Your cat’s cheeks contain glands that he uses to deposit his own unique scent. By rubbing his furry little cheeks on everything he sees, your cat is actually being quite territorial, marking off what he considers to be “his” in your home.
Cats have multiple scent glands on their heads. They have glands located around their mouths, chins, sides of the face, neck and ears. When a cat rubs his face on an item, he leaves his scent behind. The act of a cat rubbing his head on objects is called “bunting.”
The bunting and rubbing are reserved for bonding, social, comforting and friendly purposes. When your cat engages in head bunting or head rubbing, he is placing his scent there as a social and affectionate gesture. Cat-to-cat head bunting and allorubbing are reserved for cats who already have a familiar and friendly relationship. Cats typically display head bunting toward other cats, dog companions and humans. Lip rubbing is often reserved for marking objects.
Bunting may also be used as an attention-seeking behavior if your cat butts his head up against you and then tucks it down or turns to the side. He may be asking for one of those wonderful neck or head scratches that you often do for him. Past experience has told him when he displays this behavior you typically respond by petting or scratching him in his favorite places. Cats are so smart!
Many people inaccurately assume any time a cat engages in rubbing or bunting then he is merely marking you as his territory. Scent communication is far more complex than that. Cats use scent to mark their territory, yes, but they also do it to create comforting familiarity, show respect (ex: flank rubbing another cat), create a common colony scent (important for survival and cat colony harmony), self soothe, announce sexual status (done through urine-marking), tell other cats about themselves and much more. The reason a cat uses scent depends on his immediate circumstances and the part of his body he uses. When your cat comes face to face with you and bunts or rubs, enjoy it. It’s the next best thing to a kiss on the cheek.