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Some cats tend to rub against your legs, face, or hands when you’re petting them. If you’re new to cat behavior, you may be wondering what leads them to do that. We’ve done some research and have some great information for you.
Cats sometimes rub against people for a few possible reasons –
- Marking the human with pheromones secreted from scent glands on the feline body.
- Showing trust and affection towards a favorite human, much as kittens would be rubbing against the mother cat.
Now that you know the basic reasons your cat might rub against you, read on to go into more depth on the subject. We have some interesting insights about the leg rubbing behavior to share, so keep scrolling!
- Rubbing for Pheromone “Scent” Transference
- Rubbing as a Form of Bonding
- My cat doesn’t rub against my legs – what’s wrong?
- My cat is constantly rubbing against my legs – what to do?
- Why do stray cats rub against your legs?
- Why do some cats rub against you and then bite?
- Why do cats rub against you when they’re hungry?
- In what other ways do cats show affection?
- Why Do Cats Lift Their Bum When You Pet Them?
- In Closing
Rubbing for Pheromone “Scent” Transference
As mentioned, while Kitty is rubbing against you, they are actually “marking” you with their pheromones. Cats have special glands around their head and neck that secrete pheromones. These invisible and odorless biological molecules stick to whatever they rub against.
Your cat generally does this to make you (or other objects) smell familiar to them. They’re not doing this consciously, though. Marking their environment in pheromones is an instinctive behavior for cats.
Don’t spend too long trying to smell these pheromones. The human nose is not sophisticated enough for that, even though we are affected to some extent by human pheromones.
This behavior extends to other cats and even to objects in the cat’s environment. You’ve probably noticed kitties rubbing against the corners of boxes, tables, or many other things as well. Even dogs can sometimes get marked this way!
Cats like to be surrounded by their own scent, and by rubbing themselves against their surroundings, they are put at ease.
An artificial boost of pheromones
Pheromone marking is an effective way of signaling that an area is safe. So much so, that some manufacturers came up with products that mimic the same effect.
You may have heard of Feliway. Whether as a spray or a plug-in diffuser this product helps calm down agitated cats. The calming effect is achieved by using artificial feline pheromones.
Comfort Zone is a similar product that is said to have the same effect.
Unless your cat has a behavior problem, or there’s a particularly stressful situation to handle, the natural feline pheromones should be enough to keep Kitty calm.
Rubbing as a Form of Bonding
Another reason a cat rubs against you is to show camaraderie. Cats are tactile creatures and rubbing is part of their social interaction repertoire. When rubbing against you, a cat is telling you that they see you as a friendly entity and part of their social group. You could even say that this is an expression of love.
A study about the behavior of pet and feral cats in group settings found that the relationships developed between these cats were similar to the bonds domesticated cats make with people in the home. The researchers mentioned how rubbing against one another was a main social cue for these cats, much like mutual grooming. The scientists go as far as warning us against interpreting rubbing as attention-seeking behavior –
Rubbing on human beings and human petting of cats resembles typical cat-cat social behavior in feral colonies. Problems can arise if human beings interpret rubbing as seeking further interaction when the cat may be using it only as a passing greeting, or if people pet in areas that usually are not allogroomed by other cats, such as along the back, on the tail or at its base, or on the belly. Although some cats welcome this additional allogrooming, others do not.
Rubbing behavior between kittens and the mother cat
If you ever got to watch a mother cat nurture her kittens, you probably noticed there was a lot of physical contact involved. The mother cat typically licks her young kittens. Once they are old enough, the kittens often respond by rubbing against her.
When your cat is rubbing against you, they are in fact showing very similar behavior. In a sense, they are seeing you as their mother!
My cat doesn’t rub against my legs – what’s wrong?
You might be concerned if you have a cat who never rubs against your hands or legs. If this is the case, there is no cause for alarm.
Like people, cats have different temperaments. Some cats show their affection in other ways, and others are just a bit more solitary by nature. Look for greetings from your cat in different ways, such as showing their belly, chirping, or meowing. Some cats simply don’t rub against you as a way of expressing familiarity. Your cat will show you love in their own way.
Check out our thread about this subject. You’ll find many of our members discussing whether or not their cats rub against them!
My cat is constantly rubbing against my legs – what to do?
If your cat is constantly rubbing against your legs, it could be a potential cry for attention or food.
Ensure you are feeding your cat regularly. If you notice the rubbing when you are preparing food, perhaps ensure your cat always has something on which to graze or feed them right before you begin cooking in an attempt to keep them out of your way. You could try a slow feeder bowl like this one:
Although the one pictured above is geared toward dogs, it would make sure your cat has to take their time eating. Another option is a slow feeder mat, such as this one:
The idea for this product is that you spread wet food or another mushy treat across the surface. The cat will have to lick at the mat for quite a while to get the full treat. This would help get your cat to stop the constant rubbing.
