Picture this: you’re sitting at the table, minding your own business, reading a book (definitely not staring at your phone) when out of nowhere… bonk! Your cat headbutts you. You look up to see Bubba, the eight-year-old tabby with the extra-long tooth who you found rummaging through your bins a few years ago, standing there, staring at you.
“Hello,” you say. “Why did you headbutt me?”
Nothing. Bubba’s not much of a talker.
You return your attention to TikTok – er, your book. And…bonk!
“What?” you ask, suddenly noticing a wisp of wet belly fluff wrapped around that one extra-long tooth. There’s a hair-ball coming, you think to yourself as you glance at your once pristine Made rug, now dappled with remembrances of vomits past.
You turn back to Bubba. So cute. So weird. So frustratingly enigmatic. And as you gaze into his one good eye, he headbutts you for a fourth time. It doesn’t hurt or anything, but you are compelled to ask, “Why, Bubba, why?!”
What does it mean when cats headbutt you?
Headbutting “is one of the ways cats show affection,” says New York-based cat behaviour consultant Jennifer Van de Kieftopens in a new tab. “My cats do it to each other, often. If they rub their cheek on you in the process, they may be marking you. Take it as a huge compliment.”
What are the reasons for cats' headbutts?
There are all sorts of reasons why cats headbutt – here are some of the most common ones:
1. To show affection
Most of the time, headbutting (or head ‘bunting’) is just another one of the curious ways cats express their affectionopens in a new tab for you. It can also be a sign of respect for their human parent.
2. To mark their territory
Don’t you know that you belong to your cat, not the other way around? When a cat headbutts you, they’re also literally trying to rub their scent off on you so you're ‘marked’ as theirs.
3. To show their trust
Cats don’t headbutt humans they don’t like or trust! And they definitely won’t headbutt a cat or other animal they don‘t get along with.
4. To express dominance
Sometimes cats headbutt because they are trying to show their power – this is common in households where there is more than one cat and they want to express dominance.
5. To get your attention
Hello, human, pay attention to me. You can’t really ignore your cat when they’re headbutting you. They may just want your companyopens in a new tab or it may be them trying to tell you that their water bowl is empty.
6. Because something is ‘off‘
Headbutting you doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong (see above) but if your cat is doing it excessively and you see other concerning behaviours, bring them to the vet because they may be sick or in pain.
How should I respond to my cat’s headbutts?
You may be wondering, Should I headbutt my cat back? “You could offer your head to see if they’d like to bump it, but I’d leave it up to the cat to decide,” says Jennifer. “You can gently reciprocate when your cat does it to you by leaning in.”
Are there situations where I should avoid headbutting with my cat?
In general, Jennifer says “It’s a sweet, affectionate behaviour. If your cat is excessively marking you, I might be concerned that they are feeling insecure, in which case, you can alleviate their anxiety by providing consistent, positive and predictable human-cat interactions.”
However, if it’s head pressing and not head butting, that’s a different story: instead of trying to rub off their scent on you, your cat might press their head against yours to indicate that they are not feeling well. If your cat also appears disoriented or in pain, go to your vet asap.
Frequently asked questions
Is headbutting a common behaviour in all cats?
Headbutting is a fairly common behaviour in cats – it’s a form of social bonding for felines and often a show of affection to you.
What does it mean when my cat headbutts my face?
Generally, it means that your cat is showing their affection – they’re rubbing their scent on your head so you know that they trust you (and you belong to them).
Are there other reasons for headbutting besides affection?
Other reasons cats headbutt include showing they trust you, marking their territory, getting your attention and expressing dominance.
Should I seek professional advice if my cat’s headbutting concerns me?
Any time your cat’s behaviour is concerning you, of course take them to see the vet. Especially if they appear to be head ‘pressing’ and not bunting.
Charles Manning is an actor, writer, and fashion/media consultant living in New York City with his two cats, Pumpkin and Bear. Follow him on Instagram @charlesemanningopens in a new tab.
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