why do stray cats rub against your legs?
Behavioral Problems

Why Do Cats Rub Against You When You Feed Them?

Feeding time is the highlight of the day for many cats. As aloof and independent as they may be, felines still cannot operate a can opener. This means that cats always appear at dinnertime, and often rub themselves against the person who gives them food.

Why do cats rub against you when you feed them? It is your cat’s way of showing gratitude for being provided with a meal. Your house cat depends on you for food. They can’t verbalize their thanks, so they use the body language instead. Rubbing their head on your legs also releases pheromones and scent markers.

We will look more closely at feline rubbing behavior at mealtimes. There are numerous reasons why cats engage in this habit, and some of them are likely to surprise you.

Why Does My Cat Rub Me While I Feed Them?

Even cats that ignore you all day will suddenly show an interest when it is feeding time. This is because you are in control of the most crucial thing in their life – the provision of dinner!

Cats will become affectionate at this time, and start rubbing against you. In part, this is a slightly cynical move from your cat. They will be engaging in typical bonding behaviors, ensuring that you don’t get distracted. If your cat has your full and undivided attention, you’ll ensure that they are fed.

why cats rub against your legs

There is more to this action, however. Your cat is expressing genuine love and affection at this moment. As Catster explains, cats rub against their owners to strengthen their bond. By feeding your cat, you are demonstrating your value to them.

Your cat will acknowledge this by rubbing against you, declaring you part of the same family. More importantly, your cat is marking you as safe and trustworthy. The way to a feline’s heart is very much through their stomach.

The fact that you are preparing food for felines is enough for them. As cats cannot verbalize thanks for a meal the way you would, they rub. It’s their way of showing love and gratitude for your efforts.  

Does My Cat Rub Against Me Because They’re Hungry?

It’s possible that your cat will rub against you to denote that they’re hungry. If an increasingly elongated meow accompanies the rubbing, this is almost certainly the case.

There are various reasons why a hungry cat would choose to rub against you. They’re reminding you that they are there, and gaining your attention.

If you have been busy for the day, your cat may feel a little neglected. When a cat doesn’t get enough attention, they grow anxious. As a result, they may worry that you’ll forget to feed them. This is an unnecessary fear, but your cat doesn’t understand this.

By rubbing against your shins, your cat is sending an unequivocal message. They are announcing their presence, and asking for acknowledgment.

If it’s not a scheduled mealtime, it could just be attention they’re after. Equally, they could be testing your resolve and hoping you’ll offer a treat. If they rub against you at mealtimes, however, your cat is ensuring their bowl gets filled.

This isn’t necessarily a conscious act, either. Kittens will often rub against their mothers to announce their presence. This means they can start to enjoy their mother’s milk.

In many respects, you have replaced your cat’s mother in their eyes. They now look to you to ensure their needs are met, with food being critical. Instinct may lead to them behaving in a particular way.

Why Do Cats Rub Against You at Other Times?

It’s not just mealtimes that cats choose to rub against humans, however. Rubbing is a common behavior in cats, with both owners and strangers.

There are four primary reasons why a cat rubs against a human:

  1. Greeting an owner after a prolonged separation, or saying hello to a stranger
  2. Expressing affection to a human, whether this is gratitude for dinner or general fondness
  3. Marking you as ‘theirs’ and removing traces of other cat scents
  4. Gaining information about a human – who they are, and where they have been

A lot can be told about a cat’s mood by how they rub against a human. If a cat leads with their head, this is called bunting. It looks like a headbutt, but it’s a display of trust and affection.

If a cat isn’t sure about a human, they will typically rub with their body. This explanation is fairly obvious; a cat’s head is very delicate. Cats retain strong safety instincts and avoid placing themselves at risk. As a result, they feel safer leading with their body.

1) Cats Rub as a Greeting

If your cat hasn’t seen you in a while, they’ll rush to rub against you on sight. This is a common action when a pet owner returns home from work, for example. Cats aren’t as outwardly excitable as dogs, but they’ll be equally delighted to see you.

