If you’re a cat owner, you’ve likely wondered why cats rub against one person but not another. Your fluffy cat companion might greet you at the door and rub against your legs, but be aloof when your partner or friend enters through the same door.
This leads many people to ask, “what does it mean when a cat rubs against you?”
Why do they do this? What does it mean when a cat rubs against you? Are they fishing for affection or coaxing you for a treat? The answer is straightforward. You are family! But how does it work?
Keep reading if you’d like to know more about the science behind your cat’s love-language. Cats are very interesting and friendly creatures, and knowing why they have certain quirks will help us to understand them just a little bit better.
Read More: Find the perfect match for your household with the 17 best family cats.
Why Is My Cat Rubbing Against Me? – How Cats Communicate Using Different Senses
Cats have different ways of communicating with each other and humans, and not all domesticated cats exhibit the same methods of communication. But here are the primary ways your cat tries to correspond with you using different senses.
- Visual communication – They might curl or wag their tail, lower their ears or widen their eyes
- Vocal communication – They will meow, growl, purr– or even hiss at you.
- Tactical (touch) communication – They might cuddle, knead, groom, headbutt or scratch and bite you
- Olfactory (smell) communication – They will give off their pheromones in and around their space to mark their territory. This keeps away predators and creates a barrier around their possessions. You might not notice this one, but it’s very important to your cat.
The Science of Why Cats Rub Against You
So what does it mean when a cat rubs against you and purrs? Our feline roommates rely heavily on scent for communication, and this type of physical contact stimulates their pheromone glands. Pheromones create unique scents produced by individual cats, which they use for marking territory and communicating.
Read More: These are some unique cat breeds you can welcome into your home.
These glands are situated in different areas of the body such as behind the ears and on the paws and forehead. If your cat decides to rub these areas against your body, it means that they are marking you as familiar to them – which is a very good sign.
Cats tend to rub against each other or against other members of the pet family as well. This is purely an indication that they recognize them as a part of the pack and that they have some relationship.
Read More: Find out why your cat’s ears might be hot.
The effect of this pheromonal exchange can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks.
What Does it Mean When a Cat Rubs Against You? 5 Reasons
As mentioned above, our furry felines use pheromones for communication, but what they intend to communicate might not always be love and positivity.
Here’s a list of reasons why your cat is rubbing against you and how to tell the difference in intention.
1. Family Scent Exchange
If there is a cat aggressively rubbing on you, it could be a family scent exchange. Keeping the family unified is a job that our cats take very personally. The scent exchange is a way to indicate that your cat is marking an object or a person as part of the unit.
When a cat rubs on us, our first reaction is to pet the furry friend back. This fuels their fire and shows them that we are taking part in the “scent exchange ceremony”.
Read More: Find out why your kitty arches its back.
They think we are marking them back and telling them that we are appreciating our position within the family bond they have created – which is true.
Read More: Find out why cats lie on their backs.
2. Marking Inanimate Objects
If you are wondering what does it mean when a cat rubs against your hand, then it could be asking for affection or mistaking you for an inanimate object. You may have seen your cat rubbing itself on a new pair of shoes or a new house plant before. They will do this to mark that object as a recognized part of their territory.
Putting their unique scent on strange objects is their way of including said objects in their household space. It also warns other cats that this space is taken and protected.
3. Your Cat Is Yelling At You
My cat keeps rubbing against me; what do I do? Well, your cat might actually be yelling at you. Teaching your cat not to scratch or bite is an important chapter of the cat parenting manual they all so thoughtfully come with – haha. But, this might be stripping away their ability to communicate frustration or aggression.
Luckily, cats have learned how to show those feelings best and most sensitively. If your feline friend is erratically rubbing up against you and seems to be more forceful than normal, they might be actually yelling at you.
Cats can use this form of communication to indicate to their cat parents that they are feeling angry, misunderstood, or even sad.
Next time when your cat is rubbing up against you, pay close attention to their body language. You might be surprised.
4. This is My Space
Why do female cats rub against you? Domesticated felines come from a long lineage of feral cats. They only became domestic pets about 10 000 years ago. And our household furballs still share some traits with their wild ancestors – like territorial marking.
Cats may share spaces in close proximity to one another, and keeping the pheromonal territory up-to-date is a full-time job. They use their unique scent to set boundaries for one another, whether on a human or an area or object.
These scents reveal a lot to other feline neighbors, like Kitty Twitter. They can tell the readiness for mating, aggression, possessiveness, and the other cat’s mental and physical health.
This will help them navigate their way around the area and also the hierarchy of the feline community.
5. Showin’ Some Lovin’
What does it mean when a cat rubs against your leg? Not everything in the feline queendom is strategic, however. Sometimes our cats need to show their affection and gratitude toward us. But different kinds of physical touch can mean different things to the feline.
a. Tail Wraps Around Your Leg
If a cat is rubbing up against your leg and suddenly their tail coils around, you are experiencing the closest we will ever come to a hug. This is a very common way for the cat to show their affection.
It’s the human equivalent of throwing your arms around a friend.
If your feline friend presses their head against yours in any manner, they’re showing you the ultimate sign of affection or closeness. Headbutting is the human equivalent of yelling “I love you” to someone’s face.
Cats may only do this with a select posse of humans, so feel honored if you have become the chosen one.
Read More: Find out why your cat is headbutting you.
c. You Have Something That I Want
If your furry roommate rubs up against you, they may also be looking for affection or cuddles. But, your cat has very interesting ways of showing their needs, including rubbing up against a door (Let me out), or rubbing up against the kitchen cabinets (Gimme a snack, man).
However, if a strange cat rubs against you, it might only be saying hello. Don’t try to over-pet or pick up the cat. He is simply welcoming you into their space.
FAQs About Cats Rubbing Against You
These are a couple of questions that cat owners often have about cats and their affectionate ways.
How Do You Know If a Cat Likes You?
If a cat is comfortable in your presence, it will do some of the following things:
Why Does My Cat Rub Against My Leg and Then Bite Me?
Cats often show their affection in weird and wonderful ways. One way that might surprise you is with a love bite. Don’t read too much into it, they are simply showing you how much they really love you.
Final Thoughts on Why Your Cat Rubs Against You
Cats have a unique way of using smells to communicate. They have a sympathetic olfactory sense, and they tend to rely heavily on it in order to survive. Cats use scent in the same way that humans use physical barriers.
We tend to oversimplify the feline body language, immediately pinning it as a sign of affection that should be reciprocated. But, this can lead to a cat being misunderstood and its needs being neglected.
Try to reposition yourself away from an automatic anthropogenic response to your cats’ behavior and rather aim to understand their intentions fully. This will help you to forge a stronger bond with your feline friends and aid in better communication in the future.
Enjoy all the rubbing and petting, but remember to be on the lookout for the small changes in body language that may indicate that they need more than just attention.
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Meet the Veterinary Expert
Charlotte recently became a doctor and studied at the University of Zagreb, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. She’s volunteered in her university’s obstetrical clinic, and equine clinic, and is dog mum to 14-year-old Chiki. Charlotte loves to travel and has completed externships in Austria, Spain, and Belgium.