Why Do Stray Cats Rub Against Your Legs

Rubbing against your legs is very typical cat behavior that we often see and experience yet something that we don’t understand fully. So, what if the cat rubbing against your legs is a stray cat? What Are the reasons why she is doing that?  Let’s start by getting to know more what a stray cat is, its demeanor, and character.

What’s a stray cat and how it’s different from your domestic pet cat 

Stray cats are either semi-owned or not owned cats and they wander outside freely. These cats may once have lived under the care of people but eventually became a stray or was abandoned at a certain point.  Another situation where a cat becomes a stray is when it leaves its source of human care or its former owner may have passed away. It may also have lost contact or dependence from anyone. A stray can also become a feral cat but it can also become a pet and can still be domesticated. 

Why do stray cats rub against your legs?

There are a number of reasons why stray cats rub against your legs. Here are some of them:

1. As a means to manipulate you 

Just as it is with homeless people, stray cats are prone to danger and many challenges. These may include:

  • prone to starvation, infection, and attacks from people or other animals
  • exposed to harsh weather conditions 
  • pose the risk to be eradicated by animal control agencies either through poisoning or cat traps

A stray cat struggles to survive by gaining access to food. One way to do this is by rubbing their legs against people nearby and allowing you to rub its belly. It’s a silent way of saying, “Hey, I’m friendly and cute. Now, can I have something to eat?” It’s their unique way to manipulate you to give them food or treats which most often than not, is the final outcome. 

2. As a way to investigate 

According to Dr. Stephanie Borns, professor of Animal Behavior at Tufts University in Massachusetts, cats utilize their olfactory senses to size up, investigate, and gather information about their surroundings, including people. It’s their method to estimate you and if they feel that you’re an amicable character, they’ll persist in doing it. This tendency to investigate holds true for domesticated cats as well.

3. As a way to mark their territory 

Stray cats use scents to mark their property or territory, including you when it rubs against your legs. They rub to transfer their scent or pheromones which are located in their chin, cheeks, forehead, tail, and anal area. The rubbing action allows their scent to transfer to you which makes you their “property”. It’s also their way to tell other cats in the area that they were there. 

4. As a means of saying that you belong to their group or clan 

Just as it is with head bunting, a typical cat behavior where they rub their heads on people to leave their scent,  stray cats rub your legs as a means to approve, accept, bond, and welcome you to their group or colony. It’s their way of welcoming you to their midst and letting you know that you belong with the clan. 

5. As a way to display their love and affection 

Encountering a stray cat in the park or a picnic area may terrify people who may think that they’re untamed or feral. However, while stray cats may be initially cautious in approaching people, they may show affection by rubbing against your legs as a means of acceptance. Cats are typically affectionate and loving and the same holds true for stray cats, once they’ve become accustomed to you.

Differences between a stray cat and a feral cat

Stray cat 

  • approaches people, houses, and cars
  • lives alone and doesn’t have a group 
  • moves and walks like a domestic cat and walks with the tail up showing friendliness
  • will make eye contact with people 
  • may be vocal by meowing as a way of answering you
  • visible during daytime 

Feral cat 

  • avoids people 
  • may belong to a group or colony 
  • crawls, crouches and stays low on the ground;  cautious
  • avoids eye contact with people
  • doesn’t meow or purr 
  • usually seen at night 

What to do when a cat rubs against your legs? 

If a stray cat approaches you and starts to rub against your legs what should your reaction be? Here’s what the cat experts suggest:

1. Bid your time. 

Don’t do anything in haste. If you react to the cat’s behavior quickly it may surprise or frighten the cat. Instead, take your time and observe the cat as it starts to rub and circle your legs.  Observing the cat’s action for a few moments will give both of you time to size things up and forge a silent connection. 

2. Wait for their cue.

Once you attempt to touch the cat, continue to do so in a controlled and conscious manner and wait for its cue for you to stop. You’ll know this if the cat shifts to another position or walks a few steps away. At this point, both of you should have already established a sense of acknowledgment for each other.  

3. Be selective with your affection. 

Stray cats, just like domesticated cats, can be very particular on where they want to be touched or stroked. Cat experts suggest that you should aim for their head and the area around their ears or you may rub their back, too. This is because cats usually prefer to be touched in these areas as opposed to full-body touches. 

