Why do cats rub against you?

One of the universal cat behavior is rubbing against human and things. When you spend more time with your cats, they tend to bond with you and rub against you. This action is not dictated by fear and stress. Instead, it is a very positive sign when they rub against your legs or push their head against you.

“Cats learn head rubbing as kittens with their mothers, and it’s a compliment and affectionate gesture that cats use as a form of greeting,” says, Dr. Jill Sackman, senior medical director for BluePearl Veterinary Partners’ Michigan Region.


One certified consultant for cat behavior in California, Marilyn Krieger, also stated that “Cats define their worlds through scent. It is one way that helps them identify their families and friends, and even their enemies. So when a cab is rubbing against you, they’re actually exchanging your scent. And when they discover that you’re part of their family, it’s reinforcing and sweet.”

Read on to learn more information on the reasons cats rub against people, objects and their feline companions.

Information from scent mingling

Cats are olfactory creatures with scent glands producing pheromones in several parts of their bodies, including their foreheads, cheeks, paw pads, tails, and anal areas. So when they rub against you, they deposit a long-lasting scent.

More so, when a cat rubs against tables, couches, and even outdoor objects, their pheromones leave a personalized scent that shows other felines that the cat was there. So this type of contact helps to calm your cat when they can recognize their scent. It gives them a sense of belonging. And when they weave through your legs, they leave behind their scents, enabling them to feel secure with you, too.

When the olfactory mark fades on humans, cats tend to rub against them again. The pheromones produced reduce other types of marking, such as with urine. And recently, the marketing of synthetic analogs of such hormones has taken place to help control other forms of cat marking.

“Cats do not only use the scent communication for signals when they go through motions. They also leave the smelly messages for long-term communication,” says Amy Shojai, a certified animal behavior consultant in Texas.” She added, “Vocal communication lasts for as long as one breath at a time, but scents create a long-lasting message and communicate even when your kitty has left the building.”

More so, when cats rub against you, it may be a sign of claiming territory, but not just that - it is more directed towards spaces and objects, involving cheek rubbing and clawing.

Another thing you need to note is that when a friendly cat meets someone for the first time, they usually rub against them as a way to pick information about the new person. “They want to know where the person is coming from and whether they have animals of their own,” explained Dr. Stephanie Borns-Weil, a resident in Animal Behavior at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, North Grafton.

Sometimes your cat may not want to be petted out but to get particular information from you. So if you’re dealing with a strange cat, don’t assume that head rubbing is an invitation to be pet.

Marking close family members

When cats are together, they mark each other as close family members by bunting and rubbing their heads with one another. This signals acceptance and bonding. But what happens when they rub against humans? Well, when they transfer this behavior to their human companions, they are rubbing their scents on you and getting yours to show acceptance.

So, it is easy to know a cat that doesn’t like you - They will probably not rub against you.  But when they like you, they rub against you, saying, “You are part of the tribe, and I’m part of you, making us members of the same group.”

Demand for attention

Sometimes, a kitty might rub their face on the owner’s hand to tell that they need pampering. Although cats are naturally independent, still they often seek attention and affection. If they feel the need for any of these, they don’t hesitate to let you know.

Your cat may also want to greet you when they zigzag between your legs. They simply deposit their smell and collects yours, and this usually happens when you’ve been away from them for a long time.


Do cats rub on different parts of the human body?

When cats rub against a certain human body part, it doesn’t mean there is a specific message that they are trying to pass across to you. They only move towards any body part that is easily accessible to them.

When you see your kitten rubbing against your face, it’s a sign that they particularly like you. Sometimes, they can bump their head on your with oomph, but relax, it only signals a message from them saying, “I am your friend.”

Besides the head-bunting behavior in cats leaving pheromone signals of friendly encounters, it also keeps the cat’s face and eyes in positions that are vulnerable. When your cat rubs against you, it is not only a sign of friendliness but also trust. That’s why head-bunting is common among cats that have a high level of confidence in their owners.

You might have also observed your cat walking closely past you and rubbing their bodies against your leg. This is also a sign of good bonding, and they always finish this by wrapping their tails around your legs. More so, it is a friendly greeting between cats, and they only do this with humans they love and trust.

How to encourage your cat to rub against you

It’s a lovely feeling when cats rub up against their owners, as long as they are not knocking things out of your hands. So if you want to reinforce the behavior, pet them whenever they rub against you as a way to reward the behavior.

When they come to you after a long day without seeing you, and they rub you on the legs, try to pet them by stroking or scratching their head to reinforce the behavior. Besides, you put your scent back on the cat- they enjoy such companionship and affection.

But you need to know that rather than being petted along their back or sides, cats prefer to be stroked and scratched on their head and around their ears. So head bunting or rubbing can sometimes be your cat’s way of encouraging you to focus on stroking and scratching their head instead of focusing on the body alone.


Cats rub against you to get information and nourish a stronger relationship. However, head bunting and rubbing is not strictly a demonstration of affection. Cats exhibit this behavior with individuals who are part of their world (whom they trust blindly) and objects that are part of their daily life.

So when next your cats rub against your legs or nuzzle their face on your cheek, don’t push them away. Instead, try to pet them, stroking and scratching their head. This way, you’ll build a healthy relationship with your cat and they will feel secure and safe with you.



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