Why Does Your Cat Like Rubbing Up Against Things?

By rubbing their faces on various objects, such as legs and furniture, cats are leaving their scent. It's a kind of cat body language and other cats passing the object will often stop and sniff, and maybe even rub their faces on the object to leave their scent as well. Smell is an extremely important sense in cats, arguably more so than sight (see The Cats Sense of Smell and The Flehmen Response In Cats) and cats have scent glands on multiple places on their body including their faces and feet. On their face, the glands are located around the eyes, below the ears, and on the chin.

Rubbing themselves against people is also part of normal cat greeting behavior, and it is a method of exchanging scents with "friends".

When your cat rubs itself against your leg it's normal to interpret this as a sign that the cat wants attention, and most people will unconsciously respond because of their companion animal-human bond programming and will instinctively reach down to stroke the cat. This reinforces the cats' behavior because we are then conveying positive touch signals and exchanging our human scents with the cat. The tactile sensation of rubbing against each other, and the exchange of scents between "friends" is all part of the complex behavioral language exhibited by cats - including wild cats - that live in groups. Within a pride of lions individuals will often be observed rubbing their heads against others in the group. Sometimes these physical actions are associated with vocalization - purring or a meow. Engaging in this interaction with your cat helps to reinforce the bond between you and makes your cat feel reassured about it's position in the family, and more confident about it's role in the household.

The scent marking that cats perform is not limited to "friends" , but extends to inanimate objects as well such as furniture, garden fences, trees and so on. The rubbing (and also urine spraying) in the environment helps the cat to recognize it's own territory, and also other cat scent markings help to warn when it is entering a strange cats territory.

Scent marks contain molecules called pheromones. Different glands secrete different pheromones which affect a number of behaviors, including reproduction and establishing territory.

The pheromones that come from the glands on the face generally have a calming effect on cats. A product called 'Feliway' is now on the market that contains these facial pheromones. When applied to vertical surfaces, it can decrease a cat's tendency to spray (mark the area with urine).

When cats rub against a person or an object, they exchange scent, leaving and picking up scent on each interaction. This is an important cat habit. If you suddenly decide to change all of your furniture, your cat will not recognize his own place and will likely attempt to mark what is new.

Cats do not like to feel lost like this and often feel the need to mark every thing they come into contact with. This is cat body language for 'marking their territory'. Cats can do this by either rubbing against an object or by marking it with urine. Once an object has been marked, cats will be able to recognize it as being in their territory. Once they are familiar with the smell, they will establish a positive relationship with it. This concept is what you need to keep in mind when introducing your cat to an unfamiliar smell or a new thing. Some experts will advise, for example, that you rub any new furniture with your cat's smell by using a towel that has been rubbed on her or her bedding. This will help make the familiarization process smoother.

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