Why Do Cats Rub Against You?

Cats communicate to people in various ways and two of them are through tactile and olfactory communication. They have a very keen sense of smell that is 200 times more efficient than humans’ sense of smell.

When they rub against you, they release their scent, called “pheromones” and this will linger on you for a while.

These pheromones are chemical signals that give them information. Interestingly, these pheromones may give a cat information about another cat’s gender, sexual receptiveness, and identity.

Two lovely cats

Understanding the Behavior

This is a familiar situation: you get home and right after opening your door, there goes your charming cat rubbing all over your legs. This is sometimes accompanied by the swishing of their tails around your ankles, too. Cat lovers find this very endearing and sweet, which it really is.

This is a form of social interaction wherein a cat shows their affection for their owner. If you see them doing the same thing to the furniture, protruded edges around the house, or even to other pets, then it is their own way of marking their territory. They’re marking you as theirs by leaving their scent on you.

Pheromones also send signals of calmness to your cat. So if one day you come home after interacting with another cat, rest assured that your kitties will immediately rub on you to remove the strange scent you have on.

This signal may be used to identify the members of their family, mark their territory, for bonding, to attract the opposite sex, or as a form of aggression.

The pheromones are secreted through the sebaceous glands found on their forehead, beneath the chin, at the corners of their mouth, and on the base of their tail. They even have glands located between the pads of their feet–thus the scratching to mark territory. The term bunting is used when cats rub their heads to scent you.


What is Head Bunting?

Head bunting is their way of bonding with you and is a very intimate gesture. This is their way of saying how much they trust you. An even more intimate movement is when they expose their cheeks and rub them against your head with their eyes open.

When cats do head bunting, they are typically in a very relaxed state. You can see that their whiskers, pupils, and ears are relaxed, according to Pam Johnson-Bennett, a cat behaviorist and book author. Whenever they refresh their scents on you, remember that they’re doing it because you’re part of the gang.

Sometimes, though, cats do this to get your attention. They may want to be petted or groomed when they head bunt you then expose their neck to you sideways. Grooming makes a cat feel safe and secure. If your cat seems to do this often, they probably really like you.

Allorubbing is another term used for bunting and is usually used when referring to bunting between cats. It is said to be a feline behavior similar to that of a human hug or handshake. It can be a form of greeting when friendly cats do it to other animals. They only do this to other cats they are comfortable with and it should be interpreted as a positive gesture.

If you have more than one cat at home, you may be able to observe them head bunting each other. This may also be a sign of a hierarchy between them. It is usually the older and bigger cat which does the bunting to spread its scent all over his loved ones. This may eventually lead to grooming behavior between the cats.

cat rubbing against owners leg

How to Respond If Cats Rub Against You

The cats’ target when they are about to go bunting depends on the height of their object of affection. If they are by your legs, they usually use their forehead to rub on you and slowly knead their tails along.

If they suddenly jump close to wherever your face is, they’ll use their cheeks by rubbing them on yours towards their mouth. Objects that are lower than them tend to get a rub from their chin or throat.

You should be honored if your cats have chosen you to be part of their tribe and worthy of such intimacy. If you are strongly bonded, you may reciprocate it by softly head bunting them too. Or you may scratch their chin or head or just offer your face to them. They will be contented and happy with just that.

Know that it is important that there be a strong bond between you two before they’ll receive your bunting comfortably. Some cats may not yet be comfortable with a response from you. Be patient and aware of your cat’s actions before holding out your hand.

You can make this bonding activity enjoyable with your cat by giving them cat treats whenever they engage in head bunting behavior. Another good thing would be to just lower yourself to the ground and communicate by talking, letting them know that they are in good hands.

So remember, the next time they plunge onto you after opening the door, it just means “You’re finally back! What took you so long? I’ve missed you.”

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