Why Cats Meow and Rub Against Everything, Including YOU!

You walk in the door, fill the food bowl, flip through the mail, and head to your bedroom to change. Before you’ve even crossed the threshold, you feel the familiar rub across your legs. You look down to see a fuzzy face meowing at you. 

While saying your hellos, you bend down and pet your kitty. They keep meowing and start to rub their cheek across your hand as you caress them. You ask them how their day was. You scratch under their chin and they extend a paw to your arm and meow again. 

You sit down on the bed and they jump up next to you and butt their head on your shoulder. Why do they keep meowing and rubbing?

Top reasons cats meow and rub against everything, according to our certified cat behaviorist

cats meow and rub

There are multiple reasons for a cat to rub. One of our Certified Cat Behaviorists, Katenna Jones (ACAAB), provided a list in order from most likely to least likely.

  1. The transfer of scents is the number one reason for a cat to rub.

Like most mammals, cats have scent glands. These appear on their head (lips, cheeks, chin and forehead), their paw pads, and on their backs and rear. When a cat rubs, pheromones (a natural chemical substance) are released through the glands and mark the object that the cat has rubbed as “belonging” to them.

Cats learn this practice from their mothers when they are tiny kittens. Rubbing, head butting, licking and even gentle biting release endorphins in the cat which makes them feel calm, happy, and safe.

Your cat has most likely claimed you as their territory, and when you come home smelling of unfamiliar people, pets, or places, they will feel a need to remark you. If their scent fades over a period of time or you change clothes, they will also reapply their scent. Depending on where you go, what you do, and who you interact with, rubbing could happen several times a day in order to keep their scent fresh.

  1. Your kitty loves you and wants your attention.

Along with blinking their eyes or wrapping their tail around you, they may give you a hug in the form of head butting (or bunting). They not only want to interact with you, but they are also giving you the utmost compliment. Cats only heat butt when they are happy, and they reserve the hug for people they know, love and trust. 

  1. Another affectionate reason for rubbing and meowing is that your cat wants to play. 

They may be bored, and some of them may even want a belly rub! Make sure you know your cat very well and respect their boundaries. The belly contains their vital organs, and they are being completely vulnerable by allowing you to pet them there. 

Your cat may be lonely. If you have been gone for the day or haven’t spent much time with them recently, they may swarm you with rubs as a request for company. Yes, cats are independent, but they are also social beings and need companionship. 

  1. Your cat is heated up!

One of the most common reasons for a cat to be excessively affectionate is that they are in heat. The hormonal changes that cause the clinginess will also have them wailing (especially near the door) in order to attract a mate. Your female cat will also purr, roll on her back, and most likely use her hindquarters for rubbing. She may display the mating position or spray urine. 

Fortunately, this particular reason for the extreme behavior can be entirely avoided by getting your kitty spayed before her first heat. Vets usually recommend the surgery at around 5 months. There is no medical reason for a cat to have one litter beforehand.

  1. Your cat wants food.

Sometimes cats will rub as a signal that they’re hungry. If they rub on the cupboard where their food is kept, it’s a sure sign!

Non-stop meowing when your cat is NOT in heat

Non-stop meowing

A cat that is meowing non-stop and is not in heat is a different story. Cat meows are reserved for humans only, and your kitty is trying to tell you something. If you can’t identify an obvious need (food, attention, etc.), something may be stressing them out.

Unfamiliar sounds, smells or sights can cause your kitty to feel threatened. Anxiety could also develop from something as benign as a dirty litter pan. Know your cat! A word of caution: if your kitty’s constant meowing is accompanied by a head tilt or confusion, an emergency trip to the vet is warranted. 

By depositing their pheromones throughout their territory, your feline is taking steps to prevent anxiety. The more they rub, the better they will feel. You can help make kitty feel secure by providing plenty of affection when they’re near you and plenty of hiding places when they’re not. 

You may also want to invest in a pheromone diffuser that emits a synthetic copy of the feline facial pheromone. This may make your cat feel safe and secure. 

