Cats have so many interesting and unique behaviors, but headbutting seems to be universal to them all. Are you wondering why cats headbutt? In short, it is one way your cat expresses affection.
One of the joys of having cats is that they can be very affectionate, which means they make terrific companions. Although non-cat lovers often perceive cats to be aloof and independent, many cats are truly attached to their owners and frequently demonstrate their deep affection in a variety of ways, including — as funny as it is — headbutting.
Is Headbutting (or Bunting) Affectionate?
One of the ways in which your cat may demonstrate affection is through headbutting, which is also known as “bunting.” Now, when the term headbutting is used to describe the
Some cat experts claim that headbutting and bunting are not the same thing. These experts explain that cats headbutting each other is bunting, which is meant to spread their scent to identify and mark their colony, and/or family. Headbutting is generally a term reserved for interactions with humans. Although the behavior is similar when cats are rubbing their head on people or other cats, their instinctual reasons may be different in these scenarios.
On the other hand, if your cat growls while pressing his head against you, all bets are off.
Typically, you’ll find that your cat will headbutt you by gently pushing his or her head up directly to your head or another part of your body, and may even rub against you with the top of their head. This is a beautiful expression of affection, akin to getting a hug from your cat. It feels nice for you as well as your cat.
You can tell that your cat is not being aggressive when he headbutts you because they are often approaching you gently, without showing specific signs of alertness like pricked ears or raised fur. You may sense a gentleness in their eyes, and a softness in their expression as they come in for the headbutt.
If you’re lucky, you may get a bonus to accompany the headbutt in the form of some purring. This is one way to know that your cat is feeling happy, which can also make you feel very happy. If you’re a cat lover, you’re probably well aware of how good it feels to connect with your furry friend and share affection.
Bonding With Your Cat
Getting that headbutt when you walk in the door or when you wake up in the morning is a wonderful feeling when you realize that your cat is trying to solidify the bond between you. Take a moment to enjoy this interaction and feel the love.
Do Cats Headbutt Other Cats?
Cats, both domestic and wild, will headbutt other cats as well. In the wild, it is thought to be a sign of “family” when lions or tigers headbutt each other. This is a way for the animals to connect with one another. But, if there aren’t other cats in your house, getting a headbutt from your cat is one way for your cat to say, “I love you!”
Cats, like every other animal, are influenced by scent. So, when they are bunting other cats, they are claiming their family, and when they are headbutting you, they are claiming you as their own as well.
If you have more than one cat in your household, you may find that the cat that seems the most dominant does most of the headbutting. This is because cats tend to recognize a hierarchy, and the more confident cats are probably the ones more likely to mark their territory, or claim their humans, with headbutting.
If your more subordinate cat doesn’t headbutt you as frequently, this doesn’t mean they don’t love you as much, they just know their place, so to speak. They are likely to be more snuggly when showing their affection, which can still “mark their territory” by leaving pheromones, just in a less obvious way.
Is Headbutting Just a Way of Marking Their Territory?
If you know a lot about your cat, you know that there are many ways in which he or she may mark their territory. Cats have many glands all over their body that secrete pheromones, which are hormones that other animals can detect. Leaving pheromones on their favorite human (you!) may be a way to mark you as “taken” when other animals come into contact with you.
The glands that secrete pheromones in cats are located just under their ears and above their eyes. There are also glands in the lower cheek area. Typically, when cats headbutt you, they will do so with the top and side of their head, allowing the pheromones to be transferred to your skin and clothing.
Every time that your cat headbutts you, they are leaving a scent. Though you may not be able to smell that pheromone scent, your cat will and so will other animals. Remember, as your cat’s favorite human, they might want you all to themselves!
The presence of pheromones from your kitty may be pretty evident when you visit a friend’s house who has a pet. Other animals will take notice of the scent, probably right away.
Does your friend’s pet seem to pay close attention to you when you walk in the door? Does your friend say, “Oh, he must smell your kitty?” If so, that friend’s cat or dog is actually detecting your kitty’s pheromones and recognizing you as taken.
You might even get a little extra attention or affection from your friend’s furry companions if they are friendly and recognize that if you are covered in pheromones then you must be a natural animal lover. Just don’t be surprised when you go back home to your own feline and they seem even more affectionate — they might be a little jealous when they get a whiff of some other animal that’s been showing you attention.
Are There Other Reasons Why Cats Headbutt?
Although most of the time getting a headbutt from your cat feels affectionate, there are times that your cat may be trying to get your attention. Be sure to check the food and water bowls, and make sure the litter box is cleaned. If your cat is trying to get your attention, it’s probably for a very good reason.
It is important to not confuse “head pressing” with headbutting. Head pressing is something cats may do when there is a problem or they are ill. They may press their head against a wall or furniture in a compulsive way — this is not affectionate or destructive, but may be a sign of discomfort or a problem that requires veterinary attention.
A quick visit to the vet may help uncover any underlying causes of head pressing. Because this can be a sign of a serious problem, it’s important to attend to this behavior promptly. An exam including a blood pressure check or urinalysis may reveal the reason and help you get your cat back to proper health and back to headbutting you affectionately.
What If Your Cat Stops Headbutting You?
Did your cat always used to headbutt you but now seems to do it less? There could be some good reasons for this.
First, you want to watch your cat closely for any signs that he or she may not be feeling well. If they are not showing their regular affection, it could be due to an illness or some discomfort.
Cats also often require plenty of “alone time.” If you work outside of the home, then you are probably gone for many hours of the day, and this might be enough time for your cat to enjoy his solitude. But, if your cat does not immediately greet you and headbutt you, he may just want to relax on his own.
Some cat owners may not love the headbutting behavior, and turn away from their cat when they try bunting. Cats learn through operant conditioning (doing one thing usually causes another), and if each time they headbutt you affectionately or get attention you turn away, they will probably headbutt you less. Understanding that the headbutt usually means your cat wants to show affection or needs something from you is important, so don’t make it a habit to turn away.
Recognizing that your cat is expressing affection and trying to forge a strong bond with you through headbutting can make you feel pretty special. Being the chosen human makes you very important to your cat. You can encourage this behavior by gently rubbing back, or petting your kitty just where you know he likes it (maybe on the head or under the chin).
Also realizing that your cat may be headbutting you for some sort of attention is important. Make sure that they are not trying to tell you they need something else, like food, water, or a clean litter box!
And, knowing the difference between headbutting for affection and head pressing for indicating a problem can also be extremely important. Even though these problems are rare, you never want to ignore any warning signs from your kitty.
Enjoy those early morning wake-up-calls, those getting-home-from work greetings, and those relaxing evening headbutts as you understand that your cat is telling you that you are the most important person in their life. Let them mark you as their territory and let your bond grow!
Product data was last updated on 2023-09-24.
"In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this."
-- Terry Pratchett