We certainly don’t need experts to tell us that cats enjoy having their heads scratched and rubbed by their owners. But experts feel that it’s probably because this handling reminds them of their mothers. Feline behavior experts believe that when owners take over this role, it inadvertently reinforces the idea that we are their mothers —and it can also serve as a reminder to the cats that they should groom themselves.
There is a cluster of scent glands on their heads that are stimulated when they’re enjoying a nice head rub. This is extremely relaxing for cats, according to experts.
Cats also rub their heads on us to demonstrate friendly feelings towards their human companions. “This feels good and probably releases endorphins,” says Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, Professor Emeritus at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.
He further explains that it’s a way for cats to communicate, and it makes sense that a high concentration of scent glands would be located there. “Leaving an olfactory mark of pleasure pheromones is more appreciated by the donor than the recipient,” says Dr. Dodman. “When cats scent mark objects with their cheeks and chin, they are simply leaving an olfactory reminder of their erstwhile presence.”
Just like bunting in cats, many dogs also like to nuzzle their owners. “I find that most dogs love their head and ears scratched — it is a sign of affection, bonding and attention,” explains Leni Kaplan, DVM, a lecturer in the Department of Clinical Sciences at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York.
But animal behavior experts stress that not all dogs appreciate having their heads scratched — and some find it a sign of domination. Therefore, it’s best to read the individual’s body language to determine the dog’s preference.
Caption for photo at top of page: Rubbing and petting your cat’s head probably releases feel-good endorphins, which she utilizes when she rubs her head on you.
Photo at top of page courtesy of © Khlear | Dreamstime
This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Tufts Catnip