Cat headbutting: what does it mean and why do cats do it?

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I don’t know about you, but one of my favourite feline behaviours is headbutting. My cat Tara often headbutts me when she sits on me, and half the time she knocks my glasses off. I don’t mind this temporary inconvenience because I know what it means when a cat headbutts.

Cats headbutt humans, other cats and even objects. Photography ©Matteo Viviani | Thinkstock.


Firstly, what is a cat headbutt?

A cat headbutt is not a cat sticking its head up another cat’s arse. When a cat headbutts, it presses its head against you and rubs its cheek against a nearby body part. Cats also headbutt objects such as walls, chairs, and furniture.

Why is a cat headbutting me and what does it mean?

Cats have scent glands all over their bodies that leave scent trails on objects, including you. According to cat behaviourist Pam Johnson-Bennett, cats commonly head-butt people for bonding and socialisation purposes. It’s a sign of considerable trust when a cat comes face-to-face with you and engages in this intimate behaviour,” she says. Johnson-Bennett also explained that this behaviour is more appropriately known as ‘cat headbutting’.

Cat head butting is often misinterpreted as marking territory, but it’s not. Scent communication is complex, and while cats use scent to mark territory, cats also headbutt to show familiarity and respect.

Johnson Bennett adds that headbutting can be an attention-seeking behaviour, especially if the cat turns its head down or to the side after headbutting.

Do cats headbutt other cats or people?

Yes, especially if the cat headbutts you. In fact, cats can often be seen rubbing their heads against each other. This not only creates a “group odour” but also helps to strengthen the bond. When other cats bring their heads close to their companions, it’s a sign of deep trust. So if you see your cat head-butting another cat, know that it means they are good friends.

Feral cats also headbutt, so it’s something cats have naturally learnt over thousands of years of evolution.

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 its companions. The frequency and intensity of headbutting varies from cat to cat. There are many other ways cats show affection.

Don’t confuse “head pressing” with “head banging.”

Head pressing is when a cat presses its head mercilessly against a wall or furniture. Head pressing in cats is usually accompanied by abnormal vocalisations and bizarre behaviours, such as spinning and disorientation, and is a sign of a neurological disorder.” Dr Eric Bachas writes: “Specifically, head pressing and its associated symptoms are usually caused by central nervous system problems. In other words, if there is an abnormality in the brain, head pressing can occur.

Image credit: ehaurylik | Thinkstock.

by JaneA Kelley

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