4 surprising reasons why your cat rubs up against you and weaves between your legs, according to vets

  • Cats spread pheromones — chemical messages unique to cats — every time they rub against you.
  • By rubbing on you, your cat can greet you, “mark” you as theirs, and pick up scents from your day. 
  • Cats may also rub against you more often during a heat cycle, or when they want food or attention.

Cat body language can be tough to read. Some days, you might swear your cat is saying “I love you” when they head-butt, or “bunt,” your hand. Other days, it may seem like they’re trying to trip you by weaving between your legs. 

But your cat rubbing against you could mean a number of different things — and it usually comes down to their pheromones

Pheromones are chemical messages only members of the same species can understand. Humans can’t smell cat pheromones, and neither can dogs. So, when your kitty rubs against something, they’re depositing these pheromones and delivering cat-specific messages like “This is my territory,” or “I’m looking for a mate.” 

Below, you’ll find an in-depth exploration of the driving forces behind this adorable cat behavior that might just help you better understand your feline friend.

Why your cat rubs against you

Cats have five unique pheromones. While researchers don’t understand the purposes of all of them, three main pheromones and their functions include: 

  • F2: Tomcats (unneutered males) emit this pheromone when ready to mate. 
  • F3: This pheromone comes from your cat’s cheek or chin glands. Rubbing their cheeks on objects can help your cat “claim” their territory. 
  • F4: Your cat uses this social pheromone to mark familiar individuals — like other cats or humans. In short, it helps them recognize their friends and avoid foes. 

More specifically, your cat may share their pheromones by rubbing you because: 

1. They consider you part of their group

Feral cats often live together in social groups called colonies. When two cats belong to the same colony, they’ll rub against each to share their F4 pheromones and create one mega “group scent.” 

Pet cats do this, too: If you have more than one cat, you may have seen this behavior when they rub or head-bunt each other — and taken plenty of cute photos as evidence. 

But while this head-bunting might seem like conflict, it’s more of an amicable behavior. 

“We don’t really see cats bunting up against other cats they have a hostile relationship with, so it’s not a huge stretch to assume cats are treating us as they would other cats that they like,” says Joey Lusvarti, cat behavior consultant at Class Act Cats

In other words, your cat’s head-bunting could mean something like, “You’re part of the pride, human.”

Note: Cats only deposit the pheromone F4 when they feel calm and safe. One study found that cats acted calmer when their owners were in the room. So when your cat rubs their cheeks against your hand or legs, this may mean they feel safe with you around. 

2. They’re saying hello

When you get home from work or school, your feline friend may rush to the door to greet you. You’re not alone there — 83% of cats like to rub against their owners following a separation. 

This could partly relate to the fact that your cat’s pheromones don’t last forever — they can wear off as you go about your day. So, rubbing their face against you when you come home helps your cat re-mark you with the familiar colony scent so you still smell like part of the group

Additionally, when your cat rubs against you, they take in the scents you have on your clothes and body. 

These scents let them know where you’ve been and what you’ve been up to that day,” says Dr. Chryrle Bonk, veterinarian at Excited Cats

So yes, your cat might know when you’ve spent some time hanging out with another cat or even (gasp) a dog. 

Note: Cats also like to touch noses as a greeting. When your cat nose-nuzzles you, it could mean, “Welcome home, human.”

3. They want something 

You might have trained your cat to rub against you without even realizing it. 

“Cats are constantly learning what gets them what they want,” Lusvardi says. 

Your response to your cat’s rubbing might train them to associate it with something they want — like food, pets, or going outside. 

For example:

  • If you often give your cat treats when they rub your legs, they may learn that rubbing equals food, leading them to rub your legs the next time they’re hungry. 
  • If you tend to ignore your cat’s rubbing or bunting, they may catch your attention in other ways when they want something — like meowing. 

4. They’re in heat

Female cats can change their behavior when they go through heat — often by acting more frisky. 

Sometimes, female cats can become overly affectionate when entering their heat cycle, says Dr. Hunter Finn, Integrative Veterinary Expert and owner of Pet Method Animal Hospital

“They can rub against you much more than usual, be more vocal, and sometimes lift their tail a little too close to your face while rubbing on you,” Finn says.