You’ll know if your cat is offering an excited greeting by their body language, too. National Geographic expands upon this in detail. When you cat approaches you, take a good look at them. Do they appear relaxed and calm?

This means that their back will not be arched, and their ears not pinned back. If this is the case, investigate their tail next. This should be straight, with a curl at the very top.

If this is the body language that your cat demonstrates, they’re happy to see you. Rubbing will then likely follow. This is all feline for, “you’ve been away for a while, and I’m glad you’re back.”

Of course, your cat will also be rubbing for other reasons too. Your pet will be eradicating the scents of other pesky animals, and learning where you’ve been. The greeting is just the beginning of your cat’s rubbing investigations.

2) Cats Rub to Express Affection

Sometimes, your cat is just rubbing against you to show affection. It may leave you concerned that you’ll trip over your pet, but they mean well. This behavior is also an extension of bunting.

If your cat rubs with their cheeks, it’s a particular sign of affection. As Pet Happy explains, cat cheeks contain very prominent pheromones.

By rubbing the side of their face against you, your cat is expressing contentment in your company. Just because your cat doesn’t speak English, it doesn’t mean you can’t communicate.

cat rubs on my legs

This does not mean that your cat is marking you as ‘their property,’ however. That is a slightly different process, and it involves rubbing with the entire body.

A cheek rub is declaring you to be a source of pleasure and comfort. Don’t be surprised if they follow this up by leaping into your lap and purring.

The opposite of cheek rubbing is spraying urine, which is something to look out for. If a cat encounters something that causes them stress, they’re likely to urinate over it. This is your cat’s way of bringing a familiar scent to a strange item.

It’s important to know how to react around a stressed cat. If your cat urinates, they’re setting themselves a reminder that the object requires further investigation.

3) Cats Rub to Mark Your as Their Own

When cats rub themselves against people, other felines or inanimate objects, they leave a scent behind. This is known as marking. Marking usually starts with the head, before the entire body is rubbed over an individual or object. Marking serves two critical purposes for felines.

It means that cats have claimed the marked object as their own. This sends a message to other felines to stay away. It also leaves a reassuring scent behind for your cat. If somebody or something carries a familiar and comforting smell, it means that it’s safe.

This is why a cat rubbing their scent against you is essential – and a compliment. When your cat does this, primarily through bunting, they are demonstrating trust in you.

To an extent, your cat is also acting slightly jealously. They will be removing any scent of other cats and overriding it when their own. This means that you are important to your cat. They want everybody to know that you belong to them.

4) Cats Rub to Learn More About You

If you have been out all day, your cat will want to know what you’ve been up to. Have you been somewhere interesting that they’ve never visited? What have you been eating? Most importantly, were you faithful or have you been fraternizing with other cats?

By rubbing themselves against you, cats learn the answers to all these questions through your scent. Perhaps more importantly, they’ll also learn plenty about a strange human.

When cats greet each other, they often rub against each other. This is an exchange of information that reveals the other feline’s mood. Pets aim to garner this data from new humans, and assign them friend or foe status.

It’s best to allow a cat to do this, especially if you’re a stranger. The only exception is if you are allergic. Permitting this rubbing, however, is the fastest way of gaining a cat’s trust.

Don’t react, and don’t pet the cat unless asked. Eventually, the cat is likely to start bunting you. At this point, you have achieved acceptance.

If you have multiple cats, you’ll notice that one tends to hold court over the others. This will be the feline that spreads the ‘approved’ friendly scent through bunting.

If a cat rubs themselves against you, it’s nothing to worry about. The vast majority of the time it’s a good sign. It suggests that your cat sees you as a source of safety, security, and pleasure.

Naturally, little makes a cat feel more pleasure than being fed. This is why a cat will typically rub against you at mealtimes. It’s just a classic sign of feline fondness. Enjoy these displays when they arrive, as cats do not demonstrate affection lightly.