunting,” takes place between cats who know each other well. It is usually a mutual behavior: that is, the two cats will gently touch the crowns of their heads or their cheeks together in order to express affection. Head-butting often leads to full-body rubbing and to tail-twining. When your cat touches her nose to your face or head-butts you, she is showing her affection and bonding with you. Petting your kitty in response to allorubbing, head-butting, or body rubbing reinforces that bond and may be reassuring to your cat.