A cat headbutting a little girl.
A cat headbutting a little girl. Photography ©ehaurylik | Thinkstock.

The Cat Headbutt: What Does It Mean, and Why Do Cats Do It?

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I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite feline gestures is the cat headbutt. My own cat, Tara, headbutts me constantly when she’s sitting on top of me, and half the time she knocks my glasses off my face when she does it. I don’t mind the temporary inconvenience, because I know what the cat headbutt means.

A gray cat headbutting a guy.
Cats headbutt humans, other cats and even objects. Photography ©Matteo Viviani | Thinkstock.

First, what does a cat headbutt look like?

The cat headbutt is not when cats stick their heads into another cat’s butt, although that could be another amusing definition. When a cat headbutts, she taps her head against you and rubs her cheeks along whatever body part she’s near. Cats also headbutt objects like walls, chairs and furniture.

Why does my cat headbutt me, and what does it mean?

Cats have scent glands all over their bodies, and they use them to leave marks on objects, including you. According to cat behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett, cat headbutting is typically used for bonding and social purposes. “For the cat to place his face so close to yours and engage in this bonding behavior is quite an act of trust,” she says. Johnson-Bennett also explains that this behavior is more properly called cat bunting.

People often inaccurately think that the cat headbutt is just a means of marking territory, but it’s a lot more than that. Scent communication is complex, and while cats do use scent to mark their territory, cat bunting can also be used to create familiarity and show respect.

Johnson-Bennett also says that cat headbutting may be attention-seeking behavior, particularly if your cat butts his head against you and then tucks it down or turns it to the side.

Do cats headbutt other cats as well as people?

Yes. In fact, you’ll often see feline friends rub one another with their heads. Not only does it create the “colony scent,” it helps with bonding as well. It’s a measure of deep trust for another cat to put her head so close to one of her feline companions. So, if you see your cat headbutt another cat, know that it means that they’re buddies.

Cat bunting is also seen in wild cats, so it’s something that comes to cats naturally through millennia of evolution.

An orange cat headbutting his human.
A cat headbutt is just one of the many forms of cat affection. Photography ©Olezzo | Thinkstock.

Why do some cats headbutt and others don’t?

Every cat is different, so don’t worry if your cat doesn’t headbutt you or her fellow felines. There’s a lot of variation in the frequency and intensity of the cat headbutt. And there are tons of other ways that cats show affection.

Don’t confuse head pressing for headbutting

Head pressing is when a cat presses her head against a wall or a piece of furniture relentlessly. Often accompanied by abnormal vocalization or other odd behaviors like circling and disorientation, cat head pressing is a manifestation of a neurological disorder. “Specifically, head pressing and the symptoms that go along with it usually are caused by problems with the central nervous system,” writes Dr. Eric Barchas. “In other words, head pressing occurs when something goes wrong with the brain.”

Featured photograph: ehaurylik | Thinkstock.

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53 thoughts on “The Cat Headbutt: What Does It Mean, and Why Do Cats Do It?”

  1. Pingback: What does it mean when a Cat Headbutts you? – katyscat.com

  2. My kitty likes to crawl on my chest while I sit on the couch. He will come up and start butting his head against my chin then nuzzle me and start purring. It is so adorable and I am the only one in the house he does it with.

    1. Me, too! 6 in the morning, he sill come up, and lay across, usually my chest, then head “bunts” my chin/mouth. He LOVES to be kissed on his head, or rubbed there, or his neck. He is a VERY affectionate kitty! He was “abandoned”, but, not for long because he was soon taken in by a friend, along with his sister, then found homes. We have been together now for about 1 year, 8 months, and he is pretty much an inside kitty-my choice.

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  11. I love when my Penny headbutts me. She gives the best hard pressed face mashed against me headbutt. One of the best part of summers is wearing shorts and her bashing her adorable fluffy face right into my leg.

    1. Amelia Haimovitch

      My male cat does it but his sister doesn’t. I love when he does it except when he follows it up with a nip. I was surprised and happy to watch him try to head butt the dog. Unfortunately she didn’t realize what a breakthrough this was.

  12. Our first cat, Ted, used to head butt occaisionally, most often when he’d been told off. He would go off and sulk then come up to me and pat me with a paw. If I igored him he would start head butting my arm till I stroked him when he curled up on my lap and purred.