4. Let them know they’re welcome.

If the stray cat happens to be a regular visitor in your backyard,  let her know that she’s welcome.

Why stray cats target your legs when they rub?

Rubbing your legs is a cat’s cautious way to interact and greet you. It’s their unique way of acknowledging and accepting you in a not-too-intimate way. Your legs are also simply the most accessible body parts and it gives a cat enough physical contact without having to interact with the face or hands.

It’s like a way of saying that “I like you but we’re not close. We’re still in the getting-to-know stage.” While some cats may seem timid or shy,  other stray cats may be more confident and wrap their tails around our legs as a way to conclude the leg rubbing action. 

How to stop stray cats from rubbing against your legs

Naturally, though,  there are some people who don’t fancy the idea of stray cats rubbing against their legs. Regardless if it’s for safety or health reasons, each person is entitled to their opinion. Here’s what the cat experts suggest on what you should do to stop cats from rubbing your legs in a proper way:

  1. Lift the cat away from your legs in a gentle but firm manner and give them food or treats. This will let the cat know that you got their message and for them to realize the purpose was achieved.
  2. Install a scratching post for the stray cat in those areas where you usually encounter it such as near a park bench or picnic area. 

How to help stray cats in your area?

Are you getting fond of that stray cat that you always encounter in your nearby park? Here’s how you can help stray cats to be cared fer for in your area:

Contact local animal shelters in your area.

Reach out to your local animal shelters and inform them of the stray area you regularly see. They’ll also be able to check if it’s been a stray for a while or if it’s just a lost pet. 

Educate yourself about TNRM and learn how to neuter or spay stray cats

TNRM or trap-neuter-return-monitor is a humane method of trapping stray cats and having them spayed or neutered. TNRM programs may  also involve vaccinations against rabies and may have colony caretakers who oversee the welfare of the cats. 

You may also offer your assistance to colony caretakers. 

Colony caretakers have various needs like temporary housing, feeding, and fostering of stray cats with the hope of finding them a home. You may volunteer to assist them as your way of showing your care and concern for stray cats. 

Things to know before taking in a stray cat

If ever you decide to take in a stray cat, be sure that you’re well-aware of the proper steps to take. Here are the things that you need to know before taking in a stray cat: 

1. Bring the cat to your vet.

Before bringing home that stray cat, make sure to schedule an appointment with your vet so he can check it thoroughly. Having the cat checked will ensure if it’s healthy or if it has health issues or an underlying medical condition. Your vet will also be able to check for fleas and mites which often affect stray cats. 

2. Make sure to spay or neuter the cat. 

As a responsible pet owner, you should make sure to spay or neuter the cat before allowing it to settle to its new home. Have your vet check if it has already been neutered and if not, to schedule the procedure as soon as possible. 

Advantages of neutering cats:

  • It reduces fights.
  • It prevents diseases and reduces the risks of cancer. 
  • It reduces the risk of roaming.
  • Your home will be cleaner as it reduces urine spraying.

3. Install hiding spots.

Make your home a comfortable and safe place for your stray cat by placing hiding spots such as cardboard boxes. Since strays have become accustomed to living on their own and looking for their own safety, these hiding spots will serve as a transition and a place of solace for them. 

4. Prepare a budget and purchase the necessary cat supplies and materials.

Having a pet cat can be expensive so you should be able to prepare a sizeable budget.  With a good budget, you’ll be able to purchase all the necessary supplies like food, treats, accessories, toys, collar, and litter. You may also consider pet insurance especially if you’re taking in an older stray cat to cover for dental and medical care as well as unexpected expenses.

5. Be ready with some challenges and be patient with your new cat.

It’s expected that there will be adjustments for both you and the new cat. Stray cats may appear frightened and withdrawn at first because they’ve been used to being alone and free before. Exercise patience and know that it takes a while for most cats, especially a stray one, to get used to a new home and environment.  If and when the new cat won’t be a good match for you and the household it’s always best to consult your vet or a cat behaviorist so you’ll know what to do and expect. 

6. Prepare your other pets for the new arrival. 

If you already have pet cats or dogs in your house then make sure to prepare them for the new arrival. You may schedule animal playdates or seek the help of a pet trainer so your current pets will get accustomed to the idea of having an additional pet in your home. It’s also important to ascertain that the new cat will be able to adjust well and treat the other pets nicely.

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