As you come home after a long day at work, your feline welcoming committee greets you with waving tails, chirps of pleasure, and affectionate rubs. Although you may think your cat is trying to trip you up when she winds against your legs, she’s marking you as part of her family again.
In this post, we’ll explain the reasoning behind why your cat rubs against you.
Why does my cat rub against me?
Cats live in a world that relies largely on scent, using pheromones and scent markers to distinguish between friend and foe. As cats rub along objects or people, they deposit these scent markers to leave communication signals behind, indicating whether the object is part of their territory. Cats do this to mark a human or animal as part of their group.
When your cat rubs against you, she deposits her scent and pheromones on your clothing, making you smell like one of the group again after all the unfamiliar scents you’ve picked up throughout your day. Essentially, your cat is trying to communicate with you and letting you know that she considers you part of her family.
Cats rub against people for a variety of reasons, including:
- Depositing pheromones
- Marking territory
- Gathering information
- Displaying hunger
We’ll dive deeper into the theories behind each potential reason your cat may rub against you, but rest assured that feline rubs are a positive action—she’s not trying to trip you.
Why your cat rubs against you
As your cat rubs against you, you participate in a scent exchange that reaffirms your connection with your feline friend. Each rub imparts important information about your relationship, but how does it work? Let’s look closer at how you’re marked when your cat rubs against you.
When people hear the term “pheromones,” they may think of the scents emitted by female cats in heat. While it’s true that pheromones are used during mating behaviors, they also are part of everyday life for animals.
Pheromones are chemical substances produced by animals that are designed to elicit certain behaviors by members of the same species. This means that we can’t detect the pheromones given off by our feline friends or canine companions, and they can’t pick up on the pheromones emitted by their housemates if they are different species.
Mating pheromones are the first that come to mind, as they are highly effective and we can notice the results. (It’s difficult to ignore the actions of a cat in heat that draws every stray male to your door.) Pheromones can also be used to warn of danger or attack, such as the pheromones given off by bees that prompt the entire hive to swarm.
Cats and dogs use pheromones to express their emotions, and other pets can pick up on the same species’ fear and anxiety or calming comfort. Feliway and Adaptil products have capitalized on calming pheromones designed to promote reassurance and keep the peace in a household of multiple pets.
When your cat rubs against you, she is marking you with pheromones released from scent glands. These glands are located in the tail, forehead, cheeks, paw pads, and around the anal area. Pheromones are deposited on the object or person who comes in contact with the scent glands and linger long after for extended communication purposes. Full-body and facial rubs provide a wealth of information from the pheromones left behind.
If a cat rubs against you and marks you with pheromones or scent, feel special. Cats rarely rub against people they don’t like, as they don’t want to welcome them into their group. But, if your cat rubs against you, she is marking you as one of her own and letting other cats know that you are hers.
Marking territory is common for cats, as they are highly territorial creatures. As a cat marks her territory through scent, she is warning other cats to stay away, but also leaving behind a reassuring, safe scent for her. Be thankful your cat chooses to mark you with pheromones rather than urine.
If your cat marks something (or someone) within your home, your other cats will walk by and sniff out the scent markers. They may occasionally remark an item to reclaim it for the entire group by rubbing their scent glands against it. As the scent markers are left behind, they mingle together to form a message of community.
This is why your cat immediately rubs against your legs as you return home to help welcome you back into the group and cover up the unfamiliar scents.
Cats use rubbing as a form of communication between themselves and with their owners. Between cats, they may rub against each other to ask to be groomed or to convey affection. Often, a rub ends in a grooming session with clean ears, bright eyes, or shiny fur.
Your cat will rub against you as a means to gain your attention. She may be letting you know that dinnertime is in 3 hours to ensure you begin preparations, or that she wants some love and attention. If you have a kitty who enjoys venturing outdoors, she may rub against your legs and then walk to the door to ask to be let outside.
While your cat may often rub against you with her entire body, ending with a tail wrap, she will likely also bunt you with her head. This head butt is a friendly gesture that’s the feline equivalent of a hug or handshake. Often accompanied by purring, bunting is exchanged between cats who like each other or performed by a cat who adores your company.
Information is gathered and left when a cat rubs against an object or person. Scent markers and pheromones are deposited, while the old scents are interpreted.
Cats inform other cats that they’re encroaching on their territory by leaving behind scent markers when they rub on an item. As a cat passes by an object that has been subjected to a feline scent gland, she will pick up a great deal of information about the territory and characteristics of the marking cat.
As cats rub against people, they pick up information about who that person is, where they’ve been that day, and if they’ve been in contact with other animals. If your personal cat rubs against you, she’s trying to figure out where you’ve been all day and to remove unfamiliar scents and replace them with her own.
Feeding time is the highlight of the day for most of our feline friends. Despite being independent and self-sufficient, they haven’t quite developed the ability to operate can openers. When your cat is hungry, she’ll often rub against you, gazing up at you with beseeching eyes, begging for a fresh helping of Fancy Feast. She’ll throw a few meows in for good measure to ensure you can’t miss how close she is to withering away, trilling as she winds between your feet.
Do cats target different spots to rub?
Cats often choose to rub against people’s legs or faces, but neither body part has a particular meaning. Although, when a cat rubs against your face, she is displaying great affection and placing her head, eyes, and neck in a vulnerable position Confident, friendly cats are most likely to show bunting behavior, while almost all cats will rub against your legs.
As your cat rubs against your legs, she is demonstrating her love and trust for you, especially if she finishes with a tail wrapped around your legs. This behavior is also seen between cats with close bonds.
In what other ways do cats communicate?
As cats communicate largely through scent markers to help differentiate between friend and foe, territory boundaries, and emotions, other forms of communication are also useful. Some techniques are used more for interspecies communication, while others are reserved solely for human interaction.
Between cats, body language is just as important as pheromones and scents. Cats rarely meow at each other, but instead convey their message with a change in body posture and stance. Although body language is more important than vocalizations, cats do use hisses, yowls, and trills to communicate with each other.
When your cat attempts to speak with you, she often uses a meow to try to get her point across. Otherwise, you’ll hear purrs, chirps, or growls, in addition to hisses, yowls, and trills.
Should you let your cat rub against you?
Although an overly enthusiastic cat who continuously winds through your legs can be a tripping hazard, this is an acceptable behavior without negative connotations. There’s really no reason to punish your cat for rubbing against you, and many people choose to reward cats for demonstrating their affection.
As your cat rubs against you, she is strengthening your bond and declaring her love and trust for you. Bunting is one of the highest forms of affection you can receive from your feline friend, and it’s an action to be cherished. Respond to your cat’s rubs with petting and food to guarantee you’ll always feel the love from your kitty.
Let us know in the comments below: how many times has your cat tripped you out of love?