For owners who thought their kitty was independent and aloof, here's some news: Cats are very affectionate and have special ways of showing it. One common way they express their affection takes the form of rubbing their heads and their cheeks against you. But your cat may do an even more special greeting: He may bump against your leg, quickly lifts both front feet off the ground at the same time and puts them down again in a hopping manner. And while he's got both paws up, he may rub his cheek against your leg to signal of his affection.
This behavior is learned in kittenhood during the bonding process with the mother cat. Kittens and their mothers share a complex relationship, forming a close bond shortly after birth. Where human mothers use baby talk and gentle caresses, mother cats, or queens, lower their heads to make face-to-face contact with their kittens. They rub their kittens' heads with their own heads in order to mingle scents. This allows the kittens to recognize their mother and bond with her. In response, these tiny kittens often raise themselves up to meet her.
This common behavior of rubbing the face and cheeks against people, other cats, or objects is an instinctual behavior that releases facial pheromones, which have been shown to have a calming effect on cats. When cats rub their faces on various objects, they are actually leaving their scent, which is reassuring to the cat and non-offensive to humans. When we rub our cats or they rub up against us, we pick up these scents, too. Then we have a groupscent identification.
If you have more than one cat, you may notice them butting heads and rubbing their cheeks on each other. Only cats that are entirely comfortable with each other will engage in mutual scent marking. This creates a potpourri of familiar scents that help cats to feel relaxed and secure in their home territory.
Cheek-rubbing is not only a means to leave their scent; it also helps create relationships based on physical contact. When your kitty hops up to greet you, you should feel very privileged.