Lookin' in your big brown eye
December 14, 2005 12:26 AM   Subscribe

My male cat puts his butt in my face. A lot. ¿Por que?

My 7 year old kitty goes through these spurts of incredible neediness once or twice a day. They occur only when I'm at my computer, and involve him walking all over my desk, tromping on the keyboard, doing his whole-body-scrunch thing that means "pet meeee", and, most irritatingly, he starts with nudging his head on some part of me and turns around, tail in the air, with his backside toward me. Because I'm seated and he's on my desk, we're eye to brown-eye, so to speak. Kitty does this when he's got plenty of food, water and clean litterbox, so he's not really in need of anything, except attention. I'd be glad to give attention, but I'm not sure why it needs to involve his rear end. If he were a female, I'd think it was something mating-related, but since he's a boy, I assume it's not.

He's a cat, so I know I'll never stop him from doing it, and I doubt it's abnormal, but I'm really curious as to what he might be trying to tell me. I'm fascinated by animal behavior and the theories regarding their causes. Googling Cat Butt Face got me nowhere that anyone would want to be.
posted by FortyT-wo to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Does it count as snark to link to Yahoo! Answers? It's not much to go on, of course, and it involves a dog... but there are a couple decent things to think about.
posted by SuperNova at 12:41 AM on December 14, 2005

Our (female) cat does this to my wife. I've always figured it was a sign of disrespect (i.e. this is my house, feed me, clean my litter-box, and kiss my butt).
posted by jsteward at 1:32 AM on December 14, 2005

Related thread. Every cat I've ever owned has done this. I call it Arse Appreciation Hour.
posted by punilux at 1:44 AM on December 14, 2005 [2 favorites]

He wants you to lick it. Yes, that's right, LICK IT. All cats do this (but mostly queens, maybe he's conflicted?) The arse is a vital part of the grooming experience, and they find it hard to reach round there in a truly satisfying fashion themselves.

Don't worry about it, but I wouldn't recommend obliging him.
posted by bifter at 1:47 AM on December 14, 2005

If he really wants you to lick his butt, you could always get some baby wipes. He will either then really like you or really hate you.
posted by Medieval Maven at 4:47 AM on December 14, 2005

It means he likes you, actually. It's the biggest honor a cat can bestow on you -- "Look, here's my butt! You can sniff it if you want to!!"
posted by JanetLand at 5:20 AM on December 14, 2005

Yeah, he's just being friendly and ingratiating to you. Gross, but absolutely the opposite of disrespect.
posted by biscotti at 5:27 AM on December 14, 2005

Having grown up with numerous cats, I've noticed that the happier a cat is and the more it likes you, the more you'll notice this kind of behavior.

I've had a feral kitten who feared mankind, only allowing brief petting when he felt brave enough to approach me. I don't remember him ever trying to show off his cat butt.

On the other hand, I've had a few big baby tomcats who never met a person they didn't like. If they weren't headbutting your ankle or rolling around in the dirt, they were sticking their rear in someone's face.

In the middle, I've got a skittish but friendly queen. She's easily intimidated by things like dogs, other cats, loud noises, and small children. Once she's being pet, she's fairly calm and friendly, and she'll stick her tail up as well. If she notices anything that disturbs her though, her tail starts to flicker and drop back down.

So yeah, it's a friendly thing. Basically, when a cat feels safe, happy, and friendly, it decides you need to see it's butt. I've found that if you gently shove the cat on its side for a belly rub, that's more interesting to a cat than giving out a peep show.
posted by Saydur at 6:10 AM on December 14, 2005

He probably figures if you're truly interested in how he's doing and what he's been up to, then you'll want to smell his butt. That's the kitty way. I would suggest pressing your nose against the SIDE of his butt, his flank, not the actual hole, of course. This might placate him.

Or else he wants you to massage those big muscles on either side of his lower back, the ones cats use so much when they pounce or leap or even just walk. Cats LERVE that massage.

Hell, be honored. I remember how good I felt the first time one of my cats smelled my butt. I was finally truly one of the bunch.
posted by Shane at 6:14 AM on December 14, 2005

Shane's got the best answer so far I think. This is a cat's way of saying "Let me tell you about my day...." Also, I'm pretty sure he just wants you to sniff. I've seen lots of cats sniff each other's butts, but I've never seen a cat clean another's butt.

