Why does my cat stick his butt in my face?
Thank you for showing me that?
What else is there to say when your otherwise dignified cat turns around and puts his butt 4 ½ inches from your eyeballs? I have loved all of my cats, but there are just some body parts I don’t need to get up close and personal with.
What do cats mean when they so blatantly expose their rear ends to you? Are they being rude or insulting? Are they trying to offend?
Cats are not being vulgar when they expose their little fannies to us. Cats just feel very differently about their backsides than we do.
Let’s talk about what a butt-in-the-face means to a cat.
Humans are shy about their butts
Humans, at least in Western cultures, tend to be shy about the function of our backends. We all have a butt, and we know what they’re for, but most of us like to pretend we don’t.
“Poop shame” is the term we’ve given to describe how some of us feel about this completely normal bodily function, and many of us go to great lengths to avoid letting others hear, smell, or even know that we’ve gone Number 2.
In 2019, The New York Times published a piece about the effort some women go through to avoid letting anyone know they’ve had a bowel movement in the bathroom at work. There’s even a named anxiety disorder, parcopresis, which refers to the inability to defecate while around other people.
Cats are not shy about their butts
In contrast to humans, cats are not shy about their butts. In fact, the sights and smells of the anus are something a cat wants to share with certain special friends. Keep reading to find out why.
Cats communicate with scent
When people meet, we communicate with each other in a number of different ways. We use body language and facial expressions. We talk to one another, employing tone along with words. A handshake or a hug sends a message, too.
When cats meet, they, too, communicate with each other. Like us, they use body language, including the placement and movement of the tail or whiskers. They may “speak” in meows, purrs, and trills. But the most important means of communication between cats is scent.
Cats have an amazing sense of smell
A cat’s sense of smell is very advanced compared to ours. We have roughly 5 million scent receptors in our nasal cavities, while cats have 45 to 80 (and possibly up to 200) million.
A cat can tell a lot about another cat through scent. Just the act of sniffing and being sniffed will cause cats to release pheromones, which are information-filled chemical messages. Each cat has his own scent, and other cats can identify a cat by her signature aroma.
Scientists believe that through scent alone, one cat can tell if the other is happy or aggressive, male or female, and healthy or sick. There may be more – we still don’t know everything that cats know.
Cat butts are full of scent
Cat butts, it turns out, are just chock-full of the kind of smells other cats can’t get enough of.
Inside the rectum are two small anal glands that release a smelly substance every time a cat poops. We humans, with our relatively poor sense of smell, can’t separate out the odor of the poop from the anal glands, but cats can.
Showing your butt is good manners in the cat world
A lot of cat behavior is about avoiding conflict with other cats. Fighting causes injury, and injuries are costly, especially if you’re a predator who needs to be in good condition to hunt.
Cats often prevent disputes with other cats by simply avoiding meeting them face-to-face. They can do this through scent. Urine spraying or marking is a great way to leave a message for another cat without having to get too close.
But for cats who may think they know each other, or who are already close enough to meet, the offering of the butt, and the sniffing of the offered butt, are socially appropriate cat behaviors.
The offered backside might say, “Hello! Remember me?” Or, “Nice to meet you! I mean no harm. Here: smell me and you’ll see.”
A cat who sticks her butt in your face is making a friendly, appeasing gesture. She’s being polite to you, and following all the proper rules of kitty etiquette.
Allorubbing: the other reason you may end up with a kitty butt in your face
There’s actually another behavior that cats perform with each other to share scent and connect more closely with each other that could cause you to end up with a kitty backside in your face. It’s called allorubbing and it’s something that cats do to other cats they are closely connected with.
Like their anal glands, these glands produce an oily substance that is chock full of pheromones and chemical messages. Allorubbing allows two cats to transfer their personal scents to each other.
What allorubbing looks like
When two cats allorub, they typically start out standing side-by-side, facing opposite directions. The kitties in the above video are doing it their own way, facing in the same direction.
During a full-length allorub, cats usually approach each other with tails held high. They will make contact with each other starting at the shoulder, and then move along in opposite directions until just their hindquarters are touching. Cats usually appear to be leaning into one another, like they really mean it.
There are variations on the allorubbing theme. The rub might not be continuous. Or it could be really short: cats might just touch at the shoulders and then move away.
Body rubbing may be accompanied by other types of contact, such as head bunting and tail wrapping. Cats may add friendly sounds, like trills and purrs.
(Read about head bunting in, “Why does my cat head butt me?”)
Within a colony of cats, certain cats will be more physical with each other than with the rest of the group. They will not only allorub, but they’ll allogroom each other, too. Scientists would call these cats “preferred associates.” I’d call them friends.
(Read about allgrooming in this post, “Why do cats lick or groom each other?”)
Why do cats allorub?
Many people think that when cats are rubbing their scent on the corner of the sofa, or on your pant leg, that they are “claiming” or “marking” that object or person. But that’s not what allorubbing is all about.
Allorubbing is friendly, social behavior, designed to create closeness in a family. When members of a cat colony return to the group from a hunt, for example, the other members will allorub to welcome the hunting party back. The goal is not to mark or claim the returning family members. The goal is to make them smell like family again.
When allorubbing leads to a kitty butt in the face
It’s possible that a kitty butt in your face is just the end result of an allorub you didn’t know you were participating in.
Did you just come home from work, smelling like the office and the commuter rail? Did you plop right down on the sofa and welcome your cat onto your lap? Maybe she jumped up, face first, and you reached out to pet her head.
Did he tiptoe around on your lap for a minute? Maybe you let your hand run along his back to the base of his tail as he turned.
Your cat might have been thinking, “What a lovely rub. Now I smell like you and you smell like me.”
While you just thought, “How did this kitty butt end up in my face again?”
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Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.
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