What Does It Mean When a Cat Rubs Against You? – Answered


Written by

Amy Sawy

Veterinarian. DVM



Joseph M. Plummer

Veterinarian, DVM, MVZ

what does it mean when a cat rubs against you

As much as cats are loveable creatures, people may sometimes get confused or frustrated at the behavior of their pets. One is when they get close and keep nuzzling against your face or body. But what does it mean when a cat rubs against you?

A common sign of affection, rubbing helps your cat transfer its scent to you or objects like furniture in the house. Cats like to feel comfortable in their environment. So they scent people, things, and even other felines to bond and claim territory.

Why Do Cats Rub Against You?


You may have asked this question, “why does my cat keep rubbing against me?” many times before, especially to new cat owners. There are many different reasons for this. It is completely normal, so you don’t have to stress out and assume that it is sick or there is something wrong.

In fact, rubbing is a welcome behavior, and here are the reasons why:

1. Greeting you


Cats do this when they are happy to see you. You may have noticed this when you came home after being gone for a long time. Pets can miss their owners too. So, aside from meowing, your cat also gets close to you to communicate their feelings.

2. Communicating with you


Body language is crucial for cats to “talk” to us, especially when they need something from us. When your cat keeps meowing and rubbing against you, it may be doing so when hungry, thirsty for clean water, or when its litter box requires cleaning.

Your feline friend also tends to weave through between your legs while you are preparing its food–a sign it is excited to feed.

There can be many other reasons why your pet is aggressively rubbing against you or even furniture. All you need to do is to be patient in figuring it out.

3. Getting to know you or others


In a new environment or in meeting new people or animals, cats rub their heads or body against them. This means they are “sizing up” something unfamiliar to them.

However, this is not an invitation to pet the cat immediately. Allow it to take a few moments to familiarize itself with you or another animal. You can avoid getting scratched if you are calm and don’t respond to the head-butting behavior right away.

4. Scent-mingling


Cats have scent glands in their bodies, including the foreheads, cheeks, paw pads, tails, and anal areas. They rub their body parts to deposit their scent or leave their pheromones onto you or objects.

What does this transferring scent mean? Why does a cat keeps rubbing against everything?

  • Cats use scent primarily to suggest acceptance. They like to mingle their scents with those they feel comfortable with. Head-bunting, for instance, is a bonding gesture. Cats like to rub against you if they like you.
  • Scenting also happens to mark their territory. They create familiarity in the environment and declare reproductive status. This is why most cats like to rub against household furniture and even your personal items.
  • Felines do scent with fellow cats as well, creating a group scent. It is a way of bonding with another or even revealing information about the other. Pheromones can be identifiers of a cat’s identity as well.

Now sometimes, the scent wears off. It is natural as you also have to take a bath, and your pet’s pheromones get washed off too. When this happens, expect your cat to “refresh” their rub to reclaim you or the object.

There are different ways a cat can transfer their scent. Below are the most common ones:

  • Rubbing and nuzzling

The most basic form is when cats rub against your legs. It signals to deposit of scent similar to when cats rub their face against yours. Headbutting and nuzzling signify friendliness and trust, especially since they place their face and eyes in vulnerable positions.

  • Kneading

If you had just adopted a kitten, you might have thought, “why does my kitten rub against me?” It all starts with the kneading action. Kittens do this when they are suckling milk from the mother cat.

Kneading involves the paws’ slow and gentle pacing against a soft object. Usually, these are blankets, pillows, clothes, and in the case of kittens, their mother’s breasts. This is done to stimulate the release of milk.

In adulthood, cats still knead. They have scent glands on their paws, so they still do this sometimes. However, the claws can come out and can hurt you.

To prevent this, it is always better to keep your pet’s nails trimmed. You can also place a towel or blanket between you and your cat so kneading wouldn’t be painful for you.

  • Scratching

Aside from sharpening their claws, cats must scratch surfaces to transfer their scent. You may find this a frustrating behavior, especially when your couch has numerous scratch lines or worse, the cotton or its materials inside are spilling out.

Notice how the objects in your house that earns scratches are those that are typically crowded with outdoor scents. Be it from guests or strangers, your bags, shoes, and clothes carry different scents unfamiliar to your cat. This is why your feline friend likes to replace these unfamiliar smells with their own.

Given this habit, providing a scratching post for your pet is essential. This way, they can release their need to “claim” or deposit their scent in a safer place.

Make sure that the post is in areas where your pet frequents. Otherwise, it would be of no use as your cat may scratch again in other household objects.

  • Swishing Tail

Tails are present in cats primarily as a way of communication–be it with you or with a fellow cat. With its body language, you can identify your pet’s mood and needs when you observe the tail.

A swishy tail often suggests play or anger. But when it gently moves against your leg, it is another sign of transferring your pet’s scent to you. Cats have another scent gland at the base of their tail.


The next time someone you know asks, “what does it mean when a cat rubs against you?” Let them know that it is mostly a sign that it likes you. But it can also mean claiming their territory and communicating with you.

No matter the reason, you must try to understand your pet and be patient–you will get fur all over your clothes, after all. But what’s a little dusting when you can nuzzle and be affectionate with your beloved pet?

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Hi, I am Amy Sawy, a veterinary professional working in the field for nearly 15 years. This site is established to provide cat guardians access to helpful information and health care advice. My co-worker and I run this site mainly to help inexperienced families currently taking care of their cats without professional guidance.

- Amy Sawy