There’s nothing more loving than the sweet press of your kitten rubbing its teeth against your hand, but you may wonder why it does this.
Cats rub their teeth on you as a way of bonding with you. They release pheromones via glands in their cheeks and chins, known as Feline Facial Pheromones (FFP). This behavior is known as bunting, which cats pick up in kittenhood. Cats also use bunting to mark their territories.
If you notice your cat keeps rubbing its teeth on you, you may be surprised to know that there’s a valid explanation for the behavior. Keep reading to learn more about it.
Cats Rub Their Teeth on You To Bond
Though cats are very independent, often looking at you like the “needy one,” these proud creatures have evolved to develop strong social bonds. They form special bonds with their human companions by pressing their teeth against them, a behavior known as “bunting.”
When a cat presses its mouth against you, it releases pheromones through glands in its cheek and chin called Feline Facial Pheromones (FFP). These pheromones attach to any surface they contact. Later on, when smelt by the cat, these pheromones signal that the person they have rubbed against is familiar and safe.
When a cat presses its mouth against something, pheromones and other odors travel through the duct, conveying crucial sensory information to the brain. The passageway can detect not only the cat’s pheromones but specific odors, too.
Cats also use this passageway to:
- Pick up on mating signals,
- Identify predators,
- Bond with and learn about other cats,
- Familiarize with their environment,
- And so much more!
So the next time you notice your cat rubbing its teeth on you, you’ll know that your feline friend simply loves you and wants to connect with you.
When Do Cats Develop Their Teeth-Rubbing Behavior?
Cats pick up their teeth-rubbing or bunting behavior in kittenhood. Mother cats often nurture their young by cleaning them and rubbing their teeth against them. Maternal affection allows the association between face rubbing and love concrete at an early age in the cat’s development.
A very similar process occurs in humans. When raising children, the touch and smell of a mother to her child is critical for producing oxytocin. Oxytocin is a bonding chemical between a mother and child. It allows the child to develop a pair bond similar to the bond created between a mother cat and its offspring during bunting.
Bunting Helps Cats Explore or Protect Themselves
The old saying “curiosity killed the cat” has a basis in reality. Cats are always trying to understand who and what’s in their environment.
Cats use bunting to get a feel for a place or person. A cat rubbing its head against you could be their way of expressing curiosity. Cats rub their teeth against you to identify the smells on you. They want to know if you’ve been in contact with other animals, and if so, what kind?
Furthermore, cats will use bunting as a way to alleviate anxiety when in a new area. Releasing pheromones on new surfaces helps cats familiarize themselves with a new place, reducing stress.
Cats will also rub their face on parts of a new area to see if they can detect possible mates or adversaries. They can smell another cat in heat or the pheromones of predators. These adaptations have helped cats stay alive throughout their evolutionary timeline. The ability to find mates while also not dying is a critical part of natural selection.
In addition to this, cats gain a lot of information about other cats through pheromones picked up in the urine of other cats. The smell allows males to know if they’re in the presence of a higher status male that could pose a threat. It also can say to a male what stage of the estrus cycle a female is in.
Cats Use Pheromones To Mark Their Territory
According to the experts at Feliway, cats use pheromone secretion to mark their territory to other cats. Cat’s secrete different pheromones from their paws. These secretions act as a signal to other cats that the domain is claimed.
The process of pheromone detection is why cats often rub their teeth against various objects in the house. It’s their way of ensuring no other cat has tried to claim their territory. As discussed earlier, cats can release pheromones through glands in their cheeks and chins.
In addition to the pheromones secreted from the paws, cheeks, and chins, male and female cats mark their territory by spraying urine.
A cat lifting its leg and peeing on your sofa is their way of saying, “I’m home!” The potent smell contains many chemical messengers that signal that the environment has been claimed. However, this isn’t a warning that’s always heeded.
Anyone who has lived in a neighborhood with plenty of cats knows the sound of two cats fighting. That horrifying shriek that jolts you from the show you’re watching. When the pheromone warning isn’t respected, conflict ensues. Luckily, there are ways to mitigate your cat’s territoriality.
How To Bond Better With Your Cats and Reduce Conflict
The vomeronasal system of cats is complex yet simple. It relies on odors to make associations. Your cat smells you and associates the smell with being fed and pet. Their system can also be manipulated with products to make your cat get along better with other family members or pets.
Several companies offer products that manipulate the vomeronasal system by creating synthetic pheromones that mimic the pheromones cats release. These products activate parts of the cat’s brain that assign familiarity or bonding to an object or person. They’ll help your cat feel more comfortable at home, increase the bonding between cats in the house, and make the cats in your home less territorial.
Below are some of the products that are available on Amazon.com:
- Relaxivet Pheromone Calming Spray. You can use this spray to curb your cat’s anxiety and stress for when you’re going to the vet or moving to a new house.
- Feliway Classic Cat Calming Diffuser Kit. This is one of the most popular products of its kind. Just plug it in where your cat usually stays the most and let it do its magic!
- Comfort Zone Multi-Cat Calming Diffuser. This is also vet-recommended like the two products and creates a stress-free environment for your cat. Make sure you plug this into a wall outlet and not a power strip.
The Evolution of Pheromone Signaling To Mark Territory
The use of pheromones to mark territory occurs in a wide variety of species. Aside from cats, most mammalian vertebrates and many non-mammalian vertebrates use pheromones to mark their territory. Pheromone signaling has helped animals and humans survive in the wild.
According to an academic review on pheromone signaling, pheromone release is primarily regulated by internal hormone levels.
For example, when male hamsters see a female hamster, their internal testosterone levels increase. Hormone increase, in turn, signals the male hamster’s body to release pheromones that’ll be attractive to the female hamster. Though, it’s unlikely that pheromone secretion originally evolved to serve this purpose.
It’s theorized that pheromone secretion evolved as an accident by-product of metabolic activity. As compounds were broken down by early single-celled and multi-celled organisms, their products made their way to the cell’s exterior. These secretions then evolved into means by which cells could chemically communicate.
If your cat rubs its teeth against you, it’s a sign of deep trust, bonding, and familiarity. Your cat recognizes you as someone who will give it love and affection. Your cat also does that to mark you as its territory. Often, cats spray urine on different surfaces to send signals to other cats.
If you have an unruly, territorial cat or one that doesn’t open up to you, try pheromone products to ease your cat into its environment.
To learn more about bunting, watch the video below:
- Paws Chicago: Cat Senses – How Felines Perceive the World
- Feliway: What Are Cat Pheromones?
- Southern Living: When Cats Rub Their Head Against People or Things it’s Called Bunting
- Comfort Zone: What Are Cat Pheromones and How Do They Work?
- Companion Animal Psychology: Can Synthetic Pheromones Help With Aggression in Multi-Cat Households?
- PubMed: Current Opinion in Insect Science: Evolutionary origin of insect pheromones
- ScienceDirect: Scent Making Behavior
- Bright Hub Education: The Importance of Touch in Infant Development
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.