What Does It Mean When Cats Touch Noses

Whenever you meet someone, whether it is someone new or someone that you know – you’re more than likely to give them a form of acknowledgement. This could come in the form of a nod, a smile, a handshake or even a hug (and we all know that one person who’s a serial hugger!). And much like humans, cats acknowledge other cats they meet throughout their daily lives. But since they have paws instead of hands, and aren’t naturally inclined to learn how to do paw shakes with each other as a sign of cordiality, their way of greeting each other is different.

To be precise, cats use their keen olfactory senses as a part of their communication arsenal. Their noses, however cute and “boop”-able they may be, actually serve a different purpose when it comes to greeting. By touching their sniffers together, cats learn to gain trust with each other and understand the other’s intentions. Basically, you could call it your feline friend’s version of the modern term “vibe check” we’ve been seeing all over social media lately.

Why do cats use the nose?

Similar to their canine counterparts, cats have really sensitive noses, which harks back from the wild days when it was absolutely necessary for their ancestors to be able to smell prey from miles away. In fact, it is a known fact that cats have over 200 million odor sensors in their noses, as compared to the puny 5 million odor sensors found in humans. This effectively makes your cat’s sense of smell up to 14 times better than yours!

This is often the reason why your cat tends to get visibly annoyed when he or she smells the scent of another cat that you’ve been touching before you returned home – it could be a stray, or another cat owner’s furry companion. To your cat, it feels almost like a betrayal to know that you, their best friend, is off petting other cats in the wild!


Smell you, smell me

Just like the hit Lionel Richie song, there’s nothing more natural for a cat than to use nose touch greetings to acknowledge one another. Because cats are highly independent creatures, they tend to go off on their own adventures once they’re old enough, living in the wild and conquering different territories. This fact holds true even in feral cat communities – even if they are considered to be banded together in a colony, each cat retains a high degree of individuality and autonomy. Because of their propensity to explore the world around them, the next time they meet, the best way to describe their travel experience to their old friends (in lieu of catching up at the local coffee bar) is to share the scents that they have accumulated from their adventures in far-flung lands.

This kind of scent sharing acts as a form of social currency. By simply exchanging their scents, one cat can understand a whole list of things about the other. One of the most important factors to establish is of course, if the other cat is from another tribe, or if the other cat is potentially hostile. Cats aren’t known to use violence until they reach the point of no return (i.e, after the hissing and posturing), so the nose touch acts like a civilized social exchange because of the way it puts both cats in an equally vulnerable position.

In domestic situations when two or more cats live in the same household, they may also rub noses with each other after several hours away from each other in separate rooms or areas of the house – this is perfectly normal, and can be comparable to a “what’s up” greeting with each other.


Kitten behavior

Another reason for the cat nose touch is also learnt behaviors from their kitten days. As newborns, tiny kittens learn about nose touching through interaction with their mother cats. Because kittens are blind at birth, their keen sense of smell is their only sensory option they have to experience the world, thanks to the fully developed receptors located in their noses that allow them to feel the most sensitive touches.

Kitten newborns also use their sense of smell to locate and rub against their mother cat’s milk teats in order to feed. Because their keen sense of smell results in a rewarding experience (mother’s milk), it further reinforces the kitten’s use of their noses and sense of smell as an important navigational tool as they grow into adulthood.


Cat-human nose rubs


Oftentimes you may find that your cat will initiate a greeting with you that involves nose touching. This is just your cat trying to communicate with you in the best way they know how, and you should say hello back to your cat in the same way. You can use your nose to rub back on theirs, or you can simply go ahead and use your finger if the former option is not available. If your cat wants a few rubs or a quick scratching session, he or she will start rubbing the entire head on your finger – this kind of behavior is highly rewarding, and it means that your cat really loves you! So go ahead and give them all the scratches they deserve.


Final thoughts

If cats could talk, they’d probably sit us down and tell us all about their day, non-stop. But because they don’t speak english, nose touching is just one of those natural instincts that they use to communicate – whether you are another cat or a human companion. And because we are the closest companions to our little fur babies, all they want to do is to send a signal to other cats to say that you are their territory and property. When it comes to this point, you’ll definitely know where your relationship with your cat stands – and if you’re worried your cat doesn’t love you back, well, just look for your cat’s sweet nose touch and all your unrequited love worries will soon disappear!

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