And again, to echo other posters, he's only doing it to show affection. Hind quarters on a cat are a weak point. He's showing you how confident he is that you won't hurt him, which for an animal 10% or less of your body weight is a pretty big deal. If he was showing disdain, he'd walk away (tail up) and ignore you. If he was mad at you, he'd keep away from you and would walk around you in big circles, tail low, always trying to keep you in view. The fighting end of a cat is the front end.

The best way to deal with this is to displace it to something else. Since he's feeling affectionate, rub his chin or cheeks. If you do this often enough, he'll learn that the way you want him to approach you is from the front end and you'll not be presented with feline ring pieces as often.
posted by bonehead at 6:32 AM on December 14, 2005

cats are social enough that they like to trade information about how they're doing with their friends ... it's an invitation to sniff his butt so you can know what he's been eating ... cats' noses are sensitive enough that they can tell what another cat's been eating by sniffing his butt ... and by doing it with you, he's telling you that he trusts and likes you enough to give you this information

never mind that you're the one who's feeding him and you already know what he's eaten ...
posted by pyramid termite at 7:15 AM on December 14, 2005

Hmm, now I feel really bad for getting frustrated with him and chasing him off when he does it. I don't think I can bring myself to sniff his butt, but maybe I can figure some other way to acknowledge his... information.

Saydur, you make a very good point. The cat I had growing up hated people. She wouldn't let you within 3 feet of her, and mostly she sat in a central place and just watched everyone in the house, running if they walked her way. Definitely never got a close look at her rear end. Or the rest of her, really.
posted by FortyT-wo at 7:59 AM on December 14, 2005

I second that it's the cat being friendly and I'll add that you can train the cat. Reward the behavior you want and ignore the behavior you don't want. Pet him when he's facing you, ignore him when he's waving his butt at you. If you're consistent, he'll probably start catching on. I've inadvertently trained my two cats to sit by doing this--one sits to get treats thrown in the air for her and the other knows to stop cramming her very pointy nose up my nostril and sit to be petted.
posted by lobakgo at 8:45 AM on December 14, 2005

Wow, this is great to know for me too! I'm not a cat person (that is, I got nuthin' against 'em -- I just don't really know from cats) but my roommate adopted the neighbor's kitty a few months ago and he does this to me ALL THE TIME and I was starting to get irritated. He's a sweet cat, but I've been absolutely baffled by it... so now I'm no longer baffled, just merely icked out. (I'll try the backrub/tummy rub thing, though.)

But why does he only do it when I'm at my desk on the computer (he's doing it right now, actually -- dammit, Simon, stop walking on my keyboard) or trying to eat dinner?
posted by scody at 8:51 AM on December 14, 2005

No opinion here, but this thread has really made my day.
posted by xmutex at 9:18 AM on December 14, 2005

I'll try the backrub/tummy rub thing, though...

If he lets you rub his tummy, he really likes you and trusts you. The tummy is the area a cat feels is their most vulnerable. Usually scratching the stomach will result in the cat putting its claws out, scratching and perhaps biting if it feels insecure. It also encourages aggression---grabbing another cat's head with the front paws and kicking hard with both back claws is the "dive off the posts" move of cat-wrasslin. Tummy scratches usually result in an angry cat stalking off. When the cat trusts you and is in the right mood, tummry scratching usually leads to a play fight.

Try rubbing under the chin, behind the ears and along the whishers at the side of the mouth. Those are grooming behaviours and every cat I've known can't get enough of it.
posted by bonehead at 9:38 AM on December 14, 2005

Your cat is simply acknowledging you as further up the social hierarchy to him/her. The cat presenting its butt to you is being submissive to you and offering you the opportunity of asserting your dominance. The cat is inviting you to check out its credential's.

Cats will often extend this behaviour to those humans who feed them and those whom they trust. Cats have two scent glands either side of the anus, under extreme stress or during stimulation, they can expel some sticky (and foul smelling) goo from them. It's a signature that other cats in the social group will recognise, hence the sniffing and licking. Sometimes the dominant (sniffing/licking) cat will also show the Flehmen response (mouth slightly open, wrinkled lips) as they direct the scent over the Jacobsen's Organ which allows greater analysis of the scent.

This is a behaviour that is part of social bonding in the animal's group. You are part of that social structure in the cat's life.

Try blowing gently at his butt. Not only will this satisfy the cat's need for affirmation of his/her status, but it will also disperse any unpleasant smells from that area :)
posted by Arqa at 2:58 AM on December 15, 2005

Actually, a friend of mine tells me her cats love having their butts blown upon. Thanks for the detailed explanation, Arqa.
posted by Shane at 12:12 PM on December 16, 2005

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