Why Do Cats Rub Against Things?

Head butting is like a hug to a cat.
i Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Your feline welcome party greets you at the door by rubbing against you and weaving in and out of your legs. He’s not trying to trip you – he’s just making sure you smell like the group again after all those unfamiliar scents you picked up.


Cats have scent glands on the forehead, sides of the head, lips, chin, flanks, tail and paws that secrete a chemical substance called pheromones. When your cat rubs these glands against you, other animals or objects, he leaves pheromones that you can’t smell, but other cats definitely can. Pheromones provide all sorts of information to other cats, including identity, reproductive status, and when the rubbing cat walked by.


When your cat rubs against something, he marks it with his scent, claiming it as his territory. In a multi-cat household, other cats passing by will often stop and sniff and even rub their own faces on it. This co-mingling of scents reinforces the group scent that is familiar and comforting to all kitties in the group. When he rubs against you, be honored -- he is claiming you as part of the group. You might even notice that when you come home after a few hours away, he immediately rubs you, covering any unfamiliar scents and re-claiming you into the group.


If Kitty rubs against you close to feeding time, he might just be making sure you don’t forget to fill his bowl. If he rubs against another cat, he is likely asking to be groomed. In the same way, he might rub against you to request a scratch behind the ears. If your cat goes outside, he might rub to get your attention to open the door for him.


Cats engage in bunting – or head butting – with cats they have a relationship with, including you. This friendly interaction is usually accompanied by purring and is the feline equivalent of a hug or handshake, so consider it a gesture of affection. Cats only head butt If they are entirely comfortable with each other. Bunting and head rubbing might also be a sign of rank, with cats on the lower end of the social scale head rubbing the higher cats more than vice versa.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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