“Why do cats rub their teeth on you? Are they trying to munch on you? Are they trying to mark their territory?” You can’t help but obsess over these questions because your curious creature’s been torturing you for days. “What does she want from me?” you utter under your breath because you don’t want to hurt her feelings.
Every morning when she wakes up, you can hear her little happy paws tapping on the floor as she runs straight towards your room. Her tip-taps are complimented by melodious meows and purrs. “Pick me up, pick me up,” she chirps, begging for you to let her on your bed.
And then comes the fun part – she rubs her teeth on your bare legs and throws a glance at you every now and then to check your reaction. She seems to be trying to do or say something, but you’re completely lost trying to translate her cat language.
“Argh, why do cats rub their teeth on you? Why do they rub their faces on you? Why are they such fans of rubbing at all!?”
And, your legs aren’t even the only things she’s attacking at such an ungodly hour. She’s smooshing her face on your bed, your table – even your neighbor’s dog.
But why are you even surprised by her behavior? She must’ve done things way, way, weirder than that before. After all, she’s a cat, and cats love kneading the hypothetical dough with their paws, headbutting you out of the blue, and flashing their butts to the world.
Don’t worry, your mischievous monster’s not rubbing her teeth on you because she’s trying to munch on you. That one’s for sure. But, feel free to take a look at some of the possible reasons.
What’s with your cat’s rubbing obsession?
That’s right, we’re using the word “obsession” and we’re not even considering changing that for something more appropriate. We have to be honest with you: Cats are obsessed with rubbing each and every part of their little, fluffy bodies against you for a million reasons.
And, whether you want to believe that or not, each body part seems to carry a different story. Maybe your munchkin’s rubbing her head against your leg. Maybe she’s rubbing the corner of her mouth against the coffee table (can she sense the coffee!?) Or, maybe she’s rubbing her teeth against your arms.
One way or another, she’s clearly trying to communicate something to you but you have no clue what that something could be. “Are you trying to tell me you’re hungry, Mrs. McFluffer? Are you trying to tell me you love me?” you wonder every now and then, but you never receive an answer.
We’ve got your back! Look at some of the reasons your four-legged friend might be rubbing her body, face, or gums against you. And after that, we’ll unpack why cats rub their teeth against you.
1. She’s rubbing her entire body against you
Aren’t cats the cutest when they do that!? They make their little sounds as they’re running toward you. Then they stop, smoosh their little face on your legs, and bump up their paws almost meowing “Hello human, would you mind lifting me up and rocking me in your arms? Thaaaanks.”
But why do they do that? What does that mean? Your furry friend’s probably rubbing herself against you for one of two reasons. She’s either trying to communicate with you or trying to leave her scent on you.
Cats don’t really have that many options when they’re trying to tell you something. They can’t speak English (duh!?) and you can’t speak Cat (also duh!?)
But, they can use their fluffy bellies, paws, and tails to communicate how they’re feeling. They can tap you with their paws when they’re trying to get your attention or hide their tails under their bellies to tell you they’re uncomfortable.
And, obviously, they rub themselves against you to mark their territory and leave their scent on your clothes. Cats do these things every day because that’s what their guts are telling them to do (animal instincts and all that jazz, you know?) Your cat’s not weird, she’s simply speaking with you in her own way.
2. She’s rubbing her face against you
We can’t help but think that everything our cats do screams “Cute!” And, we can’t help but wonder the difference between why cats rub their teeth on you and why they rub their faces against you. How can we even tell which part of her face she’s rubbing?
When cats rub their faces on you, they typically do so with the top of their head (where their ears are). Trust me, you shouldn’t have trouble recognizing whether she’s rubbing her teeth or her head against you. One way or another, the face-rubbing thing carries a meaning of its own.
When your feline friend rubs her face against you, she’s showing her affection. She’s showing you that she’s comfortable enough around you to let her guard down. As a matter of fact, cats sometimes do the same thing with other cats when they’re trying to say, “Oh hello, fellow feline. Let’s be friends!”
3. She’s rubbing the corner of her mouth against you
This one’s a lot weirder than the other ones! We’re not that sure that we can call rubbing the corner of her mouth against you or against other things cute. But, while this behavior might not be cute, turns out it’s pretty natural to cats.
