Why Do Cats Rub Against Your Legs?

Why Do Cats Rub Against Your Legs?

A common cat behavior most pet parents are very familiar with is when they rub themselves against your legs—regardless of whether you’re mid-step or standing still. It’s usually accompanied by loud purring, a few curious meows, and lots of well-intentioned cat hair all over your legs. 

But why do they do it? Are they scratching an annoying itch on their head? Is it a sign of affection? Or do they just know how much we hate having to lint-roll cat fur off our work pants? 

Let’s find out. 

What It Means When a Cat Rubs Against Your Legs

Both male cats and female cats have scent glands on the top of their head, sides of their face, and under their chin. You may notice that these are the parts of their head that they rub on you or shove in your hand when they give it a head-butt or a “bunt". Headbutting or head bunting is a common type of cat body language with the same goal as rubbing on your legs. That’s because those same scent glands also contain different types of pheromones that help communicate to the cat who you are and where you’ve been, while also sending a message to other cats who might smell you later that you belong to them. 

Cat owners should know that scent marking is a huge part of cat love language. Their sense of smell helps them not only understand the world, but recognize family members and their home environments, putting them at ease. Basically, their sense of smell helps them purr more and yowl less.

Sizing You Up

So why do cats rub against you? One reason cats rub against the legs of a new person or guest is to gain scent communication about them. Our feline friends learn a lot from these smells—does the new person have pets? Did they walk through interesting territory? Who are they? 

Greeting or Saying Hello

Greeting you is the most common reason for a cat rubbing against your legs. They usually do this when they’re happy to see you and you may notice it more when you’ve been gone for a while. This is a huge sign of affection while also allowing your cat to reclaim you as one of their own after an absence.

Claiming You

When cats rub against inanimate objects, other pets, and humans, it means they’re “claiming” you. But don’t worry—this doesn’t mean they’re going to start hissing at anyone else who comes near you. Cats strongly identify their environment based on the scent they’ve left behind. It helps them feel comfortable with where they are. So if your kitty claims you, that means you’re a comforting, regular presence in their life—get ready for extra cuddles, kneading, and belly rubs.

Making You Part of Their Group

This one is a big part of cat acceptance. When a cat rubs against your legs and releases F4 pheromones, it’s the cat’s way of creating a “group scent” which marks you to other cats as part of their family. 

Asking for Something

Cats have limited ways of telling their pet parents what they need—meowing, chirping, and jumping in your lap are usually the most noticeable. But your furry friend may also rub between your legs when they’re hungry or want special attention. They may associate this action with you giving them treats or belly rubs. Pay attention to what you usually do when your cat rubs your legs to see if you can decipher how your cat feels and what they’re asking for.

What If My Cat Doesn’t Rub Against My Legs? 

Most cats will rub against your legs at one point or another, although some will do it more than others. It all depends on your cat. Just make sure you’re paying attention to any sudden changes in behavior. If your furry friend doesn’t usually trip you coming in the door, but now won’t leave your legs alone, they could be experiencing sudden anxiety or increased appetite which could indicate potential illness. The same applies if your usually social cat is suddenly withdrawn or stand-offish.

Worried about your cat lacking legs to rub while you’re gone? Book a professional Meowtel sitter to keep them company and provide expert cat care. They’ll know just what to do when your cat friend rubs against their legs—whatever the message being sent.

Categories: Cat Behavior