Nose It All: How Cats Communicate With The Nose

The feline nose is the cute-as-a-button spot we love to “boop” and is of course responsible for the sense of smell, but a cat’s nose is also an important part of feline communication. Besides sniffing out food or danger, one of the most important tasks it performs is to help cats feel comfortable with humans. Here’s what your cat’s nose knows.

Belly Up To The Milk Bar

At birth, touch is the most developed sense and assists kittens with environmental orientation. The sense of smell, though not fully developed until after the third week, is sufficiently developed at birth to aid in orientation and nursing. The nose has fully developed touch receptors that, combined with the sense of smell, enable kittens to use scent communication to locate their mother for milk, warmth, and protection. This nose-touching communication developed in kittenhood is the foundation for feline communication.

Nose-To-Nose Greetings

When people meet each other, we usually nod, shake hands, or hug. Cats meet ‘n’ greet each other with a nose-to-nose sniff test to curiously inquire “How ya doin’?” “Where ya been?” and determine if they’re from the same tribe. This is a friendly, non-threatening greeting among cats meeting for the first time or housemates checking in after a siesta in different rooms of the house.

Nose-To-Finger Introductions

Cats may be wary of human interaction until they feel safe. When you first meet a cat, sit down quietly and extend a finger at cat nose level. Your finger becomes a nose substitute and allows the cat an opportunity to investigate your scent. If the cat feels comfortable, you may get a cheek rub against your finger or hand or other request for further attention. Conversely, the cat may back away if he feels unsure about interacting.

Nose-To-Nose Hellos To Humans

Lucky you! Wet nose kisses are a wonderful sign of affection. Sure, there’s some initial sniffing involved for identification purposes, but this says you’re someone the cat likes. If the cat really likes you, he may punctuate the nose kiss with a gentle love nip.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.