Many cat behaviors are bizarre and flat-out unexplainable. You may not be able to figure out why your cat gnaws on the corner of the table, darts around the house seemingly out of nowhere, or hisses whenever you pet her tail. But there’s one thing vets have a pretty good understanding of—Why cats rub against you.
Cats rub against you to spread their pheromones onto you and “claim” you with their scent. A cat has scent glands in her forehead, cheeks, lower back, chin, tail, and mouth. When your cat rubs her cheek along your face or her rear end on your legs, she’s effectively marking you as her “territory.”
It’s normal to freeze-up when your cat rubs her face against yours or weaves in between your legs. But this bizarre behavior isn’t as sinister as it may seem—it’s a good sign! To learn about why cats rub against you, read on.
It’s All In the Pheromones
When you think of the word “pheromones” and its relationship to cats, your mind probably goes straight to marking. When a cat marks, she may pee or poop on an object or in a particular area to let other cats know, “This is my territory. Keep out!” This marking is so effective because of the pheromones in a cat’s urine and feces.
What Are Pheromones?
Pheromones are chemicals produced in your cat’s scent glands and are unique to each cat—your cat knows the difference between her own and the neighborhood cat down the street. Cats leave these unique scents on objects, people, and places to send a secret chemical “message” to other cats. But the reason cats deposit their pheromones throughout the house depends on the message they’re trying to send.
Cats may deposit their pheromones on you (or objects around the home) to:
- Mark you as her safety net (a sign that she loves and trusts you)
- Tell other cats to stay away (this is your cat’s turf, and they need to respect that)
- Warn other cats that she’s looking to mate (letting male cats know she’s in heat)
Fortunately, cats can express these pheromones and use them to mark their territory without peeing or pooping on the things they’d like to keep safe. There are scent glands in your cat’s urine and feces but also in the scent glands distributed throughout her body. Your cat may rub these pheromone-producing glands onto her favorite objects to claim them as her own!
Where Are a Cat’s Scent Glands?
Cats have scent glands all over their bodies from head to tail. These gland locations—as well as the areas of your body your cat might rub against you for the purpose of marking—include:
- Tail (caudal glands)
- Paws (interdigital glands)
- Mouth (perioral glands)
- Chin (submandibular glands)
- Forehead (temporal glands)
- Ears (pinna glands)
- Cheek (cheek glands)
- The base of the tail (supra-caudal gland)
- Anus (anal glands)
Looking back, many of your cat’s rubbing behaviors probably make a bit more sense. It’s clear that a cat gently wrapping her tail around your leg, kneading on your chest, or rubbing her cheek on your feet was her way of depositing her pheromones onto you.
How Often Do Cats Deposit Their Pheromones?
A cat’s pheromone deposit will last longer than a friendly meow or angry hiss might, but this scent marking doesn’t last forever! Your cat will likely rub against you whenever she notices that her scent is no longer noticeable on you. Don’t be surprised if your cat rubs against you after you hop out of the shower, throw on a set of recently-washed clothes, or spend some time with a friend who also has a cat.
The Reason Your Cat is “Marking” You
Now that you know why your cat rubs against you—to “claim” you or to let other cats know she was there—you’re wondering why. Why does your cat feel the need to put her scent on you? And what does she get out of it? Let’s go through a few possible reasons.
A Sign of Affection
The most likely explanation for your cat rubbing up against you is to show affection. A mother cat will rub her head against her litter of kittens as a sign of love, comfort, and security. Your cat may mimic this behavior toward you to express the same emotion. Take this odd behavior as a sign that your cat appreciates you and trusts you.
A Friendly Greeting
Many cats will greet their owners at the door by weaving between their legs and wrapping their tails around their owner’s legs. Not surprisingly, a cat may rub against another cat’s face and side—sometimes called “bunting“—as a friendly greeting to an old friend. Your cat merely sees you as a member of her “pack,” and this rubbing is a sign she missed you while you were gone.
A Cry For Attention
Just like many things cats do, your kitty may be rubbing against you to get something out of you. Your cat may know that rubbing against you in the kitchen earns her a treat or that rubbing her face on yours while you’re on the couch will yield a cuddle session. The fact that she’s marking you as her territory is merely a bonus.
A Sense of Comfort
Your cat may be marking you to let other cats know to keep their distance. But it’s also possible your cat rubs up against you because her scent makes her feel safe. When she rubs her pheromones onto you, she feels far more safe and secure in the home and by your side. This rubbing behavior can also be a sign that your cat is already feeling comfortable.
The Messages Your Cat Is Conveying
Though your cat spraying around the home can be a sign that she’s looking for a mate or claiming her property, the messages your cat is conveying when she rubs against you are a bit more clear. For the most part, a cat rubbing up against you is expressing:
It’s also worth noting that cats don’t rub up against just anyone. Your cat may have a knack for being territorial in her own home, but she’ll only rub up against those she likes and trusts. Many cat owners take this bizarre behavior in strides.
Bunting: What It Means & Why Cats Do It
Bunting is an even stranger cat behavior but holds potentially greater weight than a regular rub. When a cat “bunts” you, she’ll rub her head—cheek, ears, mouth, or forehead—against you. Sometimes this bunting is a bit more forceful as if your cat is slamming her head against some part of your body.
In some cases, your kitty will even rub her face against yours. While it may be scary to have your cat’s face so close to yours, it’s a sign of immense trust and a strong bond between you and your cat. A cat in the wild puts her life in danger by putting her face so close to that of another creature, making bunting (specifically on the face) a terrific sign of a close bond.
Here’s a video explaining why your cat may be rubbing her face against yours!
Your cat rubs against you as a sign that she loves you, trusts you, is happy, and appreciates the bond she shares with you. She may even do it to unofficially welcome her into her “pack” and greet you after a long day at work.
However, head pressing isn’t the same as bunting. If you notice that your cat is pressing her head up against the wall or another object, it could be a sign of a more serious medical issue. Take your cat to the vet if you notice an unusual urge to press her head against items.