While spayed cats don’t experience heat, if your intact female cat suddenly amps up her affectionate rubbing, that could mean she’s entered her heat cycle. 

Note: Female cats can start having heat cycles as early as four months old. After that, they have them every few weeks, usually between January and late fall. Vets recommend keeping intact female cats indoors and away from intact male cats to avoid unwanted pregnancies. 

You can temporarily suppress your cat’s heat cycles through medication — but spaying your cat will stop these cycles altogether and remove all chances of pregnancy. 

Read more  Can Two Cats Share a Litter Box? Everything You Need to Know!

Is your cat rubbing against you ever a cause for concern? 

Most of the time, rubbing is typical cat behavior, though some cats may do it a little more often than others. However, when your cat won’t stop rubbing or trying to catch your attention, that may indicate that something is off — especially if it comes in combination with a new behavior. 

“Any behavior change in cats, especially if it’s sudden, could be a cause for concern,” Lusvarti says. 

For example, if your cat likes to bunt you when hungry, and you notice they’re bunting more often than usual, that could mean they have an increased appetite for some reason.

According to Bonk, cat behavior to pay attention to includes: 

  • Excessive meowing: Meowing is normal — but if your normally quiet cat starts yowling and crying, that may suggest separation anxiety or another health issue. 
  • Clinginess: If your cat is sick, they might become physically anxious and follow you around.
  • Standoffishness: At the same time, if your usually friendly cat becomes withdrawn or starts hiding, this could suggest illness or another cause for concern. 
  • Change in litter box habits:  “Monitoring your cat’s litter box habits can give you great insight into their health,” Finn says. If your kitty suddenly prefers to do their business in the bathtub or the corner of your closet, they could be sick or stressed

If your cat suddenly starts rubbing more, combined with another unusual behavior, it may be worth scheduling a check-up with your vet. 

Insider’s takeaway 

Cats communicate through their pheromones, a scent-based, cat-exclusive language. When your cat rubs against you, they’re sharing their pheromones with you — a high honor in the cat world. 

According to Bonk, this rubbing typically happens as a sign of affection. “Cats are only going to rub on someone they’re comfortable with and want to claim as part of their group,” Bonk says. 

In other words, when your cat weaves between your legs, they’re probably not trying to make you fall down the stairs. They most likely view you as a part of their trusted inner group — and want to make sure you smell like it. Tripping is just one of the prices you pay for kitty love. 


— Update: 16-02-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article Why Does My Cat Rub Against…Everything? from the website www.catonsvillecatclinic.com for the keyword why do cats rub against things.

February 16, 2018

Why do cats rub against things

Cats rub against objects to mark their territory and put their scent on it.

Every time you come home, you are greeted by your cat rubbing against your legs. You thought that this was just their way of saying hello, but then you notice that they rub against inanimate objects as well. They rub against your couch and dining room table as they walk by, but why? This may seem strange to you, but it is a normal cat behavior. Here are some reasons why your cat rubs against you and various household objects.

Pheromones

Cats have scent glands on their forehead, lips, chin, tail, paws, and the sides of their head as well. These glands release a chemical substance called pheromones. You can’t smell this chemical, but it is not for you to smell. They are released so that other cats can get information about the one rubbing on things. The pheromones can tell cats everything from the reproductive status of the rubbing cat to when the cat actually rubbed up against the object.

Marking Territory

Similar to how dogs pee on objects outside to mark their territory, cats are marking theirs by rubbing against it. They are leaving their scent on a person or an object to claim it. In a multi-cat household, another cat may rub against the same object to reclaim it as their own when they smell the other cats scent on it. When your cat rubs against you, they are claiming you as a part of their group. As mentioned before, a lot of cats immediately rub against you when you come home. This is their way of covering any unfamiliar scents and re-claiming you.