If hunger isn’t the issue, try to ensure you’ve set some time aside for your cat each day so that they aren’t feeling neglected. Try to determine any changes that could’ve incited the behavior — a new pet, new scent in the house, or anything else that might cause your kitty stress.
Rubbing specifically against one’s legs is a behavior that some cat owners discourage. Having a cat literally “between your legs” can be a problem for some people, especially those who are concerned with falling in the home.
Check out this thread where our members discuss keeping a cat from underfoot.
Why do stray cats rub against your legs?
Stray cats rub against you for the same reasons pet cats do. They deposit pheromones and make you smell like them, and they express their affection towards you.
Stray cats are abandoned or lost pets that should be rescued off the streets. If a stray cat trusts you enough to rub against you, consider placing them in a cat carrier and getting them to an animal shelter. Alternatively, if you can handle a rescue, you could take them home, try to identify them and either find the owners or re-home them.
Feral cats are usually more timid, but some ferals are very friendly by nature. If you care for a colony of feral cats and come across one that is friendly enough to rub against you, you should consider finding them a loving home. Bringing a feral cat inside isn’t always simple, so please post about the situation in our Caring for Strays and Ferals forum to get guidance.
Why do some cats rub against you and then bite?
Sometimes cats will rub against you, enjoy a good scratch or pet, and then bite you. This can happen for a few different reasons.
If the bite is light without real force behind it, it is likely just a “love bite.” Cats do this gentle nipping as a sign of affection. Some cats might even nip at you if you stop petting them or if you aren’t petting them the way they want. In these instances, the bites won’t be enough to break the skin.
Read more: How To Deal With Cat “love Bites”?
In this thread by our member, averyfeinhaus describes a situation with her cat that tends to nip and bat at her after rubbing. In her experience, she tried some patient advice and found a happy way of interacting with her cat.
With kittens, you could actually be dealing with chewing behavior, rather than biting. Check out our article on How To Stop Problem Chewing In Cats
If the bite your cat delivers is more aggressive, this could be due to redirected aggression or overstimulation. If a cat has been playing heartily or watching some prey from the window, they could randomly recall the undischarged aggression they felt and suddenly release it upon you, their owner. Additionally, if the cat has had enough petting, or perhaps you touched a spot on which they are sensitive, they might suddenly bite. The best way to avoid this type of bite is to observe your cat for outward signs of aggression before petting them and learn when they’ve had enough.
Read our article “Cat Aggression Toward People” for more information.
Our post about cat behavior problems is full of information, as well.
Why do cats rub against you when they’re hungry?
Cats rub against you as a form of communication, much as they do with their brethren when feral. If you notice a cat rubbing against you when it’s time to eat, this is their way of informing you they are hungry and ready to eat. If they have rubbed against you in the past and you fed them, this reinforces rubbing as a prompt for food.
We have a thread where this is discussed by several of our members. Check it out!
In what other ways do cats show affection?
There is a laundry list of ways a cat might show affection. Remember, each cat is different, so just because your cat doesn’t do anything we might list, it doesn’t mean your cat doesn’t like you.
Cats might lick your face, ears, or hands as a way of grooming. They’ll meow, trill, or chirp at you as a way of communication. Affectionally nipping at your hands or fingers is an expression of love and play. Headbutting (or bunting) is a sweet way your cat might express friendship. They might show you their belly or want to be in your lap when they sleep. If a cat slowly blinks in your direction, this is also indicative of affection. The list goes on and on!
You know your cat best, and each kitty/owner relationship is unique. Pay attention to how your cat interacts with you, and you’ll very likely see those expressions of affection.
Why Do Cats Lift Their Bum When You Pet Them?
Cats lift their bums when you pet them for a few separate reasons.
Your cat uses a raised tail as a way of communicating affection and trust in your presence. Cats raise their bums as a sign of friendliness while also ensuring your hand is on just the right spot for optimum scratches at the base of their tail. Cats presenting their bum to you is similar to a handshake in people.
Additionally, cats lift their hindquarters as kittens in response to their mothers trying to clean them. When they do it as you pet them, it could potentially be a leftover reflex from when they were small.
Cats also have a concentration of nerves at the base of their tail, so this area could easily get overstimulated.
Last, but possibly not least, there are even more scent glands in that area, so Kitty is probably spreading some more pheromones along the way.
Cats will rub against you for a variety of reasons, from affection to hunger, to camaraderie, and beyond. Cats are communicative, social creatures. Pay attention to your cat’s behaviors and learn their special language. Your bond will become all that much closer if you do!