  13. Our cat Butter (100% black cat named by a 4 year old) head bunts all the time. A lot of the time he will do it and then just stand there with his head against us. As a side note, our black cats have always been the most affectionate.

    1. Regarding your comment about black cats. I also, believe this to be true. I have had several black cats and they are so affectionate. Over the years, I have had different colored cats and it seems as if the different colors have different personality traits. It’s very interesting.

      1. I have a friend who owns a pet store in Mobridge, SD and there’s a cat there named ‘Coal’, and he is like pure black. I don’t know how old he is, but he is very, very friendly, very loving, very sweet, very affectionate. If he hasn’t seen me in a while, he’ll do a ‘forced headbutt’ in which he runs up to me, gives me a big kiss on my face, then he rubs his face on my hands to force me to pet him. His brother Cisco (a HUGE Himalayan/Ragdoll cat) is very sweet too. The silly thing about Cisco is that he’s so sweet that if he likes you (and he likes most people) he’ll give you a ‘neck hug’ in which he’ll jump on your back, come up to your neck, drape himself around your neck, headbutt you, and purr like a madman the entire time. Cisco does this to me a lot, especially if he hasn’t seen me in a while. He & his brother, as well as some of the resident cats make me laugh all the time. I’ve never heard Coal meow or chirp, but Cisco’s got a very sweet chirpy purry meow he uses to talk to me. Both are very playful cats, and these two will devour just about every kind of friendly attention you can give them!

  14. My kitty, Annie, head-butts me every morning to wake me up. If the butts don’t quite work, she’ll turn around and swish her bushy tail in my face. That always does the trick! (We know where that tail has been, don’t we?!) ^-^

  15. My kitty sits with me at the computer….sometimes on the armrest of the chair, sometimes on my lap….and head bunts like mad. It’s so cute.

  16. Yes we love them the most . They are our best bodies and family . My Mimi is 10 years with us and his very smart most gentil loving cat . He is getting lots of water dripping out from his mouth and comes to head butting to me all the times . Especially in the mornings . I took to the vet where I live but they give antihistamines or an antibiotic after which he doesn’t gets well . So I m not taking him to useless vets here for now and my mimi is the same eating well , playing good ,- just living normal his live with me .
    Is anyone knows what can it be weat mouth – water dropping ?
    Thank you .

    1. Sorry my reply is so late but what does your cat eat? My cat had the same problems for years and they were completely wiped out by changing his food to brands that have no grains in them.

  17. My cat Agnes (we thought Agnes was a girl, when we first got him). He just goes by Aggie now. Lol. He constantly heads butts me. I head butt him back. I definitely feel it is a form of affection. I am the only one in the house he sits on and head butts.

  18. My formerly-feral cat has become quite affectionate with me over the years. I love that when I get in bed, she jumps up next to me and starts butting me with her head. She may then give me a sandpaper kiss or two on my forehead (I kiss her forehead all the time) before she settles in lying against my arm. Listening to her purr relaxes me and makes me happy. I even enjoy hearing her snore. She is the only feline companion I’ve ever had and taking her in was the best decision of my life. She has given me every bit as much as I’ve given her….

  19. Yes, I have head-butters. Each to varying degrees. I even have one who likes ME to initiate the “boop”!
    There is one that is bad. This happens during times of the year when the humidity is low and the air is dry. It is then that there is a lot of static-electricity. so when we go in for the Boop, a ZAP happens. They then give me a look like I did it on purpose, LOL.

  20. My Chessie head-butts like a champ. She’s the Alpha and I get hard head-butts from her whenever she feels like it. So does my husband. It’s common around dinner. She will give us a multi-part head-butt – bip, bip, bip, all in quick succession. Since we don’t get in the way of her Alpha status, she’s a very happy girl!

    1. you might try feeding her when she head butts you. I have found that my cat only does this when she wants something…especially food. I went to a lot of trouble teaching my cats words and now they communicate with me One of them rattles my blinds to tell me it is time to eat, then to make sure I get the message, he then runs to his bowl and looks over at me. he will keep repeating this behavior until I give in. lol

  21. I love it when my cat head butts me. He doesn’t usually head butt my face, but around feeding time, he’ll circle my legs and head butt me. It’s so cute! I take it to mean that he’s excited about the meal, and it’s his way of saying thank you. He’ll also circle me and head butt my legs when I first return home after being away for a while. Love it!

