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Why does my cat back it up… right in my face?

 by lucy on 21 Sep 2016 |
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Nothing says “Hello!” like backing up butt-first into someone’s face— at least if you’re a cat. While this gesture may seem uncouth to his human counterparts, your pet’s presenting of his posterior is the ultimate sign of affection in cat-speak. Not only does it give you access to his scent glands — cats’ way of sharing information about themselves — but the butt-to-face greeting also puts your pet in a very vulnerable position, meaning it is reserved for only his closest companions.
Cats can say a lot with their tails, and a tail held high is a sign that your pet is relaxed and comfortable. Tail sniffing, then, is considered a normal greeting between two familiar felines. A tail-up welcome puts your cat in a very vulnerable position, however, so this salutation is reserved only for his closest friends. When two unfamiliar cats meet for the first time, they are more likely to sniff or rub each other’s faces or necks, which contain scent-producing glands. These scents help clue cats into their social settings and can calm feelings of aggression or fear when approaching a friendly feline. Once cats feel more comfortable with each other, they will perform a similar greeting along each other’s flanks, another scent-laden region. This can communicate information about a cat’s own scent, which cats he’s been rubbing up against, and which humans have been petting him. Only once felines have achieved best-friend status do they let their peers sniff beneath their raised tail— the center of your cat’s signature scent. This is the feline equivalent of a warm handshake or hug, and greeting you bottom-first shows trust between you and your pet. A bum to the face may also be your cat’s way of asking for affection, further reaffirming your bond.
While your cat does not expect a sniff in return, some people prefer not to be greeted by their cat’s nether regions. To head off a posterior-first welcome, try meeting your cat with a scratch under the chin instead. You can also pat your cat from his head to his shoulders, emulating the exchange of information between cats when they brush up against each other. All of these actions swap scents while showering your cat with affection—the primary goals of his butt-to-face greeting. With some practice, your pet should start meeting you head-on, but in the meantime, you can rest easy knowing your feline friend doesn’t expect you to return his rear-first greeting with the regular sniff he’d expect from another cat— a simple scratch or pat on the back will do.


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