Skip to main content

PawTracks may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

Does your cat bump heads with you? This is what your pet is really trying to tell you

Find out the reasons behind this strange cat behavior

A young girl hugs and kisses a long-haired orange and white cat.
oes / Shutterstock

Cats use their posture, movements, and vocalizations in all sorts of ways to convey important messages about how they’re feeling and what they want. At first glance, some of these behaviors might seem odd or even irrelevant, but even small actions can hold big meanings for cats.

A cat bumping its head against your body is one of these. You might think that your cat is just trying to scratch an itch or get your attention, but head bumping holds important meaning to cats. If your cat bumps his head against you, you should feel flattered. And, if you’re inclined, you can even mimic this same behavior to convey a message to your cat.

Calico cat rubbing against a woman's cheek
Kristi Blokhin / Shutterstock

What does cat head bumping mean?

According to Animal Medical Center, when your cat head bumps you, he’s showing that he accepts and loves you. Head bumping is a way that cats demonstrate unity within their colony, so if your cat bunts against your head, face, or leg, he’s expressing that he’s accepted you as a member of his clan, and he wants other cats to know that.

The scent glands on a cat’s head produce pheromones and then those pheromones get rubbed onto you when he knocks against you. The result is that you smell like your cat, and other cats will be able to recognize that and understand that you’re a member of your kitty’s family.

It’s a good thing if your feline head bumps you. You can return your cat’s affection by gently headbutting him back. Your cat might also appreciate some chin scratches or gentle pets. Watch to see if he’s purring during this time — you can potentially use head-bumping sessions as valuable bonding opportunities.

Keep in mind that if your cat learns that he gets extra attention when he head bumps you, he might start to rub his head on you whenever he wants to be the center of attention.

Man giving friendly head butt to cat.
Yuliya kota / Pexels

Why is my cat bumping their head on the door?

If your cat is bumping his head against objects such as the door or the furniture, he’s marking these spaces as part of his territory. PetMD explains that when your cat head bumps objects, she’s often using the scent glands in her cheek to mark them. By doing so, she identifies the objects as being familiar. Your cat is identifying her surroundings and creating a space where she feels safe. It’s a positive behavior — if your cat felt threatened and needed to mark items to keep other cats away, she’d be more likely to spray the items.

Animal Medical Center explains that it’s important to watch for the difference between head bumping and head pressing. If your cat presses her head steadily against you instead of rubbing it back and forth, she may be indicating that she’s in pain. Watch to see if she does this behavior repeatedly; if that happens, make an appointment with your vet. Your cat doc needs to perform a thorough examination to determine and treat the source of her pain.

cat and vet
4 PM production / Shutterstock

What to do if my cat hits their head?

Occasionally, your cat might hit her head harder than a playful bump. Head trauma in all animals can become serious. Sometimes this happens during a fight or fall, so you should check her out if you see any signs of a more significant head injury. A small bang might just mean a light scrape and no serious damage, but a harder smack could result in serious hurt.
Cats who have sustained head trauma can pass out or have seizures. No matter how bad the head injury, you should contact your vet for a full evaluation. In severe cases, surgery might be required, but some lighter bumps will just need a checkup and some rest.
Tiger cat yawning and stretching in the sun
Muhammad Rizqi Kurnia / Shutterstock

What if my cat doesn’t headbutt me?

If your cat doesn’t headbutt you, it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t accept you or love you. According to the Pet Care Clinic of Doral, some cats just aren’t big on head bumping. Because head bumping is a behavior that’s determined by a cat’s hierarchy in a group of felines, only the most confident cats practice this behavior. Your cat might not be one of the super-confident types, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you.

You can look for other signs to get a sense of how your cat feels about you. Learning to read your cat’s body language can provide you with valuable information about how he feels about you and your surroundings. The more time you spend watching your cat, the better able you’ll be to understand him. Head bumps are just one way that your cat shows he’s accepted you as part of his family and that he loves you. With time, you’ll be able to tell when your cat’s feeling affectionate, when he wants attention, when he’s frightened and needs reassurance, and when he’s telling you that he’d really prefer if you just left him alone for a bit.

Editors' Recommendations

Paige Cerulli
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Paige's work has appeared in American Veterinarian, Business Insider, Healthline, and more. When she's not writing, Paige…
Cats chirping at birds is totally normal (and here’s why you should encourage it)
This adorable hunting behavior is nothing to be concerned about
A tabby cat with yellow eyes stalks low to the ground

Have you ever spied on your cat looking out the window, crouched and zoned in as if they're getting ready to hunt? This behavior is common among cats -- they're predators, after all -- but some felines even chirp at birds, squirrels, and other small animals. What exactly does this mean? You may hear these chirps and chatters while your furry friend is playing, lounging around, or even in hunting mode, and it's only natural to have questions.
This one is for cat owners who wonder, "Why do cats chirp at birds?" We'll review the reasons why kitties make this sound at birds and other small animals, as well as what -- if anything -- you should do about it. Odds are, these answers will make you smile.

Why do cats chirp at birds?

Read more
Why do cats fight? They’re not just being jerks
The real reasons your cats might be fighting
A close-up of gray striped cat hissing

When cats display behaviors that we humans consider socially unacceptable or quirky, the temptation is often to say, "Cats!" or "What jerks."

Sometimes, these statements are all in good fun and tongue-in-cheek. Think: Is my cat plotting against me when they stare? Does Kitty want me to get fired when they hop on my work-from-home virtual meeting? The truth is that cats don't display behaviors out of spite, though. Instead, behaviors are a form of communication — a clue into your pet's feelings and challenges.

Read more
Why do cats twitch in their sleep? The real reasons behind this curious behavior
Here's when you should be concerned about your cat twitching
Small cat sleeping on her back

While appreciating your cat's various sleeping positions, you may have noticed some twitching. Have you ever wondered why this happens? Are they dreaming? What is going on in their bodies? We've uncovered the reasons behind this peculiar behavior to share what it means, why it's important, and when to be concerned. Read on to answer the question: Why do cats twitch in their sleep?
What are the sleep stages for cats?

On average, cats sleep 15 hours a day as compared to the eight hours of sleep humans (should) get. It would appear that cats understand the value of sleep and prioritize taking time to rest. Sleep helps them recharge, maintains their immune system, and supports their general well-being. Essentially, adult cats experience three stages of sleep and kittens experience four.
Catnaps
The lightest type of sleep is the short “catnaps” felines take. During this stage, cats are very aware of their surroundings. You may notice that while your kitty is taking a catnap, their ears still turn in response to sounds. Initially, wild cats used catnaps (as opposed to deeper sleep) as a natural defense mechanism and passed this behavior to modern domestic cats.
Light sleep
Light sleep is between a catnap and deep sleep in terms of the level of awareness cats experience. In this stage, cats are still able to pounce at a moment's notice if necessary. This stage lasts an average of 25 minutes before deep sleep sets in.
Deep sleep
Deep sleep is also known as the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep. When truly sleeping, cats cycle from light sleep to deep sleep and back again. Deep sleep only lasts 5 to 10 minutes at a time and is when cats twitch and likely dream. You may also notice that your pet is harder to wake when they're in this stage.

Read more