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Cat bunting heads with a young woman

The essentials

  • Head bunting varies — Head bunting behavior differs depending on the individual cat. Some cats aggressively bunt, while others may be more gentle.
  • Head butting releases pheromones — Glands on their head and chin release pheromones, which transfer through rubbing or head bunting.
  • It’s a way to communicate — Head bunting transfers scents and communicates with other cats.

As a cat owner, your cat has probably head bunted you at some point. Your cat uses this behavior to communicate. If your cat has never done this before, don’t worry. Every cat is different, and not all cats exhibit this behavior. Here’s what pet owners should know about cat head bunting.

Why do cats head butt?

Head bunting behavior, commonly called head butting, is what it sounds like. Head butting has many meanings. Sometimes, it’s a sign your cat feels safe and happy. Other times, they do it to relax themselves when they feel anxious. When cats head butt, they release pheromone chemicals to communicate with other animals.

While we can’t smell or sense them, other cats can. Glands on their face, cheeks, forehead, and chin release these chemicals during rubbing, signaling their marking to other cats. Unfamiliar cats may also head bunt to get a feel for you and rub their scent on you to make you more familiar.

Cat head bunting vs. head pressing

Head bunting differs from head pressing. When head bunting, your cat appears calm, whereas with head pressing, they do not act or appear relaxed. This behavior is usually compulsive and directed at an object, wall, or corner. Other symptoms of head pressing include pacing, self-injury, vision changes, disorientation, behavioral changes , and increased vocalization. Head pressing may indicate a serious medical condition and, when accompanied by any other symptoms, head pressing warrants a vet visit immediately.

6 reasons why cats head bunt

Some cats show affection by bunting their heads. Your cat may gently (or more aggressively) press their head against yours, usually while purring, closing their eyes, or rubbing their head back and forth. Here are some reasons why cats head bunt.

1. Marking surroundings

For cats that head bunt, it signifies that they love you. Cats rely on their sense of smell to communicate. When a cat head butts you, they mark you with their scent, indicating a bond and acceptance. This behavior also creates a reassuring and familiar environment, ensuring you carry their scent.

While head butting shows affection, it’s also about exchanging scents. Unlike urine spraying or marking, head butting helps cats make you and their environment smell like them, establishing a safe and comfortable space.

2. Self-soothing

Cats also rub their face on you, or head butt, to self-soothe and regulate their emotional states. They often purr and look relaxed, indicating their happiness and relaxation. This behavior can help them feel secure and reduce stress.

Another self-soothing behavior is kneading or “making biscuits,” often associated with safety and contentment. Both head butting and kneading provide cats with a sense of security and emotional balance while also releasing more of their scent.

3. Social ranks

Head bunting also involves a social aspect. A dominant cat is more confident and may initiate head bunting. Beyond affection, the dominant cat’s job is to spread the family’s scent. Despite whether a cat is feral or domesticated, head butting is a sign of trust and serves as a bonding experience.

4. Attention seeking

Some cats may not enjoy head scratches, so when they present their head during head butting, they may seek attention  . Usually, this behavior invites you to interact with them, showing that your cat trusts you.

Giving attention after head butting reinforces the behavior and may result in them doing this more often. This can strengthen the bond between you and your cat and contribute to their sense of security and well-being, making them feel more connected and loved.

If you worked all day, your cat may head bunt to seek attention after being gone or to request their dinner. Every cat is different, so pay attention to their other body language or vocalizations.

5. Showing affection

Cats also head butt to show affection and mark you as someone special. Consider it a compliment when a cat head butts you — this is how they show they’ve chosen you, signifying their trust.

Cats also exhibit this affectionate behavior toward other household pets like dogs, cats, or rabbits. Since they can’t talk, this is a way for cats to express and communicate their love and show you affection.

6. Making a request

While meowing is one of the most common ways cats communicate with humans, they have many other behaviors they use to speak to us as well. When they head butt, they may request head scratches, food, treats, or playtime.

