Why do cats rub against you?

Has your cat started rubbing up against you constantly, spreading its furry presence through your house and home? It's a strange but not unusual behavior, so let's take a look at why it might be happening.

Cats love to rub against things, but the reason behind it is more complex than you'd expect.
Cats love to rub against things, but the reason behind it is more complex than you'd expect.  © 123RF/Gregbrave

A cat's love is worth well more than a bucket of fish, no matter how expensive.

These fluffy wonders love their humans, showing their affection and care in all sorts of different ways.

Some will chirp and slink, others will brush you with their tails, and many will rub up against not only you, but all of your friends, your furniture, and the walls of your home.

Cat owner touched by emotional reason behind feline's behavior
Cats Cat owner touched by emotional reason behind feline's behavior

So, why do cats rub against you? In this cat guide we'll take a look at why cats rub up against things, why they sometimes bite while doing so, and what's behind your female cat's especially bizarre behavior?

Let's take a look!

Why does my cat rub against me?

The classic cat rub is more often than not an expression of love, affection, and ownership. Your kitty is showing you that it cares, giving you a little bit of attention and, more importantly, marking you with its scent. The latter point, of course, is to ward off other kitties that might be thinking of making you their own. It's entirely instinctual, so fairly unavoidable!

Similar to how your cat has probably been known to mark its territory, this rubbing is also a form of "marking" that defines you as "Property of Larry" (assuming that your cat's name is Larry). This then strengthens your cat's feeling of trust and togetherness with you, its master, and creates a sense of safety and level of affection that is incredibly unique and beautiful.

Of course, this is not the only reason why a cat might rub up against you and give you little head bumps, even if it is the most likely and most common. Instead, there are a number of other potential reasons for this strange behavior.

Here are a few reasons why cats rub against people:

  • Affection and love: As we have discussed, cat rubs are a sign of love and are used as a way for your cat not only to express its emotions towards you but also to receive your love and approval.
  • Marking territory and spreading scent: Cats instinctively spread their scent to their humans, usually via rubbing, as one of their territorial behaviors.
  • Gathering information: While part of a cat's rubbing habit certainly has a lot to do with pheromones and the need to spread their scent, they will also use the opportunity to gather information themselves, usually via smell.
  • Greetings and attention: Your cat could simply be saying hello to you and looking to get your attention, possibly because it wants a snuggle.
  • Communication: Hungry cats are bossy cats and, while it might seem cute that your kitty is bumping its head and rubbing against you, it could simply be hungry. Cats will also communicate other needs and experiences with you via rubbing.

Important: While most reasons behind a cat's rubbing habits are pretty innocuous, there is always the possibility that something sinister is afoot. In any situation where you find your cat has suddenly changed its behavior, it's best to seek out the advice of a veterinarian.

Cats will only choose to touch and interact with you if they feel safe and at peace.
Cats will only choose to touch and interact with you if they feel safe and at peace.  © Unsplash/Jonas Vincent

Why do cats rub against you then bite?

A cat that rubs against you affectionately and then gives you a little bite is simply showing you affection and marking its ownership. As we discussed in our articles on why cats bite you and why your cat licks you, these small gestures are generally indicative of a playfulness only exhibited by comfortable and happy cats who love their humans and want to show that love.

Of course, aggression could also be the answer. If your cat didn't just give you a little nip – otherwise known as a love bite – and instead laid into you like an absolute champion, then it could be angry. Cats are quick to fury and can jump from outrageously affectionate and loving to full-blown rage in mere seconds.

If your cat has decided that it'll rub up against you, get a snuggle underway, and then tear you to shreds, you need to respond. Such behavior is unhealthy for both you and the cat and needs to be trained out of it. Talk to your vet if you need help with this process, or follow our general guide on how to train a cat.

Ultimately, this sort of aggression is quite normal and will happen from time to time. If your cat rubs against you and then bites, figure out why it bit you and respond in kind – but, whatever you do, don't freak out!

Why do cats rub against you, arch their backs, and purr?

If your cat is arching its back, going onto its tippy-toes, and purring, then it is showing you love. There is nothing to be worried about when your cat behaves like this. It is normal, natural, healthy, and pleasant. Give your kitty some pats, have a bit of a cuddle, give it a treat, and get on with your day – your cat is being affectionate, and it's incredibly cute, so enjoy it!

Why do cats rub against objects?

Cats are both naturally curious creatures and highly territorial.
Cats are both naturally curious creatures and highly territorial.  © Unsplash/Tilson glanny Dsouza

A cat's habit of rubbing up against objects is entirely about territory, pheromones, and instinct. It is a primary form of communication, wherein a cat spreads its scent pheromones on all the objects within its territory. This communicates to other cats and animals because, by rubbing on things, your cat is spreading scent through its paws, tail, and sweat.

When a cat rubs itself against a wall, against your couch, against the leg of a table, or against you for that matter, it is marking its territory.

There is nothing to be concerned about here and nothing to be done – this is a perfectly normal, safe, and instinctive thing that your kitty is doing. You don't need to stop it and, in any case, you won't be able to.

Keep in mind, though, that in some cases this marking acts as a way to attract other cats into the nearby vicinity for the purpose of mating. If your cat has not been neutered, you should be careful of this!

Why do female cats rub against you?

If your female cat is rubbing up against you in an unusual way, it could quite possibly be in heat. This is a very typical behavior exhibited by female cats who have not been neutered and are going through what is known as their "heat," which is a kitty version of a human menstrual period.

When a cat goes into heat, one of the main symptoms is constant rolling and rubbing against the floor and objects. It will likely start meowing consistently and very loudly and may start spraying as well. If you have witnessed these symptoms and have also noticed a lack of appetite in your cat, heat is the most likely reason.

The first thing you need to do is take your cat to the vet and get some immediate relief and advice. On top of that, you need to get your cat neutered as soon as possible, both so that this doesn't happen again and to avoid the potential of having a pregnant cat on your hands.

Female cats might rub up against you when they're in heat, but it's really nothing to worry about. They won't hurt you or do anything particularly dangerous – you just need to be patient and take the appropriate steps.

If a cat rubs its head against your leg, it is a sign of love and trust.
If a cat rubs its head against your leg, it is a sign of love and trust.  © 123RF/mackoflower

What does it mean when cats rub against you?

In the end, a cat's habit of rubbing against you all comes down to love. Affection and care is a very physical thing for our beloved feline friends as they cannot communicate with us through speech. Whether it's their tail's gentle caress or the soft pitter-patter of their paws followed by a chirp in the night, your cat loves you deeply and will always seek your approval and affection in return.

There's something remarkable about a cat's love. They are often rather aloof little creatures, happy to spend time by themselves, yet some cats are obsessive when it comes to their humans – and that is the greatest romance of them all!

Cover photo: 123RF/Gregbrave

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