Every cat owner knows that our feline friends often display some unique, even quirky behaviors. While you may not understand why your cat acts the way that they do, there’s generally a good explanation. If your cat routinely sticks their nose right into yours for a deep whiff, you might be curious as to why they do this.
Here are 6 likely reasons why your cat is sniffing your face.
The 6 Reasons Why Your Cat Is Sniffing Your Face
1. You Have Food on Your Face
One of the simplest reasons your cat might be sniffing your face is because they smell something tasty there, such as food. Even if you thought you washed off the remnants of your messy hamburger dinner, your cat’s excellent sense of smell can still detect the delicious odor. Suspect this reason if your cat follows up the sniffing with an exploratory lick or nibble at your face. It’s time for a more thorough wash (or two!) if you want your cat to cease this behavior.
2. To Greet You
If you’ve ever seen two cats greet each other, you may notice that they often sniff each others’ faces when they do so. Scent is a valuable communication tool for cats, and they’re likely using the greeting sniff to gather information about each other. Your cat may also sniff your face as a way to say hello after you’ve been apart from each other. Smelling your face is your cat’s way of confirming that it is you and that you’re home.
3. They Need Something
If you regularly wake up in the wee hours of the morning to find your cat sniffing your face, chances are it’s because they need something from you. More specifically, they’re probably looking for breakfast. Sniffing is at least a gentler way to awaken you than meowing or pawing at you—which may still happen if you don’t wake up quickly enough for your cat’s liking. Unless you’re okay with constant early wake-ups, try to avoid rewarding your cat by actually getting up to feed them.
4. To Bond with You
One of the sweetest reasons your cat may sniff your face is as a way to bond with you. If you’ve recently adopted a cat, you may notice that they seem to be excessively fond of sniffing your face. Sniffing your face offers your cat a chance to memorize your specific scent and become familiar with it. This helps your cat to learn that you’re a person who can be trusted. Your cat may follow up the sniffing by rubbing their face onto yours. This is the cat’s way of claiming you as their own by transferring their own scent from special glands on their face.
5. To Check if You’re Okay
As we mentioned, cats use scent to communicate and gather information about other animals or humans. With a sense of smell estimated to be around fourteen times more sensitive than that of humans, your cat can learn plenty about your well-being—simply by sniffing your face. Some of that night-time sniffing we mentioned earlier could just be your cat’s way of making sure you’re okay because you haven’t moved in a while! They may also sniff your face because they notice a change in your mood and want to see what’s going on.
6. To Calm Down
Remember we mentioned your cat might be sniffing your face to build trust between you? Once that bond is established, your cat may also start sniffing your face as a way to calm down if they feel stressed or anxious. Your familiar, trusted scent can reassure your cat that everything will be okay. Cats are pretty good at hiding how they’re feeling, so it might be hard to tell if the face sniffing is due to anxiety. Keep an eye out for other signs—such as overgrooming, vocalizing, or inappropriate urination—to determine if your cat is truly stressed.
Is It Okay to Let My Cat Sniff My Face?
Letting your cat sniff your face generally isn’t a cause for worry. However, some cats combine sniffing with other habits like biting or licking your face, which could be more concerning.
You should always discourage your cat from biting human skin, even in play. Redirect your cat’s nibbles to a more appropriate location, like a toy or chew object. Cat mouths are full of bacteria, and even a play bite could lead to an infection.
You’ll want to be careful about letting your cat lick your face, especially if you have open wounds or are immune compromised. Some of the bacteria in the cat’s mouth can cause dangerous diseases in humans, such as salmonella and cat scratch fever.
As much as we might want to explain feline behavior in human terms and be guilty of anthropomorphizing, many of their actions, such as sniffing one’s face, may result from a variety of possible causes.
Any time you have a concern or complaint about your cat’s behavior, don’t be afraid to ask your veterinarian for help. They can help rule out any medical concerns and refer you to a behavior specialist if necessary.