Why Cats Headbutt, And Should You Headbutt Them Back?

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Does this sound familiar?

Your cat jumps into your lap, and instead of getting cozy, she bops her head against your chin, cheek, or forehead. Sometimes she includes a quick rub (doing her best to get fur all in your mouth), and sometimes she hits so hard it actually hurts. The encounter lasts only a few seconds, and then she’s probably purring in your lap. What’s the deal?

If a human ever headbutts you in the face, you better get out of their way. But with your cat, things are different. Cats headbutt other cats, furniture, and their favorite humans.

Here’s a quick rundown explaining why cats headbutt and what it means.

When Cats Headbutt Other Animals

Technically, the cat headbutt we’re so familiar with is called head bunting. Bunting is a behavior associated with social bonding, and even big cats do it with their friends and family. Lions like to headbutt other members of their pride as a way of recognizing their family dynamic. According to cat behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennet, putting their head so close to another is a sign of trust and friendliness. 

cat headbutt

Cats also headbutt as a way to mark and exchange scents. Felines have scent glands all over their bodies. When they rub their head on another cat, they create a group scent that signifies a close bond.

When Cats Headbutt Furniture

While cat headbutting can signify a social bond, what does it mean when your cat headbutts your sofa? Are they saying they’re best friends with your furniture?

Not exactly.

While some behaviorists say headbutting an inanimate object can be a cat’s way of recognizing that object’s familiarity, it’s more likely to do with scents and territory. Cats use the scent glands located on their cheeks to mark their territory. It lets other animals know that territory has already been claimed, and it also makes the area seem more safe and comforting to the cat.

It’s important to never confuse headbutting with head pressing. If your cat is consistently pressing their head against the wall, floor, or furniture, it could be a sign of a serious neurological disorder.

Click here to learn more.

cat headbutt

When Cats Headbutt Humans

Cats headbutt humans for the same reasons they headbutt other animals and even the furniture. It’s their way of expressing a familial relationship and using scent as a marker. Marking you with her own scent makes your cat feel even safer around you than she did before.

Super friendly cats might feel confident enough to headbutt just about anyone they meet, but most cats reserve bunting for their favorite humans..Consider it your cat’s way of saying, “We’re in this together, pal.”

There’s also the chance that your cat’s headbutting is a way to seek attention. She knows you can’t ignore her when her face is pressed up against yours. It’s an excellent way to solicit scratches.

Should You Headbutt Your Cat?

If you know your cat likes to put their head close to yours, go ahead and try out your own headbutt. Keep it slow and gentle and see how your cat reacts. She’ll most likely return the gesture and headbutt you back. 

Your cat knows you don’t speak the same language, but understanding feline body language is a great way to communicate. You can tell your cat how you feel about her in a way she’ll fully understand.

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11 Comments

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  1. I have one kitty that head bunts and loves on my husband all day but never me. If I catch her off guard laying in her favorite box or bed she’ll accept my head bunts and scratches but never reciprocates 🤷‍♀️ She was a feral rescue that I bottle fed because she was abandoned at 3-4 weeks old. Is it because she sees me as the dominant female? She does tend to challenge me every so often when I’m not looking, as in attacking my arms or ankles when I’m not paying attention to her but she shys away from any sort of affection I try and show her.. She usually stops, sniffs my hand,gives me a funky look and walks away. She’s a very unique queen in my eyes and I wouldn’t trade her for the world but I would absolutely love to be able to understand her a little better and be able to get more affectionate attention from her. I leave her alone for the most part until she seeks me out for play time or food. Still no loves though after 2-1/2 years.

    • Hi Emily,
      I feel your frustration. I also have a feral born bottle baby that came to us at 48 hours old. She is a TOTAL Daddy’s Girl. Although I wish our bond was stronger since I did most of the care taking, I am fortunate to have other kitties that reciprocate affection.
      I know that she trusts me because she seeks me out for playtime (like your kitty does with you) and sits vigilantly by my side when I have felt sick. But I still can’t pet her. That’s just her way of interacting with me, and I have had to learn to accept that’s where she’s at and not make it about me being pleasing to her or not.
      The biting and scratching part? My own experience with cats is when they are acting up, they need or want something from their person. She’s young at 2.5 years, so she still has a lot of energy. Try playing with her more. If I were you, I would pocket a couple of her favorite toys, like a laser pointer, or some catnip mice. Hopefully you have a good idea of when she’s going to start being scratchy-bitey, so before she gets at you like that, toss a toy, or get her to vanquish the dreaded red-dot foe! If you haven’t already done the “preemptive play time”, try it and see if it helps.
      With all of that said, my cat’s attitude improved with me with this one change in care:
      I have her Daddy drop her off at the vet for appointments, but I get to pick her up. There’s something about “saving her” from the “sharpy-pokey-needle place” that helps improve our situation for several weeks. Give it a shot (no pun intended) and see if it helps bring the two of you closer together, even if it doesn’t last long.
      Oh, and even though she will never say it or admit it – thank you for rescuing her.

  2. I have a skitty kitty, I have found that bunting her has made her less anxious. She know that I’m hers, full stop.
    But sometimes we both go in for a bunt…. ouch!!

  3. A cat head bunting a human is the greatest Complimentary gesture a cat can offer to humans.The human should feel lucky to be in the receiving end of one.

  4. thanks for the clarification. My male headbutts me and I headbutt him back. He purrs. I just thought he was a little weird because the other cats don’t do it.

  5. I have a male cat that head butts and wants kisses constantly. He will head butt lips and then kiss you. He a true lover boy. Just will sit on my chest and sleep with me. Seems to be a very aware of when I have a migraine and that is very soothing when he lays on me. He loves to lay next to my husband at night by his side on his back with my husband’s hand on his belly

  6. My cats have never head butted me. Some have been clingy (even excessively clingy) for a belly rub or kisses. But they don’t head butt. I always assumed it was because I didn’t snuggle face to face with them as kittens.

  7. i feed stray cats, and they do that whenever they see me. Maybe you don’t need to be familiar with them, just let them feel that they’re safe enough whenever they approach you or vice versa.

  8. Our 5 yr old black cat, Marley, is always waiting for a headbutt whenever we arrive home. He sits on the arm of our couch so it’s become a ‘thing’ that we have to go through the same routine, even if we’ve only been out to the car and back! lol

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Written by Amber King

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