Cats are funny little creatures known for their endearing odd behaviors. They love kneading with their paws, headbutting you, and putting their butt in your face, which are all signs of happiness, comfort, and affection. However, you may have noticed another odd behavior that you don’t understand: teeth rubbing!
As an owner, this behavior can be confusing. Why do cats rub their teeth on you? Should you be concerned? It may seem strange, but this is mainly to do with spreading scent and marking territory, which stems from their survival behaviors in the wild.
However, it can sometimes be a sign of dental issues. They could be trying to remove plaque from their teeth or trying to dislodge something caught in their teeth. If you have a kitten that is teething, rubbing its gums on you may provide temporary pain relief.
In this article, I’ll run through all the reasons why cats like rubbing their teeth on you and when you need to worry about this behavior. This will help you form a better connection and a deeper understanding of your cat.
Most Common Reason: To Mark You As Family
Many of us may already be aware that cats rub up against things – be that people or objects – to mark their territory. When rubbing up against something, they leave pheromones behind which other cats can sense. These chemicals signal to other cats that this area belongs to them. Cats may commonly use their heads, cheeks, or whole bodies to do this, but they also use their teeth!
Therefore, the most common reason why your cat is rubbing its teeth on you is to mark you as theirs and as part of the family. In other words, they’re saying they love you!
Why Do Cats Rub Their Teeth On Things?
Cats rub their teeth on you and other objects for a variety of reasons, from communicating with you and other cats to indicating they’re in pain. Here are all the possible explanations for this odd behavior.
1. Marking You As Family
Unlike humans who are covered in sweat glands, cats only have them in specific areas. They are primarily located in their paw pads but are also found on their chin, ears, temples, and inside their mouth. All of these sweat glands are activated when your cat rubs them against something, causing the glands to release pheromones which are left behind on the object they’re rubbing on.
Because sweat glands are found inside the mouths of cats, rubbing their teeth or gums will leave deposits of pheromones behind. Every cat has slightly different pheromones that smell unique, which humans cannot sense but that other cats can identify. When smelling these pheromones, they know this area or object belongs to another cat.
When a cat rubs its mouth on you, it is spreading this scent on you, marking you as theirs. This may sound strange, but it’s their way of saying “I love you”. In the wild, cats rub their teeth, gums, and whole bodies against other members in their pack as a sign of affection. This also causes the whole pack to smell the same and initiates familial bonding. In other words, your cat thinks you’re part of the family!
So that’s what it means when a cat rubs its teeth against you, but why do cats rub their faces on things such as the corner of your coffee table or a bookcase? They too are transferring pheromones, but this time to mark their presence in your home, signaling to other cats and people that this vicinity is theirs.
2. Dental Diseases
If your cat has suddenly started rubbing their teeth or gums on you, it could be a sign that they are experiencing dental issues and are in pain. Dental issues are extremely common in cats, especially older cats. In fact, studies have found 50-90% of cats older than the age of 4 have some type of dental disease.
What Are Common Feline Dental Diseases?
The most common dental issue in cats is feline gingivitis, which is caused by a build-up of plaque on the teeth that harbors bacteria. If too much of this plaque and bacteria accumulate, it damages the barrier between the teeth and the gums. Depending on how sensitive your cat’s immune system is, this can trigger an immune response and causes the gums to become red, swollen, and inflamed.
Another common feline dental disease is periodontitis, which is what happens when gingivitis is left untreated. The tissue that holds your cat’s teeth into their gums will start to deteriorate and it may lead to tooth loss.
Both of these cause your cat pain and discomfort which is temporarily eased by applying pressure to the sore and swollen gums, such as by rubbing their teeth and gums on you or other objects in your home. You may also notice that your cat is making weird mouth movements, which is another symptom of both of these conditions.
How Are These Dental Diseases Treated?
If you think this could be the reason for your cat rubbing its mouth on you, book an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible as they will require treatment. Depending on the stage of the illness, treatments include:
- İntroducing a new toothbrushing routine, which can treat early gingivitis.
- Scaling your cat’s teeth, which is where they scrape off the plaque that has built up and requires your cat to go under anesthesia.
- Removal of loose or damaged teeth if your cat has peritonitis.
It is vital to take your kitty to see a medical professional as soon as possible to prevent the dental disease from getting worse. The earlier you catch it, the easier it is to treat and the less distress and pain it will cause your cat.
You should also look into developing a regular brushing routine using a special cat toothpaste and scheduling regular check-up appointments with your vet to help prevent either of these diseases or other dental issues from developing in the first place.
If you have a young kitten, they may also be rubbing their gums against you to help alleviate dental pain. However, this time it is nothing to worry about – they’re probably just teething!
Just as human babies are born without teeth, as are kittens. Their first set of baby teeth will start to come through between the ages of 2-4 weeks of age, and by 2 months old your kitten should have its full set of baby teeth. However, at the age of 3-4 months, these teeth will fall out and be replaced with adult teeth, meaning another teething session!
Just as we give babies teething toys to help ease the pain of new teeth growing through their gums, cats also search for a form of pain relief, such as rubbing their teeth or gums on you. Human skin is the perfect texture for teething kitties as it is soft and easy to bite, yet firm, and effective at providing temporary relief from their sprouting teeth.
How Can I Tell If My Kitten Is Teething?
How can you tell if your kitten is teething or if it is experiencing more serious dental issues?