Actually, such behavior makes more sense when cats are in the wild. They rub their mouths against trees, plants, and other things to mark their territory or even to announce themselves to other animals. They do that to say “Hello, we’re here and we’re not planning on bothering you.”
And, your furry friend keeps doing that around the apartment because she’s trying to leave her scent. Not that there are other animals she’s trying to warn of her presence, but, she sees you as some type of a large animal and she’s leaving her scent for you to know that she’s there. Weird, right?
4. She’s rubbing her gums against you
“How can anyone tell the difference between my cat rubbing her teeth and rubbing her gums on me!?” This’s one tricky, but not impossible. When your cat’s rubbing her teeth on you she’s giving you a little nibble, a little munch. She’s pretty much pretending to bite you while (probably) chuckling at you.
But, when she rubs her gums against you, she’s not really employing her teeth. And, even more so, when she rubs her gums on you, she’s typically also rubbing her face, head, and corner of her mouth on you. And, why does she do that?
Because she loves you! Such behavior typically happens when your cat’s playing with you, cuddling, or lying on the bed while you watch your favorite TV show. She’s showing you that she’s enjoying herself and that she’s comfortable enough to tease you with her cute little love bites. How adorable is that!?
Can cats “sniff” with their mouths?
We purposefully didn’t want to mention anything before, but cats can actually sniff things with their mouths. While that might be one of the reasons your cat rubs her teeth on you, it’s certainly not the only one. But, let’s focus on how cats can pick up scents with their mouths for now.
“Aren’t dogs the ones that open their mouths, huff and puff, and make a whole big deal out of breathing!?” They are, but dogs typically do that when they’re out of breath and they’re trying to breathe better and easier. Cats, on the other hand, open their mouths when they’re trying to SMELL better.
Actually, the strange behavior’s known as “the flehmen response,” and your cat’s not the only mammal out there making odd faces and producing weird sounds when trying to sniff out a situation. Most mammals have scent receptors on the roof of their mouths, in addition to those inside their noses.
And, the open-mouth sniffing is so widely known, that it’s got a bunch of nicknames. “Gaping,” “grimacing,” and “sneering” are only some of the many nicknames you might hear whenever you notice someone’s cat making annoyed, and even aggressive faces when trying to sniff better.
As a matter of fact, some pet parents believe that their cats keep rubbing their teeth on them because they’re trying to sniff them. We can’t say that such a theory doesn’t make sense – cats typically open their mouths when they’re rubbing their teeth on you and they might be trying to get a better scent.
On the other hand, we can’t forget about the fact that cats also have perioral glands on the inside of their cheeks and lips. These glands are responsible for secreting a scent that cats commonly use to mark their mate or territory (aka you).
Why do cats rub their teeth on you? 7 simple explanations
“What the fluff! Why do cats rub their teeth on you!?” Whether you believe me or not, cats do so for an array of reasons. We can’t give you a straight, this-is-what-you’re-looking-for answer because cats are more complicated than that.
But, there’s no reason for concern. More times than not, your cat rubbing anything on you means she’s doing what most cats do – communicating with you the only way she knows how.
Feel free to embark on this discovery with us by throwing a glance at some of the most prominent reasons we’ve managed to gather for you.
1. She’s marking her territory
When you hop online and Google “Why do cats rub their teeth on you?” this one’s the answer you’re most likely to find. And it’s reasonable because cats possess a natural instinct that pushes them to release their scent everywhere they can.
And here’s the thing – your furry friend isn’t necessarily marking YOU as her territory. She’s leaving her scent on your clothes and your skin because she wants other animals (“umm, there’s no one else here!?”) to know she’s around. But, more importantly, she wants you to have the same scent as her.
Actually, cats are pretty self-centered and they want everything to have the same scent as they do. Sure, they’re marking their territory, making it easier for them to find the spot they marked. But, we can’t ignore that they find some sort of pleasure in leaving their scent in places they like.
2. She’s claiming you as one of her own
And, of course, we can’t forget about the fact that cats leave their scent on things they consider their own. So, when you notice your cat rubbing her teeth on you, you have nothing to fret over. She’s simply making sure everyone else knows that you’re her human.
Your curious creature doesn’t really have many options when it comes to conveying her affection toward you – the only thing she can seem to do is leave her scent on you and claim you as one of her own. Cats do the same thing with their kittens; that’s how they make sure other cats don’t mistake them for their own.
