This is Why Your Cat Really Loves a Good Head Scratch

It is probably no secret that dogs and cats just love to have their heads scratched. They practically melt and become big puddles when your fingers begin to move through the fur on their head. You may think that both have the same reasons for loving a good head scratch, but the truth is, it’s different for dogs and cats, although there are a few reasons why each have a love of your fingers on their little heads.

According to Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a professor emeritus at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University has said that one reason a dog or cat may enjoy a good head scratch, is if they are craving human contact and attention. Also, since they lack the ability to scratch or lick their heads due to lack of hands, or at least it is very difficult for them to, then humans doing this for them fulfills that sensation. You are doing them a favor, essentially.

Here are other reasons cats and dogs might appreciate a head rub. For felines, the gentle touch by a human to their head, chin, cheeks or ears, may spark some thoughts about their own grooming routine. They like to be well-groomed and will lick the back of their paws and rub the over their heads. As kittens, their mothers would also lick their heads and clean them. This might be a good memory or feeling for them. This is explained by Dodman, who wrote about this topic in “Pets on the Couch: Neurotic Dogs, Compulsive Cats, Anxious Birds, and the New Science of Animal Psychiatry” (Atria Books, 2016).
In other words, cats may view your hand scratching their head as a personalized grooming service, or view their owner as their mother, since this is what she would do for her babies.

Mikel Delgado, a doctoral candidate in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and a certified cat behavior consultant, says that another reason why cats may appreciate the head scratch is due to their scent glands they have spread throughout their bodies. These glands are highly concentrated in the head region; the chin, cheeks and forehead. He has said that cats rub on everything from the corner on a wall, a piece of furniture or even your hand, to leave their scent. It is believed that this is a way for them to calm themselves.

This being said, one type of rub that is different for cats, is the “forehead rub against a human.” This is known as bunting and is meant in a loving gesture. According to Delgado, the bunting behavior is done for dual purposes: marking territory and showing friendly feelings toward a human.

Doggie head pat

Dogs also like to rub or nuzzle their head against a human and their reason is typically a bonding maneuver, to show affection. Leni Kaplan, who is a lecturer and clinician in the Department of Clinical Sciences at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York, has researched the topic and he explains how though most dogs appreciate a good head rub, some do not. Some dogs do not care to have their heads touched or scratched. They simply don’t feel comfortable with humans approaching in this manner because they may view it as a domination maneuver. This tactic has been noted at places where dogs gather together, such as dog parks. Some dogs approach other dogs and put their paws on their heads as a domination gesture, and it isn’t typically accepted well.

Dogs that haven’t been well socialized or fear humans, will typically be the ones to shy away from head scratches and rubs, but those who are, most love their heads, ears and face scratched by their owner. It is a form of bonding and attention.

Kaplan says that it is always best to try to read a dog’s, or any animal’s body language to get an idea of what mood or type of personality the animal has, before you approach it rub its head in order to prevent the risk of getting bit or scratched.

One thing that is recommended is to keep an eye on your pet’s desire for a head scratch. If your dog or cat seems to have a continual need to scratch its head or have you scratch it, it may be time for him to have a medical check-up because it could be more than just a love of affection from you. He may have a medical issue, such as allergies or skin irritation that needs to be treated.


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