Cats are master communicators. They have many distinctive 'meows' for everything from when they want to eat or be petted to when they want to play. All you have to do is listen intently and you'll eventually learn what all that meowing is about! But their communication extends far beyond the meow. Cats also use body language to voice their wants, needs and desires.
One method in which cats communicate is through nose touching. Their sniffers are an important means in which they can relate their olfactory journeys and adventures to other cats who are interested in their purr-fect tales! In this way, a cat can tell if another cat is from their group or some other group.Their great sense of smell is used more for social interactions and less for hunting when compared to other predators.
The Solitary Cat
Cats are mainly solitary creatures. The lion is that one exception but usually cats, even feral cats that have banned together somewhat, into communities, still retain their autonomous lifestyles to some degree. This holds true for your domestic cats also who live under the same roof.
Cats Share Scents
As soon as one cat meets another they touch and sniff each other's nose. This is their social way to share scents from all their adventures and this action places both cats on equal footing and a vulnerable position.
Kittens are blind at birth but their noses still carry fully developed touch receptors! As a newborn kitten, nose touching is the manner in which kittens make first contact with mum. As kittens grow into adults, nose touching will remain to them the first friendly greeting they'll use to greet other cats.
If a cat doesn't sense a smell on another cat after the rub nose greeting, you may observe the other cat rubbing it's face and head on the cat he was greeting. This is a semi-friendly action showing social acceptance but it also territorial marking. Cats have scent glands in their head and cheeks, so when they deposit this scent it may be a sign of friendship or something more territorial. You can be certain that mutual grooming will soon follow.
A cat may also use the scent glands on its hind quarters to make sure his scent takes hold on another cat. This action is usually a result if stress. This is not so much a social interaction as it is the cat asserting dominance. This is not an action that would work in the human world (although some figures in sports entertainment have used this method to display dominance.)
The Cat to Human Nose Touch
If your cat greets you with a nose touch there is nothing wrong with that. You could even substitute your finger for your nose if you don't want to go the full nose route. This is considered to be a polite greeting for all cats. If you're visiting a friend that has a cat, try holding your finger out to kitty at the cat's nose level. Don't be afraid; you're just saying 'hello', that's all. (Caution: this pertains only to domestic cats, not lions, tigers, bobcats, etc.) Although nose touching from cat to human is friendly, it's not really a sign of affection. If you're looking for a sure sign of cat affection, look for 'bunting.' Bunting results from when your cat was a kitten looking for a place to nurse around his mum. He'd rub part of his head around her until he found the perfect spot. A headbutt or bunt from your cat means your cat really loves you!