Honestly, you should feel flattered when your precious purrincess decides to express such behavior. She’s simply making sure the two of you are on the same page – her teeth on your arm means that the two of you share a bond even better than a blood one.
3. She’s teething
Kittens are the cutest little munchkins you can have around! They’re like tiny balls of fluff running around your apartment, knocking everything down, and producing the most adorable meows and purrs known to mankind. They’re fun for the entire family – except for when they’re teething.
Kittens are like human babies. They grow bigger with each day, which means they’re growing parts of their bodies that might not have been there from the start – including teeth. And, growing teeth can be extremely uncomfortable, which explains why your kitten chews on your fingers.
Chewing, nibbling, and rubbing her teeth on you might be helping her alleviate some of that pain and discomfort. She needs something soft to bite and your arms seem to be the perfect solution.
To save your hands from unwanted injuries, you should get some dental toys for your kitty. They will help her teething issues and provide the relief she’s desperately needs.
4. She’s suffering from dental problems
That’s an unfortunate possibility, but one nonetheless. Cats that suffer from dental problems often feel pain and discomfort that becomes more manageable when they rub their teeth on something. And once again, your arms seem to be perfect for what they’re looking for.
As a matter of fact, dental diseases are pretty common among felines. Two of the most represented diseases are gingivitis and periodontitis.
The first is typically a result of plaque build-up that happens over time when your feline starts accumulating bacteria around her teeth and gums. Depending on her immune system, she might even develop other diseases from untreated gingivitis.
And secondly, periodontitis is a serious gum infection that causes the tissue surrounding your cat’s teeth to deteriorate. Periodontitis might even lead to tooth loss.
Your cat is rubbing her teeth on you probably because the pressure from pushing them against you momentarily alleviates the pain. Contact your vet the moment that you start suspecting your cat might be experiencing symptoms of dental disease.
5. She’s curious
Ever wondered why cats rub their teeth on you before they start biting on you? As funny as that might sound, your furry friend’s probably playing with you and testing your boundaries. She’s more than likely curious about your reaction when she starts rubbing her teeth on you and biting you.
“Curiosity killed the cat,” after all. We’re hoping that doesn’t happen to your feline friend, and we’re happy to offer you some clarity on why she keeps repeating such odd behaviors.
Cats, whether wild or domesticated, experience the world through every one of their senses.
Sitting down and observing what’s going on around them doesn’t provide them with pleasure. They’re happier when they’re thrown in the middle of things – watching, sniffing, pushing, and biting the arm that feeds them every single day, for example.
But, doesn’t hurt to mention that such behavior isn’t likely to stem from an older cat (or a cat that you’ve had for a long time). She already knows everything about you and doesn’t need to explore. But a younger kitten’s likely to have her teeth ALL OVER YOU at all times.
6. She’s overwhelmed
You’re a pet parent, which means you’ve experienced your four-legged friend snap at you after a cuddle session on more than one occasion. That’s completely normal and that’s your cat’s way of saying “You’re done now. That was great and we had fun, but you’re done now.”
Cats are very, very sensitive creatures and they’re the ones making the rules. They don’t appreciate when you overestimate what you are and aren’t allowed to do when you pet them. Whether that means you’re petting their bellies without their consent, tugging at their tail, or petting them for a long time…
When they snap, rub their teeth on you, or bite your arm, that’s their way of saying that they’ve had enough. That’s not to say that your furry friend doesn’t like snuggling with you and spending the rest of the day being pampered. She’s simply a lady who’s comfortable with saying “No” when she needs to.
7. She’s asking you to play with her
And, of course, your cat might be rubbing her teeth on you because she’s trying to get your attention. She can meow and purr as much as she wants, but sometimes that’s not enough and she needs a bit more.
She might rub her teeth on you, give you a little push with her paw, or even a nibble when she realizes she’s not getting what she wants.
More times than not, she wants you to play with her, give her food, or give her cuddles. Capitulate, and she won’t have another choice but to stop treating your arm like a scratching post.
Other than that, feel free to come up with your own theories. Whether your cat’s doing what she’s doing because she’s marking her territory, claiming you as her own, or showing affection, you have to agree that she’s simply being herself.
And, being a pet parent, you’re the one who’s the most competent in determining what “herself” seems to be.