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Why Does My Cat Sniff My Face? Here’s the Reason Behind the Curious Kitty Behavior

Plus, why they do it more when you're sleeping


Picture this: You’re sitting on the couch minding your own business, when suddenly your cat comes over and starts sniffing your face. While this common behavior is cute, it’s also a bit puzzling. You may be wondering whether your face smells particularly good, or if your cat is just sniffing around for some strange, unknown reason. As it turns out, even the experts don’t know for sure why cats do this, but they have some pretty convincing hypotheses. Read on for the adorable answer to the “why does my cat sniff my face?” question.

Why does my cat sniff my face?

While there’s not one definitive answer as to why cats love sniffing our faces so much, it likely has to do with their innate curiosity. “We don’t really know why cats sniff human faces, but the most likely possibility is just that they have an incredible sense of smell that they use to take in information about their environment,” says Dr. Mikel Maria Delgado, cat behavior expert for Rover.

Cat sniffing woman's face with other cat looking on in background

Those who own more than one cat may already notice that they frequently greet each other with a quick sniff of each other’s faces. It’s basically their way of saying, “Oh yeah, that’s you! Hello!” As Dr. Delgado explains, “Just like cats use smell to identify which other cats in the environment are familiar and part of the family, they may be checking that you are really you.”

If you often find your kitty curling up near your face and giving you a quick sniff before settling down, they’re just reminding themselves that you are indeed part of their comfort zone. It’s similar to them headbutting against your noggin. Both are sweet signs of affection! 

Related: Why Do Cats Headbutt — Vets Reveal 4 Things They May Be Trying to Tell You

While humans are more inclined to use visual senses of recognition, “Cats are much more likely to use smell to identify others — whether they’re cats, humans or other animals — than appearance,” says Dr. Delgado. “It’s hard for us to understand because our sense of smell is not nearly that good!” Think of sniffing as just one more of your cat’s many weird and wonderful talents.

Why does my cat sniff my face while I’m sleeping?

Sometimes your cat may even come up to you in bed and start sniffing your face right as you’re about to drift off into dreamland. It’s a move that’s both adorable and disruptive. Contrary to what you might think, cats aren’t just sniffing your face while you sleep to annoy you by waking you up.

Cats are crepuscular, which means they’re most active at dawn and dusk. Because of this, it’s unsurprising that they often activate their sniff mode at night. “Cats probably sniff you for same reason — gathering information — whether you’re sleeping or awake,” says Dr. Delgado. “It could be that your cat is trying to wake you up in case you might give them pets or treats!”

Next time your cat wakes you up with sniffs, remember, they likely just want to make sure you’re doing okay after not moving for a few hours and get some much-needed attention.

Is face-sniffing a cause for concern?

Like many cat behaviors, face-sniffing is pretty strange, and if your cat does it frequently, you may start to wonder if something’s up. Fortunately, you can rest easy knowing that getting your face sniffed is a normal occurrence that comes with the territory of cat ownership. However, “If your cat can bite or scratch when startled, or gets playful with your hair, you may not want them that close to your face for extended periods of time,” notes Dr. Delgado. In these instances, you may want to distract your little guy with a toy.

The nose knows

“Unfortunately, there’s just no research out there specifically about face-sniffing in cats,” says Dr. Delgado. “Using the information we have available about cats and their senses of smell, it’s logical to conclude that face-sniffing serves an important information-gathering purpose.” Dr. Delgado points out that cats even have a vomeronasal organ in the roof of their mouth. “This is a secondary olfactory organ that has the sole purpose of identifying cat-specific chemicals called pheromones,” she explains. “Smell is so important to cats’ worlds that they needed a ‘second nose!'”

Related: Why Does My Cat Follow Me Everywhere? A Pet Pro Explains the Adorable Reasons

Close-up of kitten sniffing woman's face

Ultimately, when it comes to your cat sniffing your face, “The most important thing to know is that cats have very sensitive noses that they use to understand the world,” says Dr. Delgado. So next time you feel a tiny nose inching ever-closer to your cheek, it’s worth keeping in mind that your cat isn’t trying to bother you. Rather, they’re just trying to cozy up to you and learn what you’re up to!

Read on for more about weird yet cute cat behaviors!

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