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Why Do Cats Rub Against You? 4 Vet-Approved Reasons For This Behavior

Written by: Ashley Bates

Last Updated on March 4, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

cat rubbing against owner

Why Do Cats Rub Against You? 4 Vet-Approved Reasons For This Behavior


Dr. Luqman Javed Photo


Dr. Luqman Javed

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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One of the most heart-warming feelings is a kitty rubbing up against you, asking to be pet. But have you ever stopped to wonder what those gestures mean in cat language? There are two main ways a cat rubs their human friends—something called head bunting and leg rubbing.

Body language can teach you so many important things about how your cat feels. When they give attention, it’s only natural to reciprocate. But what if it’s not the attention they seek? Find out what each of these actions mean so you can better decode kitty speak.

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Cats & Olfactory Senses

Smell is your cat’s primary sense. They use scent more than any of the others to learn things about their surroundings. Unlike people who only have 5 million odor sensors, cats have over 200 million! While they use their nose to navigate their surroundings, they also leave a trail of their own.

Cats have scent glands on their face (among other places), and whenever a cat rubs their head on you in a loving manner, they’re essentially transferring their scent onto you—kind of a claiming tactic (aw!).

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Types of Cat Rubbing

There is a different meaning to each way your feline approaches you. Most commonly, when a kitty rubs against your leg or hand—they’re trying to accomplish something more than just being affectionate. It’s a means of communication, but what are they trying to say?

1. Head Bunting

We’ve all been bunted before—your cat just comes up and forces you to pet them by pushing their head into your palm. But are they demanding attention, or is it something more?

Bunting is a well observed trait—big cats do this to each other in the wild. Another term for the behavior is “allorubbing.” They use this method to gather your scent and leave their own on you. It’s very much a territorial, lovable gesture.

Ultimately, your cat is saying that you’re part of their circle, and they left their mark to prove it’s true.

cat rubbing face on man's leg
Image Credit: AlenaBalotnik, Shutterstock

2. Leg Rubbing

Leg rubbing is something even people who don’t own cats have probably encountered. This is a greeting to say hello—but it’s also a way to mark you, or to grab your attention (if it’s worked before for this purpose). Some cats will do this to strangers if they’re extra friendly, but most reserve this behavior for their humans.

You might find that they rub on your legs when they are welcoming you or when they’re hungry. We’ve all tripped over our cats as they weave through our legs, begging for food or scratches with loud meows. Cats will even rub against inanimate objects in this manner.

While it can be a nuisance when we’re in a hurry, it’s an adorable gesture from our feline friends that every cat lover can appreciate.

3. Rolling

When a cat is rolling, it’s often a sign of happiness and contentment. You might find them rolling to show you their belly when you enter the room. This is likely your cat’s way of saying they’re pleased with whatever is going on, and they’re excited to see you.

If you’re lying next to your kitty, they may roll onto you while purring. They are comfortable, cozy, and love their current company. Be careful, though—we all know how one accidental touch of the tummy can send your cat into attack-mode, gloves off!

domesticated orange tabby cat rolling around in the dirt
Image Credit: Fitzgerald, Shutterstock

4. Smelling or Rubbing on Human Feet

If your feet are sweating or secreting any scents, you might not always smell it, but your kitties do.

If you’re relaxing in your recliner and your cat won’t stop rubbing and sniffing your feet, they’re probably just checking out the scents your body is putting off. They may want to contribute to these scents by giving you some of their own.

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Final Thoughts

So, now we know that almost all feline rubbing has to do with marking. It’s yet another way cats can use scent glands to show possession—both of other beings and their territory.

Kitties definitely have interesting body language—including their bunting and marking. It’s fascinating just how they perceive us, and it’s always best to know how they feel about you. Rubbing against you means they leave their stamp of approval—and that should make you feel special.


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Featured Image Credit: Irina Kozorog, Shutterstock

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