Skip to main content

This is why your cat headbutts you

After you’ve been out for the day, you may have noticed that when you come home and sit down on the couch, your cat greets you in an unusual way. In addition to rubbing up against you, your cat might headbutt your head, hand, or legs. It might seem like just a passing glance, but there’s actually significant meaning behind a similar behavior called bunting. So, why do cats bunt or headbutt? It’s an important means of communication and can have multiple meanings behind it. The more you understand about this behavior, the better you’ll understand your cat.

Head bunting to bond

In many cases, cats head-bunt as a form of bonding. When cats head-bunt, they activate the scent glands on their heads, which are just below the ear. By rubbing against you, cats are transferring their smell to you, which means you’ll smell and be accepted as one of them. This is similar to what cats would do when living in a colony — they’d head-bunt others so all the cats share the same scent.

In this case, head bunting is a sign of affection and acceptance. Your cat is welcoming you into his world and even giving you the honor of smelling like him. This is something that your cat would be likely to do when you’ve arrived home after being out of the house, and he feels that it’s time to change your scent.

Longhaired cat being held by a girl and rubbing his chin against her
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Head bunting in affection

Cats also head-bunt as a sign of affection. You can often tell when this is the case by watching your cat’s body language. He may purr, lie down periodically, flop over on your feet, and soften his eyes as he head-bunts you. He’s showing you how comfortable he is with you and how much he loves you.

Your cat is most likely to head-bunt out of affection when he’s feeling relaxed and secure. He might approach you while you’re sitting on the couch or are otherwise relatively quiet and still.

How to respond to head bunting

When your cat head-bunts you, he’s showing you affection and telling you that he loves you. Be flattered and happy that your cat trusts you and likes you so much that he’s comfortable doing this behavior. A cat who head-bunts you has accepted you as part of his family, and he’s demonstrating that bond with his behavior.

If you’re lucky enough to have your cat head-bunt you, respond with affection, but cautiously. Your cat needs to trust you to be comfortable with your patting him while and after he’s head-bunting you. However, if you know your cat well and he fully trusts you, then he will probably appreciate some mutual affection. If your cat loves to have his chin scratched or the back of his neck rubbed, this is the time to treat him to some nice patting. Just keep an eye on his body language and make sure that your cat stays comfortable through the whole process.

Cat stretching out and rubbing its chin against a corner
Image used with permission by copyright holder

A note about head pressing

It’s possible to confuse head bunting with another cat behavior — head pressing. The two behaviors indicate distinctly different things, and head pressing is a cause for concern.

If your cat head-presses, he is indicating that he’s uncomfortable. He may walk up to a wall and stand, pushing his head onto the wall. Some cats may even vocalize if they’re in distress. If you witness your cat head-pressing against a wall, furniture, or another object, call your vet right away. This behavior could indicate a neurological issue or another health problem that needs to be addressed.

Hopefully, you never witness head pressing but do get to see your cat head-bunting you. This natural behavior indicates that your cat accepts you and feels affectionate toward you, and you should take it as a compliment. Head bunting is just one behavior that cats do to communicate. Learning more about cat body language and posture can help you better read the messages your cat is trying to convey to you. When you understand your cat’s body language well, you can tell when your cat wants affection, when he wants to be left alone, and when he’s feeling upset and may need a little extra support. Learning body language is a great way to deepen your understanding of and your bond with your cat.

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…
When can kittens eat dry food? The lowdown on what you should feed them
Tips on feeding your new kitten
A tabby kitten standing in a bowl of kibble

Caring for kittens is hard work, but it's one of the most rewarding experiences of a lifetime. Not only are you responsible for the most adorable little lives, but you get to watch them grow and thrive! Preparing to keep them fed and happy, however, is a lot more work. 

Just like human babies have different nutritional needs than adults, kittens have different dietary requirements than adult cats. With few exceptions, your new feline fur baby is considered a kitten for the first year of life. (Large cat breeds like Norwegian forest cats and Maine Coon cats mature more slowly and don't reach adulthood until they're two years old.) Have you ever asked yourself, "When can kittens eat dry food?" We'll give you the full scoop on what you should feed your kittens — and when to change their diet.
Do kittens need wet and dry food? 

Read more
Why do cats lick themselves? It goes beyond just cat grooming
This totally normal behavior could mean a few different things
A cat licking his paw while lying in front of a blue background

Cats spend the majority of their time doing one of a few things: eating, resting, grooming, using the litter box, or causing havoc. Their routines can become predictable at times, so it's not even worth a second glance when you catch your cat licking themselves as obviously -- and loudly -- as possible. Cats groom themselves all the time, after all, but when does licking become a bit too much?
Even though cat grooming is completely normal, if it becomes noticeably excessive, your kitty may be licking themselves -- or even licking you -- for another reason. Luckily, we can help you understand why cats lick themselves and how you can tell what may be going on. Here's what you'll want to know and what to look out for.

Is my cat grooming? When licking is normal

Read more
Why do cats open their mouths when they smell? It’s for a really cool reason
The Flehmen response is a little-known reaction in felines that allows them to take in more of their surroundings
A white and tabby cat with their mouth open

Think of the last time you smelled something foul. How did you react? If you're truly made of steel, you may not have reacted at all, but for most people, it's impossible not to flare your nostrils at least. You may have even made a face! All of these reactions are perfectly natural, though humans aren't the only species that reacts to smells, both good and bad. Even your cuddly cat sniffs out the world around them sometimes,
If you've ever noticed your cat reacting to a smell, you're not alone. Some folks have even noticed their cat opening their mouth -- and even sticking out their tongue -- while smelling, but it's not so clear what this means. Is this a reaction to a scent, or is it just a way to get an extra thorough sniff? Whatever it may be, we're here to find out.
Needless to say, you're not alone if you're wondering, "Why do cats open their mouths when they smell?" We've scoured trusted sources to find out, and this is what we know.

Why do cats open their mouths when they smell?
Watching your curious cat open their mouth in a kind of sneer while they get a good sniff of something can raise a lot of questions -- it's understandable. When people do this, it's usually a response to an unpleasant smell, but when cats do this, they're actually trying to get a better understanding of the scent in the air.

Read more