At one point or another, head bunting is something that all cat owners experience. It’s a strange little thing that most cats do. Some do it a lot, and some quite rarely. While it may seem strange that your cat regularly does a small head-butt, it is quite a natural behaviour. It can be hard to interpret just what your cat is trying to tell you with this head bunting. After all, most people don’t smash their heads into each other to communicate. So why do cats head bunt?

Most pet owners don’t mind this. For some animals though, it can become excessive! A cat can sometimes begin to communicate an awful lot through head bunting. They will bunt your head, your face, your leg, and just about anything else they can reach. If your cat’s behaviour becomes a problem, this may be something you have to address. There are a few methods you can use to cut down on cat head bunting. However, there are plenty of reasons not to cut down on it.

What is Cat Head Bunting?

Cat head bunting is a weird behaviour, but one that you should take as a compliment! A cat will smoosh their face against yours (or whatever else they’re bunting). Sometimes they’ll do this with some force and sometimes it will be quite light.

Cats will do this to humans and to other cats! Some cats might even do it to other inanimate things in your home. In any case, cat head bunting is a fairly universal cat behaviour. Since they do it quite often and sometimes irrelevant of their surroundings, researchers have a pretty good idea about why.

Why Do Cats Head Bunt?

A cat head bunting is a quite common behaviour. There are a few different explanations for why they do this. Cats have glands all over their body that produce pheromones. These emit smells and signals that cats use to communicate. Quite a few of these glands are located around the face. There are some on their paws, in their mouths, on their chin, and all over ears. This means that when they head bunt, they emit these pheromones.

Cats use all of these glands to emit pheromones on things. They decide which gland to use depending on the location of what they want to mark. Some things are easier to mark with paws. Others can be taken care of by swiping their tail in a specific way. However, for many things, the easiest way to spread these scents is to use all of the glands that they have on their face and head in general. In this case, they use head bunting to spread the scent.

Cats use head bunting to mark other things with their pheromones. However, this is just one form of communication. It is behaviour that is done by both cats who are domesticated and those in the wild. Cats living with other cats will often head bunt as a way to show dominance. They mark other cats in their group with their smell. In other situations, this can mean something else. All head bunting is done to communicate, although the purpose of the communication can vary.

What are Cats Saying with Head Bunting?

When a cat head bunts, they are communicating with their owner. The exact definition of what they’re trying to say with a head bunt varies. However, there are some common situations that cats head bunt in where we have a vague understanding of their message.

Head Bunting Owners

Cats will often head bunt their owners. While this is something that they also do to other cats, they only do it to people or things that they like. Head bunting owners is a bonding ritual for a cat. This puts the cat in a very vulnerable position to you. An acknowledgment that they care about you.

Cats pick up on a lot of information through scents. These little messages in pheromones can be read by other cats. However, even other species that rely a lot on scent don’t quite understand it. The scent a cat uses to a dog is like a person speaking in an unknown language. Despite everyone else’s ignorance, cats head bunt anyone to express affection. It doesn’t matter to them if you understand it or not.

Head Bunting Other Cats

Cats will head bunt other cats both in the wild and in domesticity. Compared with head bunting people, doing it to other cats gives more of a message about their social standing than just affection. A dominant cat will use head bunts to communicate with other cats. However, a cat further down the pecking order or a shy cat will avoid doing it. They will more often use their urine to mark their scent. When the act is between two cats, the way they spread their scent can tell you about their standing.

Head Bunting Other Animals

If you live in a household with cats and dogs, you might have caught your pet head bunting the other pet. This behaviour means much the same thing as when directed at people. They are expressing affection to the other pet, even if the pet doesn’t quite understand what is being said.

Bunting Other Things

A cat might even head bunt against furniture or other inanimate things in your home. It might seem a bit strange that they’re expressing affection for a favourite chair. However, this is just part of your cat communicating with their scents. They will have determined that their head is the best thing to use to mark that object of furniture with their own scent. While most cat furniture is going to be marked just from play, some things that are higher up might require a cat head bunt to mark it.

cat head bunting

Photo by Anton Petrov

Should You Let Your Cat Head Bunt?

Head bunting is a perfectly natural behaviour that should be interpreted as a compliment. Since it is a bonding exercise, it is more important that you respond in the right way. You shouldn’t tell your cat off for this. They might interpret this as you reacting badly to trying to bond. This could ruin the bond that you have with your pet. Give them a brief fuss for a head rub to return the affection.

How Much Head Bunting is Normal?

Sometimes though, a cat can become used to getting what they want in return for a head bunt. They may learn that the way to get the attention that they want is to head bunt. This can lead to excessive head bunting as a cat uses is to get whatever they want. In this case, you should stop indulging your cat every time they do it. If a cat is doing it excessively, it may be trying to get attention rather than to just show affection. It is likely a mixture of a two, reminding you of your bond with them so you will give them the attention that they crave.

How to Get a Cat to Stop Head Bunting

If your cat is head bunting excessively, you may want to try and discourage the behaviour. While it is fine for cats to do it sometimes, doing this too much can be a problem. You shouldn’t try to eliminate the behaviour entirely. After all, it is a mark of affection. However, there are some steps you can take to communicate to your cat that you’re a bit busy for getting that kind of attention right now.

Distraction

A good tactic for getting your cat to stop excessively head bunting is just to distract them. If your cat is doing it to get your attention and won’t take I’m busy for an answer, you might need to resort to distraction. Try to have a toy to hand to remind them there are other things to do. If they become too annoying, giving them a toy should give them a distraction. This will prod them to remember there are things they can be doing without having you around at all times. Everyone needs a little time alone, even pets.

Training

Training your cat not to head bunt can be done like any other training. Reinforcing them for good behaviour when they stop when told, and ignoring them for unwanted behaviour. However, since this is an affectionate type of behaviour, it isn’t the best idea to try and train them not to do it entirely. It is a bit mean to train your cat that their way of expressing affection is wrong, it could send your cat some weird messages.

Cat head bunting might seem like a strange behaviour, but it is really quite normal. You shouldn’t punish your cat for getting up to this. Instead, your cat should be politely rewarded for their affection. As long as your cat doesn’t begin to head bunt just to get attention, this is a harmless thing to happen. If your cat does begin to do it too much, then there are ways to addresses this. However, as long as the head bunting is an occasional occurrence rather than an annoyance this behaviour should be encouraged rather than scolded.