Your Cat’s Headbutting Behavior: What, Why, and Related Questions
By Chyrle Bonk, DVM May 06, 2019
Whether your kitty gives you headbutts in the morning to wake you up or uses it as a way to welcome you home, the behavior can be quite perplexing. But no matter when you've experienced this behavior, you will understand that you are an honored recipient after reading this article. So let’s explore the cat headbutting behavior.
What Is Cat Headbutting?
Cat headbutting, or bunting, is when your cat gently taps you with their forehead, followed by a sideswipe with their cheek. Your cat may headbutt your face, chest, or leg, typically whichever body part is within their reach. Moreover, the behavior can be directed at other critters or even furniture.
Even though cat headbutting is a natural behavior in cats, most cat owners have a hard time distinguishing between cat headbutting and cat head pressing.
The Difference Between Head Pressing And Headbutting
Head pressing is a manifestation of a neurological disorder meaning that something is wrong with your cat’s brain. While it may at first appear the same as headbutting, the following are some characteristics indicative of cat head pressing to help you tell the difference between the two:
- No sideswipe action with the cheek
- Relentless pressing, usually against objects like the wall, floor, or furniture rather than people
- Abnormal vocalization, meowing, or screaming
- Circling or disoriented behavior
- Change in behavior, such as decreased appetite or lethargy
Now that we understand what cat headbutting is and isn't, let’s explore why cats do it.
What Are the Reasons For Cat Headbutting?
We all know that cats have attained a reputation for being aloof and independent, and some even make us work pretty hard for their affections. Maybe they’re not always trying to make us work hard though. Maybe we’re just confused by how our cats express their love to us. We may misconstrue a headbutt as a "get away from me" action rather than what it is really meant to be.
When cats headbutt an object, they are actually leaving their mark on that object. Cats have scent glands located all over their bodies, including their face and cheeks. By rubbing their scent on something, they’re saying "this belongs to me." They are also showing trust and respect to that object by acknowledging its familiarity and close contact.
To better understand cat headbutting behavior, we will go through three different scenarios of what a cat headbutts, and what it means.
- Cats Headbutting Other Cats
A headbutt between cats is similar to a secret handshake between you and your best friends. Not only are they sharing their special scent, they are also showing their trust. If you’ve ever seen cats fight, you will notice that they really go for the face, trying to injure important areas like the eyes, nose, and mouth. So when a cat willingly puts their head close to another, it is a way of saying "I trust you not to hurt me." That is a pretty big deal in the cat world. Cats in the wild are also known to headbutt each other, especially members of the same family.
- Cats Headbutting Humans
When your cat headbutts you, your cat is letting you know that you’ve been accepted into his or her family. It is a sign of trust and love. So you can treat the behavior like a kiss on the cheek. Cats may also use bunting as a way to seek attention. By headbutting you, your cat is letting you know that he or she is present and in need of something. This reason for bunting may be more common when you’ve been away from your kitty for a long time and you weren’t able to give them immediate attention when you returned.
- Cats Headbutting Other Objects
If headbutting is a sign of affection, why would your cat show that same sign to the furniture? Surely you mean more than the leg of the dining room table! Bunting objects like furniture, walls, and the floor spreads your kitty’s scent on the objects. This allows your cat to claim the area to make it more comforting, familiar, and safe to them.
That sums up the reasons why your cat may headbutt, but there are a few additional questions that cat parents are usually curious about when it comes to cat headbutting behavior.
What If My Cat Doesn’t Headbutt Me?
Headbutting is a sign of affection and trust from our feline friends. But if your cat doesn’t headbutt you, it doesn’t mean that he or she doesn’t love you. Just like humans, cats have different ways of showing affection. Maybe headbutting is too forward or too flashy of a way for your kitty to express his or her love. Instead, your cat may choose another behavior to show their affection. These behaviors may include the following:
- Rubbing their body against your legs - works similar to bunting by spreading scent and familiarity.
- Purring - the ultimate sign of contentment.
- Following you around - this means your kitty enjoys being around you (even when it's not dinner time).
- Nibbling or nipping you while getting pet - your kitty is trying to return the pleasure that your pets are providing.
- Licking or grooming you - cats in colonies groom each other all the time. Consider yourself a part of the family.
- Rolling on their back to show you his or her belly - exposing the belly in the animal world is one of the surest signs of trust and respect.
- Wrapping their tail around you - think of it as an arm around the shoulders.
- Napping on or near you - if your kitty really trusts you, napping on you won’t be a problem.
- Kneading - kittens tend to knead their mother while they’re nursing, so your kitty kneading you should let you know you’re about as important as it gets.
- The quiet stare and slow blink - eye contact is important in all forms of communication, especially when your kitty is trying to tell you that he or she loves you.
If you have yet to get a headbutt from your feline friend, don’t despair. Just look for these other signs of affection that your cat is using to get his or her message across to you. However, if getting a cat to headbutt you is one of your top priorities, let’s explore if you should initiate this behavior with your cat.
Should I Headbutt My Cat?
The short answer is no. Not every cat is going to use bunting as a chosen sign of affection. If you try to initiate the behavior, you may send the wrong message entirely. Furthermore, you don’t want to try headbutting a kitty that you haven’t built a firm bond with. If your kitty doesn’t know you well, up close and personal facial contact may come off as some form of aggression. Even if you and your cat have a firm bond and complete understanding of each other, a headbutt might be out of your kitty’s comfort zone.
You should also exercise caution in how you respond to a headbutt from your kitty. They may not want one back. Instead, try offering your still forehead or hand for a follow-up bump. A scratch on their chin and a stroke on the back can also work. Treats and sweet words never hurt either. If your cat isn’t a headbutter, it’s not the end of the world since some cat parents face a different problem with excessive headbutting!
What If I Don’t Want My Cat to Headbutt Me?
We all want our cats to love us, but not everyone wants to get cat hair stuck to their lips. When your kitty is taking bunting to the extreme, and you’re barely able to get a kind word out in between the headbutts, then you may have to do something about it.
- Remove the opportunity for the behavior to happen
If your kitty has specific times that he or she likes to bunt you, such as in the morning or when you get home, shower your cat with attention before he or she gets the chance to headbutt you. Hopefully, that will be enough for your cat to decide to forego the headbutting.
- Let your kitty express themselves in other ways
Your kitty needs to express his or her feelings. If headbutting isn’t your thing, make sure you let your feline friend show you love in any of the other ways discussed previously.
- Don’t let your cat near your face
Keeping your kitty on your lap and out of your face is another tactic to curb headbutting. You don’t have to be forceful, but you do have to be consistent. Every time your cat tries to get near your face to headbutt, gently push him or her back down to your lap. Then give him or her lots of pets. Allow your cat to headbutt you on your chest or your leg if he or she still has the urge.
Getting a headbutt from your cat should make you feel honored. Cats reserve headbutting for only those that they feel closest to and most comfortable with. It’s their way of saying I love you, trust you, and feel safe around you. So take as many headbutts as you can get. However, if your kitty isn’t one to show their affection in the form of a headbutt, don’t worry. I’m sure your cat has found other ways to make you feel loved and show you that you are forever a part of their cat family.