Anyone who has owned or pet sat for a cat knows all about the face rub, what they may not know is why. For our pet cats it’s all about information via scent marking. There are scent glands located on a cats cheeks and head. These glands provide other cats with information about the cat who deposited the scent.
Scent glands are most important for pet cats who are allowed outside. By leaving a scent, another neighborhood cat can avoid confrontation. By doing so a cat can identify colony members, establish territory, create familiarity, announce mating readiness, learn about cats in the environment, self-soothe, bond with another cat, or they can use scent as a form of covert aggression.
Our pet cats who stay within the home do not need to transfer as much through their scent. A head but or cheek rub on a pet sitter or owners leg or hand is used as a bonding gesture. In essence a cat is saying I like you so I want you to smell like me. A cheek rub is also used to scent mark things that have familiarity inside the pet cats home. Not only does cheek rubbing allow a cat to scent objects around the home that make him feel comforted but it also marks territory. If a new pet cat were to come into the home those scents would tell him the objects and area surrounding them are already taken by the resident cat. However, depending on the personality strength of the new pet cat he or she may decided to cover up the existing scent with theirs. Thus taking over territory for however brief or long a time.
So the next time your pet cat rubs its cheeks on the book you are reading or along the corner of two meeting walls or on the pen of your pet sitter as they are writing daily notes, remember this is a sign of trust and comfort within a cats world. Imagine having the ability to speak volumes with no sound!