7. Checking you out

Is an unfamiliar or new family cat head bunting you? They may use this behavior to check you out and figure out more about you. Before reacting, slowly offer your hand for an initial sniff. Some cats may or may not feel comfortable enough to stick around, so letting them sniff first can let them warm up to you while they assess you.

Not all cats head bunt

Confident and dominant cats likely exhibit this behavior more forcefully than timid, less confident ones. Aside from the dominant cat’s confidence, it’s their job to spread the colony’s scent throughout the household.

You have nothing to worry about if your cat doesn’t head butt because not all cats do this behavior. Head butting is just one way of communicating. All cats have unique personalities, so some may prefer different ways of showing affection.

Look for other signs of affection if your cat doesn’t head butt. These signs include grooming or licking you, slowly blinking, or bringing you gifts. Cats showing affection may also greet you at the door, knead, keep their tail upright, or stay close to you.

How to react to head bunting

It’s common to feel unsure about how to react when a cat head butts you. Understanding this behavior and appropriately responding can strengthen your bond with one another. Pay close attention to their body language and other context clues like purring, vocalizing, or acting relaxed. These cues can help you interpret and understand what they’re seeking.

Start by scratching their favorite spots. If they respond positively and continue showing affection, keep scratching. If they walk away, try following them. They may lead you to something they want, like toys or food in their bowl. Follow them to see if they guide you to a location or item, especially if they persistently head butt you.

While offering treats is an easy way to respond, treats can create a habit where your cat expects them after every head bunt. Sometimes if you’re occupied with something else, they may head butt just to get your attention.

Other ways cats show affection

Cats show affection in ways that may seem like normal behaviors, and head bunting is just one way they do this. While each cat is different, some common affection behaviors include:

  • Purring. Cats purr to express a range of feelings. Cats use purring to communicate with us, whether feeling joy, stress, or pain .
  • Blinking. Although it seems insignificant, if your cat sits and slowly blinks at you, they enjoy your company. Try blinking back or giving them pets or kisses.
  • Grooming. Most know cats constantly groom and clean themselves. Occasionally, they turn to their owners and groom them too. Aside from cleanliness, this is their way of sharing their scent and showing affection and trust.
  • Kneading. Kneading or “making biscuits” is a technique cats use when they are kittens to stimulate milk flow in their mothers. This slow, rhythmic motion (which looks like kneading dough) makes your cat feel comfortable and relaxed.
  • Meowing. Meowing is one of the most common ways cats communicate with humans . While meowing and vocalizations can represent many things, it’s their way of talking and showing affection.
  • Sleeping. Sleeping on your lap, arm, legs, face, or even near you signifies affection. Cats need between 13 and 16 hours of sleep daily and choose safe and secure places. If they choose to sleep on you, they feel completely at ease and trust you.
  • Rolling. When cats roll over and expose their belly, they love and trust you. This vulnerable position means they feel safe and comfortable.

Head bunting is a completely normal behavior. However, contact your veterinarian immediately if you notice head pressing into an object followed by other unusual symptoms. Cherish the deep connection and bond you and your cat have, and relish in the head bunting or love you receive from your cat.

Frequently asked questions

What does it mean when a cat head bunts you?

Cats usually head bunt to show affection, mark you, seek attention, or request something. In many cases, head bunting shows they trust and love you, while in unfamiliar situations, they may do this behavior to learn more about someone.

How do you respond to a cat’s head butt?

Pay attention to their body language and vocalizations. Give them pets, follow them, or give them your full attention. From there, you’ll have a better idea of what they want.

Do cats like it when you kiss them on the head?

This is entirely dependent on the cat. Some cats like head kisses for their non-intrusiveness, while others may not like this at all. Watching your cat’s behavior gives you clues about their receptiveness to kisses on the head.

How do you know if your cat loves you?

Cats show love by head bunting, purring, rolling, blinking, and sleeping on you. Every cat is unique, and some cats show their love in very different ways from one another.

Do cats pick one person to bond with?

Some cats bond with one person, while others don’t. It depends on the individual cat.