Why Does My Cat Open Her Mouth When I Pet Her Head? (Explained)

Why Does My Cat Open Her Mouth When I Pet Her Head

When a cat opens its mouth while being petted on the head, it is usually a sign of contentment and relaxation. This is known as the flehmen response. It helps them to analyze scents better, as their vomeronasal organ, which helps detect pheromones and other scents, is located at the roof of their mouth.

So, an open mouth helps them better process the scent of what they’re sniffing and allows them to take in more air, enhancing their sense of smell even further.

However, some cats may also open their mouth as a way to communicate discomfort, so it’s essential to pay attention to your cat’s body language and overall behavior to determine the actual reason behind the behavior.

When you pet your cat’s head, and she opens her mouth, it can be a little disconcerting. You might be wondering, “Why is she doing that?”

There are a few reasons why your cat might open her mouth when you pet her head. Please keep reading to learn more about them.

cute tabby kitten on a sofa
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What Is a Cat’s Flehmen Response?

When you pet your cat, and she opens her mouth, she’s not trying to catch a fly. She’s exhibiting a flehmen response. This is a reflex that all cats have, and it serves several purposes.

To start with, the flehmen response allows your cat to better smell what she’s smelling. Opening her mouth and inhaling deeply, she can get a more accurate reading of whatever scent is in the air. This is especially important for cats who hunt because they need to be able to detect prey from a long distance.

The flehmen response can also help your cat determine whether something is safe or dangerous. If she smells something bad, the response will help her avoid it. And if she smells something good – like food – the response will help her remember where it is so she can return for more later.

Why Does My Cat Open Her Mouth When I Pet Her Head?

There are seven possible reasons your cat might open her mouth when you pet her head;

1. Relaxation And Contentment

Cats often open their mouths and close their eyes when relaxed and enjoying being petted. In this case, it is a positive response, and it is to encourage you to do it more often as this help improve the bond between you and your cat.

2. Flehmen Response

As mentioned earlier, the flehmen response is a way for cats to better analyze scents by opening their mouth and exposing their vomeronasal organ, which helps detect pheromones and other scents.

3. Scent Marking

Some cats will open their mouths and rub their heads against you as a way to mark you with their scent, as a sign of affection and ownership.

4. Discomfort

Sometimes, a cat may open its mouth to communicate that it is feeling uncomfortable or overwhelmed by the petting. This can occur if the petting is too intense or the cat is in an unfamiliar or stressful situation.

5. Biting And Grooming

Some cats may open their mouth as a precursor to biting, so it’s important to monitor their body language and behavior and stop petting them if they seem to be getting agitated.

Cats tend to groom themselves frequently, and they may open their mouths while being petted to lick their fur or clean their face.

6. Cooling Down

Cats have a gland near their tail that helps regulate their body temperature, and some cats will open their mouth as a way to cool down if they are getting overheated.

Cat lying down
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Do All Cats Open Their Mouths When Petted On The Head?

No, not all cats open their mouths when petted on the head. Some cats may enjoy the sensation, close their eyes, purr, and lean into your hand. Other cats may not enjoy being touched on the head at all.

It’s important to pay attention to how your cat reacts. If your cat does open her mouth when you pet her head, that could be a sign that she’s feeling overwhelmed or uncomfortable with the situation. In these cases, removing yourself from your cat and giving her some space until she feels more relaxed is best.

Often, gentle petting around the rest of the body will be better received than petting on the top of the head. Petting around their face can also work as a great substitute since it is still quite intimate but allows them space to move away if they feel uncomfortable.

Is There Anything I Can Do To Avoid This Behavior?

The good news is that you can do a few things to help your cat feel more secure and avoid this behavior when you pet her head.

First, try to keep your petting sessions shorter. After a few strokes, give her a chance to move away and take a break, before starting again. This will help her feel less overwhelmed.

