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Why cats and dogs like to rub their heads on you?

cat rub his head on a brush

Head bumps all around, fur lovers may find their cat and dog companions enjoy rubbing their heads on their human friends. Why is this?

Sometimes it isn’t all about showing affection, where cats and dogs are trying to clean hard to reach places, it proves to be a difficult task using claws, let along reaching to lick around the head. To relieve an itch or shake some debris, your pet might rub their heads against you, a self-serving act of cleanliness.

cat get brushed

Physical interaction can go beyond grooming however, there are various reasons as to why cats and dogs like to interact and touch.

Cats enjoy a grooming regime that sees them scratch their heads, cheeks and chins. Grooming is sometime a reminiscent routine that a mother would have given during the growing kitten stages of life. Petting your cat or stroking its head could be seen as a form of intimate grooming between human and cat.   

cat stand up and ask for massage

Research shows that scent glands are located around the body of a cat. Specifically, the forehead, cheeks and chin will be prime regions of common contact as it is a way for a cat to leave their scent. Cats will feel at ease when surrounded by their own scent as they mark their territory.

cat scent structres

Head bumps and rubs are also a testament to the social nature of cats. A friendly head bump and scent marking can be interpreted to messages of enjoyment and “I like you”. Petting your cat on the head helps with this process and makes them feel at ease.  



dog get a head massage

Dogs are social animals too, they will use their heads and licking to show emotions of patronage. Petting a dog on its head also shows your own affection for the animal.

However, not all dogs like to be touched on their heads. The dog world is filled with hierarchical order and touching of the head is seen as a sign of dominance and order. 

dog play with cat

Observation of social interactions between dogs in a community will see various ways of greeting. In some cases, some dogs will attempt to place a paw on the head of another. This action may be met with rejection, showing general unacceptance of social order.

This hierarchical order applies between human and dog too. While your own loyal dog will show obedience and submission, dogs that are not familiar with a stranger may attempt to establish superior status through dominance. It’s best to not forcefully pet a dog on the first meeting until a friendly bond has been established     

While it might not all be love and affection, cats and dogs show their bonds in different ways. It’s important to understand the nature of relationships between master and dog. Cats will be happy to make use of a free massage service or itch relief but somewhere mixed in with all the rubs and head bumps, there are real emotions of love and affection.

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