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What Does it Mean When a Cat Headbutts You? (2023) What Owners Need to Know

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Do you often find your cat head butting you? What does it mean when a cat headbutts you? Do cats headbutt to show affection – or is it anger? After all, unlike among cats, headbutting is not something we’re familiar with as humans.

Find all the theories in this post about what it means when a cat headbutts you.



The Science Behind Cat Head Butting

Technically, cat headbutting is really head bunting. This is a social bonding behavior that cats use. It is often intended to show friendliness and trust. Cats headbutt to create a colony scent. A cat headbutt is a great sign.

It shows that your cat trusts you enough to be up close and personal with you. Cats have scent glands all over their bodies. They use them to leave their mark on objects, including their humans.

Cats have scent glands just above their eyes, below their warm ears, below the chin and around their lower lips. When they activate these glands while rubbing against you, they will emit pheromones.

Young beautiful woman smiling and cuddling cat with love at home

If you have several cats, you may find that each headbutts you. They may take it in turns, or they may each take different days with you to stake their claim. Don’t worry. When a cat headbutts you, it’s normal behavior, they are just hardwired to compete for your love and attention.

Why Do Cats Headbutt?

1. Your Cat Headbutts You to Gain Affection

You might be wondering, “Why is my cat headbutting me?” It is common to interpret a headbutt from your cat as a sign of affection. If that is the case, why does your cat also headbutt other objects? Cats do some strange things, you might find your cats headbutting the furniture or staring at the wall now and then. Does he love them too?

The reality is that your cat headbutts you because it wants to rub its scent onto you. A cat’s scent can only be detected by other felines (cats have a much stronger sense of smell than humans).

The good news is cats don’t want to be associated with just anyone. So a headbutt shows that your cat has a high regard for you. And appreciates your choice of furniture.

Young beautiful woman kissing cat with love at home.

If your cat is purring while headbutting you, then it is quite likely that they are looking for affection. And you should, by all means, try to return their sentiments.

If your cat doesn’t receive affection back from you, it could assume that you don’t want to be affectionate with it and may stop seeking this out.

2. A Cat Headbutts To Mark Territory

This is part of the reason that your cat headbutts you. Scent is used by cats to mark territory as belonging to them. But cats also use scent to mark areas and people who are judged to be safe by them.

This is why you’ll often find cats headbutting furniture and other items in their home.

what does it mean when a cat headbutts you - ginger cat snugglin

3. A Cat Headbutts To Feel Safe

One of the main reasons why cats headbutt people, and inanimate objects is to mark them as safe. A cat’s sense of smell is far stronger than its visual memory, so marking safe places with scent is a much more efficient way of getting around.

You might still find yourself wondering, “why does my cat headbutt me?” Well, the good news is cats tend to save headbutts for their favorite humans. You will first need to earn their trust.

Yes, there are a few trusting kitties who will headbutt even the newest human acquaintance, but most cats will wait until they have tested you out for a while before marking you as safe.

Red Cat rubs head against dog in the yard

4. Your Cat Headbutts You to Gain Attention

It is quite hard to ignore a cat who has firmly slammed its cute face into yours. And let’s face it, most of us find this behavior quite endearing from our favorite felines. So our kitty is likely to receive some cuddles and scratches when they exhibit this behavior.

From headbutting, cats learn that this behavior often results in love and attention, so why not use it next time they feel a little lonely? Also, if your cat tends to tuck its head down or turn to the side after it has headbutted you, then it is most likely that attention is its goal.

grey cut being cuddled under the chin by a human

5. Sometimes Cats Headbutt To Dominate

Why do cats headbutt you? Some cats may be looking to do more than mark their owners – they may be looking to demonstrate their power over you. Your cat head-butting you to assert dominance isn’t necessarily a problem.

If your cat has no behavioral issues allowing them to feel a bit of power over you won’t normally cause any issues. It may actually help your cat to feel safe.

However, do keep an eye on any dominant behaviors from your cat. Cats who feel dominant can become demanding and even exhibit aggressive behavior. They may become very bossy, demanding food and behaving badly if their demands aren’t met.

