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Why Does My Cat Like Their Cheeks Scratched? 6 Main Reasons


May 2, 2023
cat massage the cheek


cat massage the cheek

All cat lovers have experienced one of those moments when their furry friends come closer to them, eagerly nuzzling their faces, seeking a gentle rub. Indeed, most cats enjoy having their cheeks scratched, massaged, and stroked, which is usually much to our delight.

One of their scent glands is located at the base area of the ears. So, as you extend your hand and your cat stretches its paw to meet it by directing it to its cheeks and applying pressure, this is usually their way of spreading their scent and showing affection.

This article will further discuss why cats like their cheeks scratched and tips for keeping your cat happy and safe. Read on to learn more.


The 6 Reasons Cats Like Their Cheeks Scratched

At first glance, it may seem like cats enjoy having their faces scratched or rubbed purely because of physical gratification. While this is a worthwhile factor, most cats enjoy this behavior for more than tactile rewards.

Below we explore other possible reasons why your cat may enjoy having his cheeks scratched.

1. Cats Have Pheromones on Their Cheeks

Pheromones are essentially scent communicators that are released from glands spread all over the cat’s body. Different species, including humans, release this substance but are only detected by animals belonging to the same species. This is essentially how cats communicate with each other without having to use sounds.

All cats produce different pheromones to convey different meanings and messages to other cats, and often, this influences behaviors. Cats can use their pheromones to create familiarity, identify another cat, mark territory, self-soothe, help create stronger mother-kitten bonds, show fear or stress, and even signal happiness.

These pheromones-producing glands are usually located on the forehead, under the chin, near your cat’s face, and around its mouth. So, when you scratch your cat on its cheek, it will cover you with its scent. Even though we may not be able to detect the pheromones, this is usually your cat’s way of showing you that it is comfortable around you and that it accepts you as part of its family.

person scratching a maine coon cat's cheeks
Image Credit: Stepan Popov, Shutterstock

2. A Mutual Grooming Habit

Face scratching is often seen as a form of mutual grooming by cats. While in the wild, cats often groom each other, especially in the hard-to-reach areas to reinforce social bonds and show love.  So, when domesticated cats rub their faces against humans or household items, they are usually trying to recreate these habits and seek connections.

Therefore, when humans rub their cat’s cheeks, the cat will assume that its owner is trying to reciprocate the bonding behavior and emulate its natural group-grooming habits.

3. A Show of Trust

The face is one of the most vulnerable places on a cat’s body. Cats understand just how sensitive their eyes, whiskers, and ears are. So, when they allow you to scratch or rub their face area, they are indicating that they value and trust your relationship with them.

Also, as mentioned earlier, it is a way of showing affection because blending scents can create a strong bond between you and your feline companion.

owner stroking and scratching orange cats face
Image Credit: Eliz A, Shutterstock

4. Variability and Individual Preferences

Just like humans, cats also have individual preferences when it comes to being touched. While some cats may enjoy the occasional cheek rub, others absolutely abhor having human fingers touch them. So, trial and error are probably the best way to discover your feline companions’ preferences.

Just remember to be patient and gentle when exploring your cat’s tactile limits. This is because some cats may need a bit more time to create trust and become comfortable with the face-scratching sensation.

5. They Enjoy the Feeling

Most feline experts equate scratching a cat on the cheek or under the chin to humans having a back rub after a hard day at work. It simply feels good! So, if you properly scratch your cat’s cheeks, it will enjoy the feeling immensely and can even show appreciation.

6. They Have Chin Acne or an Itchy Face

If you notice that your cat has been begging for cheek scratches, chances are that it might be suffering from a parasite or skin condition. These conditions usually include flea bites, feline acne, and/or food allergy. The facial conditions can cause your cat to excessively rub its cheeks on your furniture, your chin, or any other surface that can provide some relief from the itch.

Feline acne is caused by the overproduction of oil on your cat’s chin area. The acne can block hair follicles, thus causing your cat to have itchy, and often painful lesions.

Common signs of itching due to these conditions include hair loss, areas of redness, crusting, and worse, bleeding if the cat is excessively itchy. You should schedule a veterinary appointment immediately if you notice any of the itching signs on your cat because they may also be a sign of other underlying medical issues.

cat scratching a cheek
Image Credit: Suptar, Shutterstock


How Do Cats React to Cheek Scratches?

As you may have gathered by now, cats have individual preferences when it comes to having their cheeks rubbed or scratched. Here are some of the most common responses that you can get from scratching a cat’s cheek.

If they enjoy how you scratch their chin, they will:

  • Purr and meow
  • Lean closer to your touch
  • Rub their bodies against you
  • Lay down or sit to enjoy the cheek scratches further

If annoyed by how you scratch their cheek, they will:

  • Bat your hand away
  • Growl or hiss
  • Move or run away from you
  • Bite or gently scratch you as a warning’

If your cat is overly upset by your general physical interactions, they will:

  • Vigorously attack your arm or hand
  • Scratch, bite, or claw at you
  • Growl, hiss, and yowl

Usually, cats never immediately attack when you get near them in a provocative manner or in any way that they do not like. Instead, they prefer giving warning signs before taking any drastic measures.

Nevertheless, you should never touch your cat in a way that may bother him in any way. Instead, it’s best to approach him respectfully and gently. Also, you should discontinue any scratching if their body language indicates that they do not appreciate the petting action, no matter how well-intentioned it may be.

Tips for Keeping Your Cat Safe and Happy

  • Always pay close attention to your feline companions’ body language and look for vocal clues such as purring or meowing.
  • Introduce your cat to new animals or people slowly and gradually.
  • Respect your cat’s boundaries and never push them to do anything they do not want to do.
  • If your cat appears uncomfortable or anxious, don’t force any physical contact.
  • Allow your cats to set limits for scratching or petting. Do not overstimulate them.
  • Cheek scratches are not suitable for your cat if he is feeling anxious or scared.
  • Avail a variety of petting options so that your cat can choose which one it likes the most.
  • If you cannot provide attention to your cat, provide plenty of activities and toys to keep your cat entertained.
  • Avoid prodding or poking your cat’s face as this can cause discomfort or pain.
  • Instead of rubbing your cat’s face in an up-and-down motion, move your fingers in a circular motion.
  • Finally, and perhaps the most important tip is to make sure that you interact with your feline friends in a way that makes them feel appreciated and secure.
Cropped shot of someone hand scratching and plying a white cat while sleeping
Image Credit: Boyloso, Shutterstock



It’s no secret that cats love getting cheek scratches and rubs. Whether it’s for a sense of security, prompted by endorphins, or just a form of affection, this act of love is beneficial for cats and their owners.

However, note that not all cats share the same temperament when it comes to physical contact. Some do enjoy having their cheeks scratched, while others can barely condone contact with humans.

Therefore, it’s best to try and spend time with your feline companion to understand its boundaries and preferences so that you are able to provide them with the best care possible. With a little bit of patience, you can turn cheek scratches into an enjoyable experience that both of you look forward to.

Featured Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

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