Why Does My Cat Rub Up Against Me? This Behavior Explained

Cat owners know all-too-well, the many emotions that can come from cat rubbing. What does this mean? Well, take for instance, if you have ever been working on the computer and just when you are about done, your cat decides she wants a good rub on you and lightly steps across your keyboard to get to you, hits the delete or backspace button, and there goes your hard work, all in an effort to get close to you to rub up against you for a show of affection. Yes, it’s cute, but it can also be frustrating if it happens at times like that. So, what is the reason why cats feel the need to rub against people, especially their owner? The answer comes from cat behavior experts and it is quite simple – they are communicating with you and marking you as one of their kin.

According to Marilyn Kreiger, a cat behavior consultant in California, who is also referred to as The Cat Coach, “Cats define their worlds through scent. It’s one way they identify their families, their friends and also their enemies. When a cat is rubbing up against you, what they’re doing is exchanging your scent. It’s reinforcing that you are part of [their] group. It’s very sweet.”

The way the scent depositing works is described by Amy Shojai, a certified animal behavior consultant in Texas, who says that cats are equipped with special glands known as scent glands that secrete pheromones. They are located in several different areas of the body which include the tail, forehead, paw pads, cheeks, and around the anal area. They release these scents when they rub against things and the scent sticks to the object or person. Shojai says, “Scent communication not only signals something when the cat goes through the motions, but the smelly message lingers for long-term communication, too.”

Rubbing isn’t the only form of communication cats do, they also communicate in forms of purring, hissing, tail wagging (unlike a dog wag), and give verbal communication. The aforementioned communication forms are all types you must be present to hear and see, however, while the communication of “scent” does not require you to be there to witness. The scent they leave for communication purposes, lingers long after the party is gone and has left the building.

Shojai says that cat rubbing goes beyond claiming you as kin. Cat rubbing is also a form of territorial efforts. Cats like to mark territory they believe is theirs, space and objects included, although the majority of this scent marking involves clawing and cheek rubbing.

Cats that live in colonies, like feral cats, often mark each other in the tribe by way of head bunting and head rubbing. This is a way of communicating their acceptance among each other, which means that when cats do this with humans, it is their way of saying you are accepted in their tribe. They want their scent mingled with yours to show that you belong together. This proves that if a cat does not want to rub on you, chances are that they probably do not like you.

Do cats target certain body spots for rubbing?

Cats typically go for any body part that is accessible to them; there is no specific body part that they will target for head rubbing. That being said, if a cat rubs your face, this is considered a more intimate and may mean that the cat likes you extra specially and can be a form of, not only a show of friendliness, but it is your cat showing trust for you.

Encourage your cat to rub against you. Reinforce the behavior!

Of course you don’t want your cats to cause you to lose your computer work or drop things out of your hands, so as long as your cat isn’t causing these issues, you should encourage your cat to rub against you, and when he does, be inspired to reach down and interact with him – pet him, give him eye contact, and return the affection.

Krieger had this to say about cat rubbing, “When cats come up to you… and they haven’t seen you all day and they rub you on the legs — if you automatically pet them, you reinforce that behavior and you put your scent back onto the cat,” she says. “They enjoy the affection and they like that.”

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