When it comes to our cats, there are a few questions that everyone seeks to have answered — does my cat understand me? Does she know her name? Is it true she'll eat me if I die in this house?
One question, however, has left people wondering for years, and undoubtedly supersedes the rest: why does my cat put her butt right in my face?
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Unlike people, cats don't have the use of verbal or written language to express how they feel, which can present problems when meeting another animal for the first time. Sure, cats do express a variety of "meows" to get their various points across, but that style offers little in comparison to the use of body language. A cat can use his body language to show those around him what's going on, like if he's feeling threatened and doesn't want you to approach, which is expressed through laid back ears that are pressed flat against his head. Hissing is another common sign to steer clear, while rubbing against one's legs or lying down with the belly exposed will usually signify affectionate messages.
One body language signal that isn't as easy to spot can be found on the back of the body, at the tail, specifically. An upright tail raised vertically in the air is most often a sign that a greeting is welcome, especially when paired with a direct but relaxed gaze. Like dogs, cats introduce themselves to one another by using their sense of smell. A cat can tell a lot about another feline based on the scent he picks up, and the best place to get a good whiff of information? That's right — the butt. Just think of it as the least hygienic handshake ever shared.
But why the butt?
A cat's sense of smell is far superior to that of a human's, with up to 80 million olfactory receptors compared to our unimpressive 5 million. So, if cats can smell so well, whey do they need to stick their noses in what is arguably the smelliest place on another cat's body in order to learn more about them? The answer to that question is more simple and less gross than you might think. A cat's rectum is where the anal glands reside, which are small sacs that release an oil-like substance every time a cat has a bowel movement, according to VCA Hospitals. Within these glands rests a wealth of information that cats are able to decode through their noses, like how old another cat is, whether they're healthy, and if they're looking to mate, to name a few.
A cat’s sense of smell
Maybe cats gain a sense of one another by showing off and investigating their rear ends, but why do they insist on doing the same thing to us? Contrary to popular belief, cats are social creatures in their own way, despite what their sometimes aloof demeanor may suggest. When your cat offers you a good look at her butt, this may be a form of familial bonding, as cats will frequently exchange odors among themselves by rubbing their bodies against each other.
Because cats with uplifted tails tend to be greeted and welcomed by other cats more often than cats with relaxed tails, this may explain why cats act this way around us — a vertical tail can express a need for touch or affection from a feline's human counterpart.
Sometimes, a cat will offer a much less unpleasant part of her body to you or another cat upon meeting — his head. If you've ever seen two cats gently bump heads, or if your cat has ever walked up to you and offered a soft graze of her forehead, you've witnessed the transfer of information via scent, only this time it's done through pheromones found around your cat's face.