Communication

A cat may rub against you to let you know that they want something. If they are hungry, they might rub against you to remind you that it is dinner time. They may also just do this when they want some sort of attention, whether they want to play or just want you to rub them back. We may not always pay attention to our cat when they are meowing, but it is hard to ignore them when they continuously rub on your legs.

Bunting

This is another word for head butting and is a sign of affection, despite what head butting means for people. Cats will commonly do this with other cats that they have a positive relationship with, but they will also rub their face against yours too. It is the equivalent of a hug from them so don’t be alarmed. They will generally start purring when they do this. Cats only bunt when they are comfortable with one another, but it can also be a sign of ranking. Cats on the lower end of the scale will generally head butt more than the cats that are higher up.

Contact The Catonsville Cat Clinic Today!

For 20 years, the Catonsville Cat Clinic has been providing quality veterinary care to the cats of Catonsville and beyond! Dr. Pam Nesbitt, who purchased the practice in July of 2011, runs the Catonsville Cat Clinic with compassion in mind. A team of professionals with an advanced level of veterinary medicine is at your service to make sure your cat is healthy and happy. So stop on by; we’d love to get to know you and your cat!

For more updates and advice, be sure to follow our Facebook, Twitter, and Google+! You can get in touch with the Catonsville Cat Clinic by giving us a call at 410-869-0800 or visiting our contact page.

This entry was posted on Friday, February 16th, 2018 at 1:56 pm. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


— Update: 16-02-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article Why Do Cats Rub Up Against You? Is This Normal? from the website be.chewy.com for the keyword why do cats rub against things.

A: If your cat is rubbing their head against you, it’s totally normal. They’re likely doing it to show affection (how sweet!), although it could also be an attention-seeking behavior, a way for them to gather intel from the outside world, or their way of “claiming” you as one of their own.

Read more  Stress and Feline Urinary Problems: How to Deal With It

Why Does My Cat Rub Their Head Against Me?

They’re Showing Affection

“Cats who rub up against their people are usually showing affection,” says Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM. “Head rubbing, which is also called bunting or headbutting, is a way for cats to maintain positive connections within groups.”

So if your kitty loves to bunt your legs or rub against you on the couch, it could just be their unique way of saying they love you. However, if your cat doesn’t ever rub against you, it doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy your company—they just might show their affection with different body language. Other signs of feline affection include:

  • Resting near (or on) you
  • Gazing at you and blinking slowly
  • Asking for belly rubs
  • Kneading you

They’re Greeting You

If your cat rubs their head on you and begins meowing or purring as soon as you walk into your house, it’s likely just your cat’s way of greeting you. “Cats rub against their people as a sign of affection,” says Dr. Sandra Mitchell, DVM, DABVP. “It is the kitty way to say ‘hello, welcome home, I’m glad to see you–now get me some food!’”

Why do cats rub against things

They Want Something

Regarding that last point, if you feed your cat as soon as you get home or bend down to pet them when they rub their head against you, the rubbing could also be a learned behavior. “We tend to positively reinforce this [rubbing] behavior by responding with affection in return,” says Dr. Coates.

So, if your cat knows they will get treats or snuggles whenever they rub against your leg, they could start doing this behavior on purpose. This is totally fine if you enjoy when your cat rubs against your legs, but if you want to stop or redirect it (more on that later), you may want to rethink how you respond to this behavior because you could be inadvertently encouraging it.

They’re Marking Us as One of Their Own

Cats have an excellent sense of smell and use their scent glands—located along their head, cheeks, side of their face, flank, and tail—to mark their territory. When we come home smelling of unfamiliar things, our cats try to mark us with their scent.

“When a group of cats live together they form a group scent or ‘colony odor,” says Ingrid Johnson, an IAABC-certified cat behaviorist and owner of Fundamentally Feline in Atlanta, Georgia. “We leave the house almost every day disrupting that group scent. They rub on us and use their scent glands to make us smell like the family again.”

It also “notifies other cats that ‘this is my person,’” Dr. Mitchell adds.

We’re not sure whether we should find this cat behavior possessive and creepy, or adorably endearing? We’ll go with the latter.

Should I Worry if My Cat Is Rubbing Against Things All of the Time?