You can also try to move the petting session away from her head and focus on areas like her back or tail that she likes more. Additionally, clicker training can help teach your cat to recognize certain behaviors and reward them accordingly. This may help make the petting sessions more enjoyable for her.

Finally, providing plenty of opportunities for playtime with toys and scratching posts can be very beneficial in helping your cat de-stress and enjoy being around you.

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What Other Behaviors Are Similar to the Flehmen Response?

Cats also have a behavior that is quite similar to the flehmen response, and it’s called chirping. This is when your cat will open her mouth and “chirp” at you. It usually has a softer sound than the flehmen response and is often done when your cat feels happy or content.

It could be something as simple as her asking for more pets or treats or a sign of affection. You may have even noticed cats doing it to each other in the wild, which shows that chirping can communicate different things between cats.

Observe her body language if you want to be sure about why she’s doing it. If she’s purring and looking relaxed with half-closed eyes, then she’s probably just enjoying your attention!

How To Respond When Your Cat Opens Her Mouth While Petting

No one wants to be startled by their cat’s sudden open-mouth behavior while petting them, so what should you do?

The best way to approach this is to try and move your hand away slowly. Make sure your reaction is gentle, and don’t pull away suddenly. You can also whisper to your cat or treat them as a distraction.

Another option is to pay attention to the duration you’re petting your cat in one spot. Opening their mouth is a sign they’ve had enough of that spot, so stop or move on to another area.

In addition, if you notice your cat looks pretty relaxed and content with the petting session, then chances are they will not open their mouth when you go for head rubs.

Letting your cat decide how long to pet them, rather than controlling the timing, may make them more comfortable and help prevent surprises when you reach for their head!

Why Does My Cat Open His Mouth When Playing?

Your cat may try to show you that he enjoys playing with you. Cats, like dogs, will open their mouths when feeling good because it releases a pleasurable hormone called oxytocin.

This hormone helps create a bond between cats and humans, so some cats open their mouths when petting or playing with their humans. This behavior is also known as ‘happy bowing.’

It’s important to note that some cats may not open their mouths if they don’t feel safe around you yet, so be mindful of your cat’s body language and try to provide a calm, safe environment for your cat if you want him to show affection more often.

orange tabby cat sniffing on wooden table
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Why Does My Cat Open Her Mouth When She Smells Something?

When petting your cat on the top of her head, you may notice that she suddenly opens her mouth and moves her tongue around. You might think that this is strange, but it makes perfect sense.

It’s a phenomenon called the flehmen response, and it’s something cats do when they smell something that they find interesting or off-putting.

In this response, your cat will inhale through her open mouth and curl her upper lip to draw in as much air as possible. Her tongue will move around to help capture scent molecules, so she can take them in to better identify what she’s smelling.

It’s a way for cats to gather more information about their environment and make sense of the smells around them. So if you catch your cat doing this, don’t worry – she’s just trying to figure out what she’s smelling!

Why Does My Cat Open His Mouth But Not Meow?

You’re right, this isn’t a sound. It’s called the ‘flehmen response,’ and it’s a way for cats to pick up a scent. When your cat opens his mouth and flares his nostrils, he is trying to pick up pheromones or scents from the area he was just rubbed.

This behavior is most commonly seen in cats when they are being petted on their head or neck area. When your cat does this, it means he finds these areas pleasurable and wants to explore them further. Your cat may also try to ‘taste’ the scent of whatever he rubbed against with his tongue.

It’s also important to note that the flehmen response is not restricted just to cats—it’s also seen in other mammals such as horses, rabbits, foxes, wolves, and even humans! So if you ever catch yourself with your mouth wide open after a friendly hug or something similar, you know why!


A cat opening its mouth while being petted is usually a sign of relaxation and contentment. However, it can also indicate discomfort in some cases.

To determine the true reason, it is essential to pay attention to the cat’s body language and overall behavior. Understanding the flehmen response can help provide a deeper understanding of this behavior in cats.

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