Nose Sniffing by Cats

Caitlin Dempsey


A gray tabby and a brown tabby sniffing noses on a gray gravel path with lawn and small trees behind them.

If you lean in close to your cat, you may notice that they first thing they do is sniff your nose. Cats will also do the same with familiar cats, dogs, and other animals that they know.

The nose sniffing behavior of a cat is ingrained since birth. Mother cats will sniff the noses of their blind and deaf newborn kittens to acquaint them with her smell and to learn their smell.

Sniffing noses is a form of greeting

Cats who are on friendly terms will sniff noses as a way of greeting each other. Cats have a powerful sense of smell and collect information through the scents and pheromones of other animals.

Sniff noses is one way that a cat will communicate with another cat.

By smelling another cat up close, the cat can tell where the cat has been and what other cats and animals that cat has been recently associating with. If you’ve ever been out to another place that has cats and come home to your cat very closely smelling your clothes, you have seen your cat’s nasal detection at work.

Most cats are farsighted and therefore cannot see very well when something or someone is within 12 inches of them. Cats rely on their sense of smell and touch to understand objects and living beings that are very close to them.

Cats recognize other familiar people and animals by their sense of smell and they use their whiskers around their face and front paws to detect movement.

A gray tabby and a brown tabby sniffing noses on a gray gravel path with lawn and small trees behind them.
Cats will sniff each other’s noses to greet. Photo: © dewessa /

Showing trust by sniffing noses

Sniffing noses is also a sign of trust. Cats avoid getting too close to anything that they feel threatened by. If a cat sniffs your nose your cat is communicating that they trust you.


Once a cat has greeted another cat they may then move on to rubbing their cheek against the other cat or head butting. Both are also signs of affection. Cats have glands in their cheeks and forehead that leave behind a chemical message when rubbed against another cat or you.

When two cats engage in cheek rubbing with one another, this is known as allorubbing.


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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey holds both a master's in Geography from UCLA and a Master of Library and Information Science. She is the editor of and an avid researcher of geography and feline topics. A lifelong cat owner, Caitlin currently has three rescued cats: an orange tabby, a gray tabby, and a black cat.