Anyone who has a cat knows well the proclivity of the animal for rubbing against your hands or legs. Cats have glands in their facial region that secrete pheromones. These are chemicals that the cat’s body makes that serve as signposts. Pheromones are used as territorial signals or sexual signs – such as when a female cat goes into heat. These ‘scented messages’ are just as clear to cats as a road sign is to us. When your cat has been rubbing her face against you, she is marking you as her possession. Anyone who has been owned by a cat will understand this perfectly.
Cat face rubbing is perfectly normal cat behavior, and in addition to staking a claim on you, the pheromones that your cat leaves behind also have a mild sedative effect on the animal. Upon thinking about this, it makes me wonder if those pheromones do not have a calming influence upon us humans as well. Consider how relaxed you come to feel when your cat has rubbed against your hand then settled down to be petted. No wonder pets are said to be therapeutic.
Many cats not only exhibit face rubbing, but also head butting. This behavior is generally reserved for only the most favored of the cat’s human servants, and is usually followed by a full body rub. These activities, once again, display not only affection, but territorial marking, and are actually warning strange cats to keep off. Head butting is also referred to as bunting. The scents left by bunting are undetectable to our noses, but they not only are evident to all other cats, but they also help your cat feel more relaxed and calm around you. Households with several cats will often see the cats engaging in mutual head butting.
Cats will also often display ‘chinning’, which involves a vigorous rubbing of the chin on objects or people. This, once again, leaves your cat’s personal signature, and is sometimes used to ‘erase’ another cat’s mark. Our French Bulldog, Faffy, often chins on our hands quite vigorously, and probably for exactly the same reason.