Why Cats Give Head Bunts


Have you ever been petting a cat when he inexplicably starts knocking his head into your hand, leg or the side of your sofa? Perhaps you lifted your hand and your cat crashes rights into your palm. You may have felt discouraged when your cat seemed to be enjoying your attention and leaves to rub his head on your armchair. It caused you to wonder why the cat seems to prefer the chair to you. Don’t take it personally.  We’ll explain what head bunting is all about.



Head bunting is the correct term for head butting when describing feline behavior. To cats, it is like a handshake but is much more complex and involved. Most of the cats’ scent glands are located in various places on its head. When a cat head bunts you, it is welcoming you as part of its society. It is trying to make sure that you have the same scent as the rest of the gang. We might not pick up on the scent, but they, like other cats in their society, do. The cats’ scent glands are located underneath the ears and on the cheeks. It hits or rubs these areas against a person or object to spread its scent.



A cat will head bunt when it feels like it is in a dominant position and is acting like the leader of the group. All cats like to leave their scent. The confident ones will do it to establish a connection with humans and other animals.  Two cats that do not live together that meet up, will sniff and then head bunt to establish a connection. This is similar to people greeting each other with a handshake, a hug or a look of recognition. The cat is trying to bring the other party into the fold by giving him or her its scent. Cats, like most other animals, are dependent on a kind of social conformity.  Scent sharing is the way of establishing membership in a group.



Cats who do not feel in a dominant position will not head bunt but will leave their scent through urine. This happens more often when there are multiple cats in the house. When one cat feels dominated by the presence of other cats it may spray. Spraying, or spreading urine, is a way for the cat to achieve dominance. It may do this when it feels as though it is being encroached upon by other cats. When a cat head bunts, feel reassured that the cat feels comfortable in your presence and is in a good mood. Head bunting is a way of saying “I like you and I want you to be a part of my group”.



When cats head-bunt objects it is a bit like graffiti and a bit like establishing partial ownership of a place. A cat will rub its head against a sofa, a table, or other objects as a way of saying, “Fi-Fi was here.” You might notice this behavior more in places where there are multiple cats. Cats will do this when there is competition over establishing boundaries. Cats will also head bunt with other animals they like, such as family dogs. If you have a canine who has ever been on the receiving end of head bunting, you might notice its confusion. This is because it probably doesn’t know what to do in that situation.



Understanding head bunting can help you realize that your cat does like you. Some people feel that cats are standoffish and solitary. They may not be sure whether the cat is happy with them or not. If your cat comes right up to you and bunts his head against yours and looks right into your eyes it is giving you a message. It is trying to tell you that it wants your attention and that it likes you. For cats who are both predators and prey, this is an act of trust. It is important for cats to establish trust. They sometimes feel vulnerable with humans. The head bunting is like a seal of approval for a cat. It’s saying you are an okay human.



Though head bunting is a sign of comfort and trust, there are some kinds of head movements in cats that are a concern.  If your cat is not head bunting, but is actually pressing its head into objects while showing signs of distress see a vet. Your cat could be suffering from health issues including hypertension or neurological problems.  If your cat presses its head firmly against something and holds it there see a vet.


The head bunting behavior should give you some sense of how best to pet your cat. You may think your cat is unhappy with you but may not realize that the way you are petting your cat may be a factor. Many people make the mistake of immediately scratching the cats’ flank, or rubbing its belly. Even if the cat seems to present its’ belly, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they want a human to rub it. You should start by petting the cats’ head first. Then, the area under the ears, which is where its scent glands are located. You can then move on to the cheeks, where their whiskers are, saving the chin for last. Once you establish this kind of familiarity with your cat, you can then proceed to pet the kitty in other areas.

If you like this article you should read “Purring: What Your Cat Is Trying to Tell You.”

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