Why Does My Cat Sniff My Face?

Why Does My Cat Sniff My Face?
Image: istockphoto.com / helivideo

Cats can be super affectionate with their humans and tend to be clingy, too.  If your cat always follows you around and would sit on your lap, you are one fortunate pet parent. Your cat may even smell your face and proceed to lick your nose

Why does my cat sniff my face?

Your cat may be sniffing your face to greet you just as they would sniff the faces of their fellow cats. She may also sniff your face to smell you and commit your scent to memory to help build trust and familiarity. 

Cats have a good sense of smell, thanks to the more or less 45 to 200 million olfactory receptors. They use it to gather information from the environment. They utilize their nose to signal danger, display affection, mark their territory, and for grooming. Felines are also able to detect danger and other threats through the Flehmen response, a type of sniffing wherein they inhale the air through an open mouth. 

Let’s dive a little deeper into the reasons why your cat sniffs your face:

It is your cat’s way of greeting you. 

Just as humans greet each other with a handshake, a cheek-to-cheek kiss, or a bow, cats use their noses to touch a fellow cat or their human to say hello.  You may have noticed how cats sniff each other’s faces as a means of greeting. The sniffing may not only mean they are smelling you but first and foremost as a way of saying hello to you. 

She may be sniffing your face as a way of building familiarity and trust. 

Cats have unique body language that signifies particular meanings. Just as sniffing your face is her way of saying hello, she may also be doing it to commit your scent to their memory as a way of building familiarity and trust. Some cats may also sniff your face and rub their face against yours, also called bunting. They do this to leave their scent since they have scent glands around their mouth, cheeks, and chin. 

Why does my cat sniff my face when sleeping?

Why does my cat sniff my face when sleeping
Image: istockphoto.com / Mariia Skovpen

Your cat may sniff your face when sleeping for the following reasons:

  • she wants  to play with you  
  • she is bored 
  • she is hungry and wants to wake you to feed her
  • she wants to be close to you 
  • your cat wants to stop you from snoring 
  • she is checking if you are breathing, alive, and well 
  • she wants to seek reassurance that you are there

Oftentimes, cats will wake their owners by sniffing their faces, nipping or biting the nose, and pawing or kneading them gently. This usually happens during early mornings when cats are already active and want to play or be fed.

Why does my cat sniff and bite my hair?

Your cat may be sniffing your hair because it detected a particular scent in it that was not there before. It could be that you just came from the hair salon and had your hair colored or permed. It may also be due to the shampoo or hair styling products that you are using lately. 

Some cats may also sniff and bite your hair and they may do this to show affection, to relieve stress, or because they like the taste of your hair. Check out our earlier article on Why does my cat bite my hair for a more detailed discussion. 

Some interesting facts about a cat’s nose and sense of smell

Here are some fascinating facts about a feline’s nose and sense of smell:

  • the nose is the most important sense organ of cats 
  • their sense of smell stimulates their appetite because they have few taste receptors 
  • mutual sniffing is a feline’s way of greeting each other
  • strong odors like citrus and tea tree oil are overwhelming and distasteful that is why cats hate their smell  
  • a cat has nose prints and no two nose prints are alike
  • the color of a cat’s nose is related to the color of her fur so black cats have black noses and orange cats have orange noses

Final thoughts 

Cats are unique and adorable. They have quirks and body language that may sometimes look weird but endearing like sniffing your face. Your cat may be sniffing your face to greet you and to build familiarity and trust. Sniffing your face while sleeping may mean she is checking you out or wants to play with you. Cats have various ways of expressing their affection to their owners and if you have one affectionate kitty be thankful for that, and reciprocate it with your love and attention.