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As cats can’t use words, pet parents might find it challenging to figure out what feelings their fluff-tailed pets are trying to convey. Learning to interpret cat body language or actions is a fundamental part of kitten and cat care.
Whether they’re winding themselves through their humans’ legs or nudging their forehead against them, these motions are almost always a positive thing. What does it mean when a cat rubs against you? That’s one of the most common cat questions new cat parents (or dog people) ask. Here are a few things the act could mean.
Cats often rub up against humans as a way to gather information. By rubbing against a leg, they can determine what animals a person’s been around, where that person’s been, and if they’re acceptable.
It’s not always an invitation for petting. Cats are curious, so they’ll rub against someone they don’t know to figure them out.
Cats have scent glands in their cheeks, forehead, chin, and base of the tail. When a cat rubs on a person, another animal, or an object, they’re leaving her mark—which contains pheromones. It isn’t territorial, but the cat is letting other felines know that item doesn’t belong to them.
Humans can’t smell the pheromones, but other cats can. As they don’t stay forever, a cat will periodically refresh her scent on the things—and people—they considers theirs. It’s kitten 101.
Cats will sometimes head-butt their pet parents, other kitties in the house, and even other animals. It shows affiliation, which helps to maintain a connection with those in their family. At the same time, it also demonstrates trust.
The act of head-butting—also called bunting—puts the cat’s face and eyes in a vulnerable position, so they are showing the pet parent or other animals that they are trusted.
For cats who live in a multi-cat household, rubbing and head-butting are often a type of greeting. They might rub against one another to say hello, similar to humans’ handshake.
They don’t just use rubbing to greet other felines, though. A cat will often run to the front door when their pet parent comes home, and they will wind themselves between their person’s legs. Those figure-eights are typically a way of welcoming humans, and occasionally as a way to lead them to a specific location like the kitchen or their empty bowl.
Sometimes a cat will rub against their pet parent during cat training or even randomly because they want or need something. The cat likely knows that the rubbing action will get a response—whether that’s a scratch behind the ear, a rub under the chin, or a treat. Maybe the cat wants their bowl refilled or some playtime.
Sometimes, the cat is just letting their pet parent know that they loves them and wants a positive reaction so they knows their person loves them back. Don’t we all need a little bit of that every now and then?
In general, rubbing is a positive cat behavior—people don’t need cat advice gurus or medically verified research to the deep feline health questions to figure that out. Seek vet help if a cat’s behavior or rubbing becomes aggressively needed and other physical signs point to a medical or psychological need. To help a cat with anxiety or other behavior problems an online vet or pet behaviorists may ask about routines, patterns in the pets behavior, and their environment.
While unfamiliar cats may use rubbing as a way to learn more about the people and animals around them, a cat who’s been with their family for a while will rub to show that he or she cares. When a cat rubs on their pet parent—and the cat parent responds with pets and affection—it shows the cat they are loved and cared about. Now go get your pets and activate their purr modes!