Both have common symptoms as your cat will rub their teeth or gums on you, chew items around your home, and show signs of physical pain. Feline gingivitis and teething can also cause gums to become red and swollen, and potentially even bleed!
The main thing you should consider is your cat’s age. Are they the right age to be teething? Typically, teething lasts intermittently from the age of 2 weeks up to 7 months, whereas dental issues are commonly caused by plaque that has built up throughout your cat’s lifetime and typically affects senior felines. If unsure, it’s best to take a trip to the vet for peace of mind.
How Can I Help a Teething Kitten?
While your finger may provide temporary pain relief for your teething kitten, there are other things you can do to help this period easier for them.
Firstly, try purchasing some kitten chew toys for your cat. These are soft yet firm toys made for chewing and designed to help combat teething pains, and make a great change from your finger being chewed! It is also best to get your cat out of the habit of chewing your finger while they’re young – once they’ve got teeth this won’t be as endearing!
You can also help by only feeding your kitten wet cat food, as hard biscuits could be painful on their sore and swollen gums. Although ensuring your cat gets the right nutrients is important at all ages, when they are a kitten it is vital for healthy growth and survival. As kibble can hurt their gums, they may not eat as much as they should, so wet cat food is a must!
4. Overstimulation From Petting
Have you been petting your cat who has been laying there quite contently, then all of a sudden they’ve rubbed their teeth on you or given you a gentle nip? It could be your cat’s way of trying to communicate to you that petting time is over and that they are overstimulated.
Cats have very sensitive hair follicles and after long periods of stroking and petting, it can start to cause discomfort. When this happens, cats will try to communicate this to you to tell you to get off. However, as cats cannot talk to us, they have to communicate this through body language.
You may notice their tail starts to swish around or see the skin on their back start to twitch. They may also simply get up and walk away from you. However, commonly cats communicate this message using their teeth.
They may rub their teeth on you as a warning sign, which could progress to a gentle nip or “love bite” if you don’t understand the message. Your cat doesn’t intend to hurt you by doing this, but sometimes their bites can be a little too hard and they can draw blood.
Therefore, if you notice your cat rubbing its teeth against you while you pet them, it is best to move your hand away and gauge their response. If they start nudging you with their head as if they want to continue being petted, their teeth rubbing is probably just a sign of affection. However, if they look tense or show any other signs of overstimulation then take a break from stroking.
Everyone has heard of the saying “curiosity killed the cat”, at there’s good reason for it: cats are extremely curious creatures and constantly on a mission to find out everything they possibly can about the world around them!
To cats, the best way to find out as much about an object or person is through all five senses. They will look, listen, smell, touch, and even taste it. Therefore, your cat rubbing their teeth on things could be them trying to taste the object and discover more about it.
However, if your cat is rubbing their teeth on your, it probably won’t be out of curiosity. As their owner, they probably already know all there is to find out about you! That being said, if you’ve just got a new kitten, adopted a cat, or are meeting a friend’s cat for this first time, this is a totally plausible explanation.
What Should I Do When My Cat Rubs Its Teeth On Me?
If your cat is rubbing its mouth, gums, or teeth on you, you may not know how to react, especially as your cat could be exhibiting this behavior for several different reasons! First thing is first, you need to try to figure out why it is your cat is rubbing its mouth on you.
Here are the clues for each possible reason:
- Marking Their Territory: When cats are marking you as their territory and showing signs of affection, they will often rub against your with their whole head or body too to transfer as much of their scent as possible. The same goes for marking territory on furniture and other objects around your home.
- Dental Diseases: Cats with dental diseases will likely rub their teeth on your skin and gently chew your fingers, as well as other items around your home like cables. They will also show signs of pain and discomfort and their gums will be swollen. Most cats with dental issues will also be older than the age of 4.
- Teething: Similar to dental diseases, teething kittens will chew and rub against soft yet firm items, as well as show signs of discomfort. However, teething cats are always kittens, so you can rule this out if your cat has all of its adult teeth.
- Overstimulation: If your cat rubs its mouth on you or gently nibbles after you’ve been petting them for a while, they are likely overstimulated. Check for other signs such as them acting tense, flicking their tail, or twitching their fur.
- Curiosity: If your cat is rubbing on objects around your home rather than you, they could be trying to learn more about them. Similarly, if they are rubbing their gums on a new person or animal it could be them trying to learn about it.
Once you’ve established the reason for your cat’s behavior, it is easy to know what to do next.
If showing that they love you, a good old scratch in their favorite spot will signal to them how much you love them back despite the two of you speaking a totally different language.
However, if your cat starts rubbing its teeth on you while you pet them, instead of showering them with love you should move your hand away from them to stop overstimulating them. Some owners find this cute nibbling and see a “love bite” as a sign of affection, but it should never be encouraged as it can lead to cats becoming aggressive.
Dental issues, on the other hand, require you to book a vet appointment, and teething troubles can be eased by providing chew toys and wet food. Lots of cuddles and comfort would be great for your cat too! However, even if they are in pain you should never let your cat chew your fingers. This again forms bad habits. Instead, get them the treatment they need or chew toys that they can safely use.
To summarize, if your cat is rubbing its teeth on you, it is probably trying to transfer its scent to you and mark you as “theirs”. In other words, they love you and think you’re part of the family – a huge compliment and a big sign of affection.
However, cats can also rub their teeth and gums on things if they are experiencing pain in their mouths, such as from dental diseases or teething. Additionally, your cat could be overstimulated from petting and trying to communicate they’re had enough, or simply are trying to discover more about the world around them!