It’s up to you

Knowing your cat’s unique personality and behavioral traits will help you determine the reason for their rubbing and meowing. Paying close attention can provide you a heads up if an illness is brewing. Cats that are ill (or injured) can also be very affectionate. 

Common medical issues that may cause your cat to rub more frequently include: allergies, fleas, and ear infections. It’s best to check with a vet to not only relieve these conditions, but also to rule out something more serious. 

Meowing and rubbing against everything: how to make it stop… or not

Katenna Jones explained cat rubbing and meowing:

“These are normal, positive behaviors that don’t need to be stopped unless they occur during inopportune times, like when you’re trying to sleep or work. First you need to identify what the function is–are they hungry or looking for attention? Try anticipating and providing an outlet for that function. For example, say your cat meows every morning at 4 am because they’re hungry. You can try setting a timer feeder a little bit earlier than that. If attention is what they’re craving, try playing before bedtime.”

Most affectionate breeds

Some cats are naturally more social than others. They will vocalize and want to cuddle more often than most. The purebreds that fit into this category include the Ragdoll, Scottish Fold, Sphynx, Maine Coon, Persian, Siamese, Bombay, Tonkinese, American Shorthair, and Birman

Regardless of their ancestry, it’s important to take time with your cat to know their unique personality. Only then can you determine when something is out of order and take the necessary steps to bring peace back into your cat’s domain.  

Treasure the bond you have with your cat. When they need consoling, be there for them. They are truly intelligent creatures and will always be there for you.

Why do cats meow and rub against each other?

cats meow and rub

There is much more to marking than most people realize. In addition to claiming what’s theirs, cats also rub to gather and convey information to and from other animals. In essence, it is a very complex form of communication, and what the cat is saying depends not only on what they mark, but the part of their body they mark it with. 

The facial glands are generally used for sociable marking. Cats will use their chins and cheeks to tell other cats about themselves, whether they are male or female, neutered or intact, etc.  If you have more than one cat, the marking contributes to a ‘colony’ scent.

The rubbing gesture shows respect for, and is soothing to, other cats in a household. In addition, your cats will also recognize a ‘family’ scent, a unique blend of the people, other animals, and objects within your home—a safe zone. Unfortunately, should you rearrange or buy new furniture, this may alert a cat to spray urine as a warning that their territory has been breached.

FAQ

What does it mean when a cat keeps rubbing against things? 

When a cat rubs, their scent glands release a natural chemical substance called pheromones. These pheromones identify the cat’s territory as well as make them feel secure in it.  

 

Why is my cat rubbing on the floor and meowing?

A cat rubbing on the floor and meowing is either asking for attention or she may be in heat. Hormones released during the heat cycle cause a cat to be overly affectionate.

 

What does it mean when a cat rubs against you and purrs?

A cat rubbing against you and purring can either be simply greeting you or is expressing a need for something. Is it dinner time? Have they gone a while without play time? Affection? The best way to determine what your cat is asking for is to get to know them well. 

 

How do I stop my cat from meowing and rubbing against things?

Know that meowing and rubbing are normal behavior for cats. If the extent is truly bothersome, you’ll need to determine the cause in order to take it down a notch. If all else fails, you can try clicker training. Click when the cat is not meowing and then reward with a treat. 

 

 

Authors

  • Sue Murray

    Sue Murray owes her love of cats to two little domestic shorthairs named Scooter and Buttons who showed her that curtains are for climbing, litter is to scatter, nights are for running wildly through the house, and dogs are to hiss at. Sue has rescued or fostered more than 50 felines and enjoys writing about her experiences.

  • Katenna Jones, Cat Behaviorist

    Katenna Jones is an Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (ACAAB) and Certified Cat Behavior Consultant. Katenna works with families and their cats and dogs in person or virtually with her company Jones Animal Behavior in Rhode Island. She earned a Master's in Psychology, with a focus on animal behavior, from Brown University.