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Cat Marking Territory: Why Do Cats Rub Their Teeth on You

August 18, 2021

Cat Marking Territory: Why Do Cats Rub Their Teeth on You

Whether they're adorably whipping out their tails, kneading blankets, or meowing up a storm at night, cats will communicate their feelings. One typical feline behavior is teeth rubbing. What exactly does it mean when your cat rubs their teeth onto you? Essentially, your cat is marking you as theirs, but let’s sink our teeth into this phenomenon a little further!

How Do Cats Mark Their Territory?

Remember Phoebe Buffay's "Smelly Cat?" Well, cats do keenly rely on their sense of smell! Cats have scent glands all over their bodies, including in their cheeks, mouths, tails, foreheads, and paw pads. Rubbing these parts of their bodies onto someone or something allows them to deposit their scents with pheromones. Cats specifically have two glands in the corners of their mouth called perioral glands, so they'll rub their teeth, gums, and mouths onto things that they want to flag as theirs.

Why Do Cats Rub Their Teeth on You?

  • They want to greet you and show affection: When cats greet each other, they rub their faces to exchange scents. In a way, you're a big cat to them, so they'll rub their face on you to mark you with their smell. They may even stand on their hind legs to try to say hello to you at face level! When you cuddle with your kitties, they may also rub their gums onto you — this is their way of showing affection. Cats spread their pheromones onto you to mark you as their human, so play along with it like a cool cat!
  • They feel a little overstimulated: If you find your fur babies gently nibbling on you with their teeth after you pet them for some time, it may be a sign that they’re overstimulated (and no longer amused). Cats have sensitive hair follicles, so they can experience discomfort after a long petting session.
  • They may have dental issues: Dental issues are common in older cats, so cats sometimes rub their teeth or gums on you when they feel sensitivity or pain in their mouths. Teething kitties will also try to find something soft to chew on, so you can get them a chewing toy to help with the discomfort!

Why Do Cats Rub Their Teeth on Things?

  • They’re making their presence known: Just as cats try to douse you with their scent to mark you as their territory, they do this to objects, too. In nature, cats will often spread their scent to let other cats know about their presence. Feral cats will leave if they can tell another cat is in the area.
  • They feel anxious: Cats often rub the corner of their mouths onto objects when they're anxious. When kittens do this in a new home, it may be because they’re trying to spread their scent in a new environment to feel more comfortable.
  • They’re curious: Cats are curious creatures! They occasionally rub their teeth onto objects to scope out a new environment.

That's the lowdown on cats rubbing their teeth. Stay vigilant about how your kitty is feeling to figure out the reason behind the tooth rubbing. If they just want to show you some TLC, give them a yummy treat to reciprocate!

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