  22. One of my foster cats Nelson is the king of headbutts. And he headbutts hard. Its kind of a joke in my house if you do not want headbutts you cannot make eye contact with Nelson. It does not matter if he has met them before or not. If you make eye contact with him prepare to be headbutted.

    1. That’s extremely funny! I’ve never had a cat headbutt me when eye contact is made. Usually, they run up to me, and if they really like me, then they’ll go as far as sitting in my lap and massage me. However, for me, the headbutt is like a hug.

    2. Oh my gosh!!!! Nelson must be very friendly!!!!! I most certainly wouldn’t mind being smashed in the face real hard with a head bunting cat like him!

  23. My cat head butts my shin when I’m on the phone or Watching TV. Often to the point of bruising.@21lbs male Tabby…..

    1. Ever been forcefully headbutted? I have, and not only that, I’ve had cats forcefully shove their face really hard into my hands for petting while purring loudly like a maniac!!! It gives me a serious case of the giggles, and it makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

  24. Please say a prayer for our big orange tabby, his name is Oliver. He is 17.5 years old. The most affectionate, gentle, playful ,happy kitty I’ve ever known. Ollie monster is in late stage kidney failure and I can see his days with us left are few. Thank you for all the joy you have brought to our lives buddy. You have enriched our family with your love, we will never forget you my feline friend. I will miss your headbutts and your purrs of contentment. ????

    1. I’ve prayed that she/he gets better. Take lots of courage and force to overcome these feelings. Take care . You give and will be giving your best to him/her.

      1. Thank you for your prayers. He is at the vet now. He is not interested in food now, not even tuna. The pain that we feel is the price of 17 years of love and joy. It’s time to stop his suffering and set him free.

        We love you Ollie

          1. Thank you!

            We have him home now, he is eating and drinking a bit. Hopefully he will continue to recover. God bless

        1. Linda Motschiedler

          This brings tears of sadness & but also joy to my eyes remembering our wonderful orang tabby so many years ago who was 20 years old when we had to let him go. His name was Lovey & we got him when my daughter was only 5 and he was her baby. It was like losing our baby. There has never been another cat quite like him although we do animal rescue & have had many “babies” come through our home. Losing each and every one over the years has been painful. I will pray for you but you will get through this pain and I hope you will give all that love you have to another lucky animal when you are ready bc it will help you get past the grief you feel
          Now. God bless you for loving him so much. He was fortunate to have owners like you.

    2. I wish you all the best in this difficult time. Lost my orange girl Emma at 19.5 years old to kidney disease 2 years ago. She was the absolute love of my life. I still feel her spirit with me every day. I don’t think they ever really leave us…our relationship with them just changes form. We just are so lucky to be able to share our lives with them.

      1. Thank you all for your prayers and kindness. Ollie is still with us! After his visit to the vet, his recovery has been quite surprising. He has gradually increased his food intake, and seems much more himself. He is enjoying his multiple daily head rubs, he is purring and even a little playfull. (Smile)

        Our kitchen would never be the same without Oliver demanding to know what’s cooking. Lol

        Again, thank you all for answering our prayers. One day at a time.

    3. I saw you say he/she is in a better place now but I just wanted to say I hope he/she stays in your heart forever and I’m glad that he/she had a long and probably enjoyable life.

  25. ON CATS HEAD-BUTTING:
    MY CAT HEAD-BUTTS ME WHEN I’M SITTING IN MY RECLINER, and SHE IS ON THE ARM-REST. I’LL HEAD-BUTT HER BACK(head to head) then SHE STARTS PURRING. That happens almost every night, SO I THINK SHE REALLY LIKES ME…

  26. My kitty loves to head butt our German Shepherd and walk in and out of his legs when he’s standing. The shepherd looks at me with an expression that says “do I really have to endure this?” Of course the answer is yes! He secretly loves it but won’t admit it to anyone.
    Dawn

    1. My cat tiger headbutts me all the he even sleeps one my chest at night and he meows at me all the time when I am trying to do my homework he will walk all over my work and sit on it ang headbutt

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