If your cat is beginning to demonstrate these behaviors, it will need some training from you. The first step is to ignore them when they exhibit these behaviors. If they don’t get a reaction, they are likely to stop.

If this doesn’t work and things worsen, consult your vet, as you may need a behavioral expert to help out.

Dog with head on top of cat's head

Cat Headbutt Meaning – FAQs

Why Does My Cat Head Bump Me in the Morning?

I don’t know about you, but my alarm most mornings is my cat meowing outside my bedroom. We have a morning ritual when he comes in that involves me stroking and scratching him, and it’s probably our most mutually affectionate time of the day. (
Your cat has most likely missed you overnight, so they will be most keen to bond with you in the morning. Cats tend to be awake most of the night, so he is probably also quite bored after wandering the house alone in the dark.
Also, your scent will have changed overnight. Any perfume you may have been wearing will have reduced, and you will most likely have perspired during the night.
Your kitty is looking to mask your smell with its pheromones. And by doing this first thing in the morning, your cat is clearly marking you as his territory.
Remember, cats like routine. If you generally have a morning ritual, try not to deviate from it, as that may result in some extensive meowing and the potential revelation of claws.

Why Do Cats Headbutt Each Other?

If you see your cat headbutting another cat, does this mean that they really like them? Well, headbutting between cats is a way to show respect or to align themselves with that cat, like if there are several cats in a household.
Headbutting also allows cats to exchange scents. The creation of a group scent amongst several cats is a sign of a strong bond.
As I mentioned earlier, in cats, headbutting is a social behavior and can be part of creating a stronger relationship between fellow felines. This behavior can also take place between cats and dogs – not always mortal enemies!

What if My Cat Doesn’t Headbutt Me?

Now that you have read all of the above, you may be worried if your cat doesn’t headbutt you – or does it infrequently. Don’t be concerned. Not every cat chooses headbutting as a way to communicate affection.
Your kitty just may not be much of a headbutter and would prefer to show its affection for you in other ways. Additionally, only the most confident cats tend to headbutt. So if your kitty is still new or tends to be fairly quiet, it is normal that their temperament wouldn’t be linked with headbutting.

Should I Headbutt My Cat Back?

If your cat headbutts you frequently and keeps its head close to you for quite a while, then you could try headbutting your kitty back. But do take it slowly and be very gentle.
Those paws can move fast to mark you if your cat doesn’t want you to return the favor. However, it is most likely that your cat will headbutt you back.
If you enjoy your cat headbutting you, then you can encourage the behavior with some positive reinforcement. Try to use tickles and cuddles rather than cat treats or food.
And remember, if you think your cat is headbutting you to exert its dominance, just ignore it. Go about the normal behaviors of clearing litter and providing food – just don’t react to the headbutting.

Beautiful young woman holding cat isolated on white

Watch Out: Pressing vs. Bumping

Keep a close eye on whether your cat is headbutting you or pressing its head against you. A cat who is pressing its head against its owner is often trying to tell them that they are experiencing discomfort.

A clear warning sign would be a cat repeatedly pressing its head against a wall or furniture. This behavior could indicate neurological issues or high blood pressure, which is common in elderly cats. If this is the case with your cat, it is time for a visit to the vet.

Beautiful asian girl kissing american shorthair cat

So, What Does It Mean When Your Cat Headbutts You?

If your cat likes to headbutt you, this is normal behavior and most likely a positive sign about the state of your relationship. If you enjoy a head snuggle with your favorite feline, gently encourage the behavior with tickles and pats in return. It’s one of my favorite ways to start the day!

Please Note: This “what does it mean when a cat headbutts you” post contains affiliate links. That means if you click through on most of the links and end up making a purchase, I will receive a small commission. This will not affect the price that you pay. I wanted to make sure that you were aware of this.

⇒ Getting a new kitty? Check out my guide to How to Look after a Kitten, 6 Best Kitten Wet Food Options and 8 Best Kitten Dry Food Options

Dr Julia Brassel and her dog Paula

Meet our Veterinary Expert

Dr. Julia Brassel studied in Giessen, Germany and later completed her PhD in Ireland, where she also lived and worked. She has a 17-year-old Dachshund called Paula, who she adopted from a local shelter during her first semester at university.

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