Why Do Cats Nudge?

She's not just being cute, she's marking you.
She's not just being cute, she's marking you. (Image: Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images)

While you’re sitting there minding your own business, Fifi prances over and nudges your hand. You pet her, of course, but then she jumps up next to you and head-butts you. Sure, she’s showing you some affection, although she does have a hidden agenda as well. She’s secretly claiming you as her own.

Marking Territory

If you’ve ever seen Fifi with her hind end towards the sofa, tail wiggling straight up in the air, she’s spreading some of her own signature perfume. It doesn’t always happen that way, though. Cats have scent glands on their cheeks, right under their whiskers and on their temples. When she’s nudging your hand, rubbing up against your ankles or smashing her forehead into yours, she’s actually coating you with her scent. You can’t smell it, but if another feline comes by, he’ll detect that another kitty already owns you. Fifi might also nudge the corners of the sofa, table legs or other furniture to further spread her scent on “her” stuff.

Getting Attention

You’ve been gone all day and Fifi misses you. After all, you’re her whole world and the only one she has to talk to and take care of her. She’s nudging you trying to get your attention. It’s her way of saying, “Pet me” or “Come play” or “Please follow me to the food dish and fill it.” She can’t speak your language, so she’s doing her best to show you exactly what she needs to make her happy.


Some of the time, Fifi nudges you to get a quick groom and massage session. If she shoves her head under your hand no matter where you move it, she wants you to pet and rub her. During your petting session, all that loose hair comes off. It’s great for her—one less thing for her to clean—although it makes a big mess all over your living room.

Gathering Information

Cats have a specialized information center located in the roof of their mouths known as the Jacobson’s organ. This sensitive zone is connected to Fifi’s nasal cavity, making her sense of smell roughly 200 times stronger than yours, explains Michigan-based veterinarian Dr. Steven J. Bailey. When Fifi nudges you, she may have her mouth open slightly to let a particularly interesting odor flow over this organ. You probably think it’s a cute little quirk, but she’s actually gathering information about you. She’s figuring where you’ve been all day, what you had for lunch and if you’ve had your hands on any other felines.

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