Our experts agreed that, in general, you shouldn’t worry if your cat is rubbing against you or other objects. “As a rule, rubbing is a normal behavior in cats and not indicative of a health problem,” Dr. Mitchell says. However, if the rubbing is completely out of character for your cat or if it becomes excessive, it could be a sign of a medical problem.

The following health conditions can cause cats to itch or rub themselves excessively:

  • Allergies
  • Fleas or ticks
  • Ear infections
  • Skin conditions

Dr. Coates recommends making an appointment with your veterinarian if your cat’s rubbing is unusual for them or if you are seeing any other potential signs of illness or injury.

How Do You Get a Cat to Stop Rubbing Against You?

If your cat is rubbing against you or giving you headbutts (and you don’t have any reason to suspect a health issue), you should allow this sweet feline behavior to continue and soak up all of the kitty love! You can also use this as an opportunity to bond with your cat in other ways, like teaching them how to play fetch. After all, dog owners shouldn’t get to have all the fun!

But, if it truly does bother you, Johnson suggests redirecting the behavior with a lure toy or tossing some treats away from them. “It would likely positively distract the cat away from what they’re doing,” she says.


— Update: 17-02-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article The 6 Reasons Cats Rub Against You, and If Should You Let Them from the website a-z-animals.com for the keyword why do cats rub against things.

Cats are very intriguing creatures. You will find yourself constantly fascinated, perplexed, and even sometimes frustrated as a cat owner. However, all of these experiences come together to make having a cat a delight.

One thing that cat owners will soon notice is that cats love to rub up against you once they trust you. It could be with their forehead, cheeks, or their entire body. Many cat owners interpret this as a sign of affection, but are they right? Why do cats rub against you?

Cats mainly communicate using body language, and rubbing against you is one of them. In this article, you’ll find out the answer to, “Why do cats rub against you?” and what to do when they do.

Why Do Cats Rub Their Body Against Your Legs?

Understanding the anatomy of a cat is one of the keys to answering this question. A cat has its scent glands at the top of its head, chin, cheeks, and the base of its tail. These glands contain a pheromone which the cat leaves behind when it rubs against you.

The rubbing behavior that a cat does is actually passed down from mother to kitten. In the cat world, it could mean affection, a need for attention, marking of territory, or even greetings. Your cat could also be gathering information by rubbing up against you. 

Affection

Rubbing is one of the ways that cats show affection. A cat will rub against its owner to show that it feels safe with them. You might even notice your cats do this around inanimate objects. It means the same; your cat is in a secure environment that they like.

This kind of show of affection could also include a few head bunts. (We explain more about this under the next heading.) It means that your cat is happy and content to be around you. This is where you could safely offer a few pets to show you care for them too.

A cat that is rubbing against you for affection will also have other tell-tale signs. You’ll notice that their face is soft with no tension around the ears, eyes, and whiskers. Their body will also be loose, and you could even get a few soft blinks.

Read more  How to Keep Your Cat’s Litter Box From Smelling Up the Whole House

A Need for Attention

Have you ever come back from work and almost fallen over because your cat decided to rub against your legs? It could be one of three things: your cat needs its dinner, wants to play, or wants to be petted. With time and the below tips, you’ll easily know what your cat needs.

Cats have a specific behavior known as head bunting or bunting. This is when your cat is rubbing its face on you. It is your cat’s way of showing you that it wants a few head scratches or just wants some attention.

So next time you walk in the door and your cat starts to rub up against you, try offering your hand. If they bunt your hand, that means they want affection. If not, it’s time to get their meal out and be on your way. However, note that you have to be careful even when your cat wants to be petted.

You see, sometimes, your cat could get overstimulated, especially if you don’t pet it right. Cats are different from dogs in this way. It’s also better to pet your cat’s tail and rump area other than down the back as with dogs. Head scratches are also better for your cat.

When petting your cat, if you’re watchful, you can tell when it is reaching its limit. Your cat will go from extremely relaxed to being attentive. You’ll also notice that they’ll turn their head to watch you pet them or try to sniff your fingers. At that point, it’s time to let go.

