Why Does Your Cat Rub Their Head on You? 5 Common Reasons

cat rubbing its head against the owner's legs
Image Credit: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock
Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Patricia Dickson

We’ve all had our cat rub their heads on us more than one time in their lives. While cats are independent creatures that don’t trust easily, they are usually loyal for life once they love you. Once you’ve established a bond with your cat, however, you’ll still need to know their body language.

For example, what does it mean when your cat rubs its head on you? There are five common reasons that your cat does this. We’ll go into those reasons in our guide below.

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Why Cats Rub Their Heads on People
Should You Worry?
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The 5 Reasons Why Cats Rub Their Heads on People

1. Your Cat Is Saying Hello

Once your cat decides it likes you and stops being the independent, stand-offish creature it can be, it will start rubbing its face against you to say hello. Rubbing against your legs or body is the cat’s way of greeting you. It usually means your cat is happy to see you.

This may happen most often when you go to work and come home, or especially if you’ve been gone longer than the cat is used to.

cat rubbing against owner
Image Credit: Irina Kozorog, Shutterstock

2. Your Cat Is Claiming You

Cats are not only independent, but they also want to claim what they think belongs to them. Cats like to mark people with their scents, at least those they trust and love.

Rubbing against someone or something is the cat’s way of accepting them into its environment and making them its own. Your cat will do this more than once, as its scent fades after a while. The scent helps the cat feel less stressed and calmer in its surroundings, especially if those surroundings are new.

When you leave your cat to go to work, your cat’s scent wears off, meaning that the cat needs to re-apply the smell when you get home. Licking, gently biting, head butting, or rubbing against you lets the cat reclaim its territory, which in turn releases endorphins that make the cat calm and happy.

3. Your Cat Is Creating a Group Scent

Feral cats often rub against one another to leave a scent on their cat colony. This creates a communal scent, which helps the cats know when intruders or threats are invading their group. Your cat may be doing this to build community and harmony with you. The cat also thinks it’s protecting you and your family by creating a group scent.

Cats can be very protective of their pet parents and the homes they love.

Image Credit: Evan Abram McGinnis, Shutterstock

4. Your Cat Is Trying to Tell You Something

As a pet parent, you often wish your cat could speak to you and tell you what it wants. Cats talk in their own ways. For example, if your cat is rubbing against the cabinet where its food is, it’s a safe bet that the cat is telling you it’s feeding time.

If your cat is aggressively rubbing against you, it could mean that something is wrong. Either the cat is sick, needs fresh water, or is giving you a friendly reminder that you need to clean out the litter box. There are quite a few things your cat could be trying to tell you when it’s rubbing against you, and you need to pick up on the cues.

5. Your Cat Is Gathering Information

Your cat could be trying to gather information when it rubs against you. This is the cat’s way of sizing up a stranger or new thing in its environment. It doesn’t mean that the cat is extending an invitation to be petted, so don’t just start petting a new cat that is rubbing against you. Give the cat time to form its opinion, and it’ll let you know when the petting can begin.

Let the cat gather its information, and then if it wants to be petted, it’ll certainly let you know.

Image Credit: Free-Photos, Pixabay


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Should You Worry if Your Cat Is Rubbing Against Things?

While it’s normal for a cat to rub its head against you, if it starts doing it aggressively and doesn’t stop, the cat could be sick. If you notice any of the symptoms below, it’s probably best to make an appointment with your cat’s vet.

Signs of Illness in Your Cat
  • Eye flicking
  • Head tilting
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Confusion
  • Meowing more than normal
  • Hair loss
  • Not grooming properly
  • Overgrooming

Some illnesses result in cats that rub against objects or people too much.

  • Ear infections
  • Flea infestation
  • Intracranial disease
  • Feline hypersensitivity disorder
  • Allergies

If you notice any of the symptoms above, or your cat is suddenly over-rubbing on you, it’s best to get the cat to a vet for diagnosis and treatment. Most of these illnesses can be treated quickly, and your cat will return to its loving, loyal self in no time.

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Cats are independent creatures that want attention, and there are a few reasons that your cat rubs its head against you, from wanting attention to saying hello.

However, if your cat gets overly aggressive with the rubbing, something may be wrong, so it’s best to take your cat to the vet for a checkup. We all want our furry friends to be healthy, happy, and feel loved, and the best thing to do is make sure they are loved and taken to the vet regularly.

Featured Image Credit: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock

About the Author

Patricia Dickson
Patricia Dickson
Patricia is a pet writer and lifelong animal lover. She has two cats (Binx and Link) and one dog (Mystery). Binx was found as a kitten under her house and has been part of the family ever since! Patricia is also a published author under the pen name Skylar McKinzie. When she isn’t writing, Patricia enjoys volunteering at her local animal rescue.

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