When your cat rubs against, say, a cabinet or bag that has its food, then that’s easy to interpret. Sometimes, however, your cat will rub against you aggressively to show that they need fresh water. It could also mean that their litter box needs cleaning out.

The more time you spend with your cat, the easier it’ll be for you to know which is which.

Why do cats rub against things
Head bunting, when a cat rubs its head against yours, is a sign of affection.

©Kristi Blokhin/Shutterstock.com

Greetings

You’ll notice this one when you’ve been away from your cat for a long time. Your cat will tend to run their body and head against your leg when they see you. It’s a very good sign; it means that your cat is happy that you’re here now. You may even get a few head bunts.

Marking Territory

Why do cats rub against you to mark territory? Cats rub up against their owner to claim them. One of the ways that cats interact with the world is by using scents. Remember the pheromones we mentioned earlier? While it is odorless to humans, other animals and cats can smell it easily.

These pheromones can say a lot about the cat that left them. Other animals can tell if the cat is male or female with just a whiff. They could even tell what mood your cat was in when they left the scent on you!

Pheromones also do not last forever, so your cat needs to reapply this sometimes. Most times, when you come home, your cats’ scent might have left you. They’ll want to mark you again, so they’ll rub up against you.

This is their way of letting other animals know that you are theirs. That scent says, “This person belongs to me.” It is thought that claiming from cats also releases endorphins that help your cat feel safe, stay calm, and be happy.

Why do cats rub against things
Cats rub against their owners to “claim” them with pheromones from glands on their heads, chins, cheeks, and at the base of their tails.

©iStock.com/kozorog

Gathering Information

After all of this talk of affection, you could be a little confused if you’ve seen your cat rub against a stranger. Don’t worry; this is also possible. It’s a different kind of rub, however. Sometimes your cat will rub their head against a new person or animal in its environment to size them up.

During this searching rub, your cat will gather information about the stranger using its sense of smell. It could even pick up any pheromones from other animals on them. You’ll, however, notice that this rub is with less abandon.

This then means that a rub from your cat to a stranger is definitely not them asking for a pet. So, don’t forget to give them a heads up. The same also applies when you meet a cat for the first time. A rub is not an invitation for you to touch or pet them.

Illness

If your cat is severely ill, rubbing aggressively against you could be one of the ways that it shows this. You might also notice your cat doing the same to rugs and other objects. You should also watch out for other strange behaviors from your cat at this point.

Some of the illnesses that could cause this include allergies, ear infections, and inter-cranial diseases like a tumor. Your cat could also have fleas or be suffering from feline hypersensitivity disorder. Most times, you’ll notice this change suddenly.

Other symptoms you could also see include head tilting, confusion, weight loss, and vomiting. Your cat could also start overgrooming itself, experience hair loss, and have diarrhea. In situations like these, please get in touch with your vet as soon as possible for evaluation and testing.

Why do cats rub against things
Sometimes cats rub against their owners to communicate that they don’t feel well.

©iStock.com/AnnaStills

Should I Let My Cat Rub Against Me?

Yes, absolutely! Rubbing against you is one of the ways that your cat communicates with you. Whether it is trying to claim you, say hi, or even show that it is sick, rubbing is an important interaction.

Rubbing is also a way for your cat to make you a part of its trusted environment. That way, your cat can know if there is an intruder. The stranger won’t have the pheromones that your cat has put on you and other items around your home with rubbing.

Final Words

There is a running joke online about how hard it can be to understand cats. They seem to have their own language, and it can take a while before they trust you enough to make an attempt. However, once you form a mutual bond with your cat, it is vital to understand how it communicates.

Rubbing against you is one of the ways that your cat relates to you. As we’ve discussed above, it could be for many different reasons. Most of these fall into either claiming you or trying to get your attention.

Also, don’t forget that rubbing could be your cat’s way of showing their affection for you. So, keep this in mind the next time you come home and almost trip because your cat is underfoot. It’s coming from a place of love, and it’s because your cat trusts you.  

References

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About the Author: Tung Chi