It's called bunting behavior, and it's often a sign of affection, according to veterinary experts.

By Jillian Kramer
July 01, 2020
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If you have a cat, they've likely bumped into you—literally, and purposefully. The act of a cat bumping his head against you—or a wall, sofa, or any other surface—is what veterinarians call "bunting," and it's perfectly normal. As it turns out, there are many reasons why cats do this. Here, veterinarians share four reasons why cats bunt you.

Your cat is greeting you.

As Emily Swiniarski, D.V.M., the chief medical officer at PAWS Chicago and veterinary advisor for Great Pet Care, explains, "cats prefer to greet other animals, including us humans, with the face and head first." To say hello for the first time, a cat will likely sniff you, Swiniarski says; if he decides he'd like to get to know you better, he'll rub the side of his face on whatever part of you is closest, such as your outstretched hand, leg, foot, or even your head, for example.

Your cat is marking his territory.

Bunting is about more than just showing you affection. It can also be a way for cats to mark their territory, says Shadi J. Ireifej, D.V.M., founder and chief of medicine at VetTriage. Cats have scent glands on their heads, cheeks, and around their mouths. Those glands secrete a pheromone that other animals can detect. When they bunt any kind of surface, they could be letting warning other animals away or letting them know that they own the thing they bunted—including you.

Your cat is putting himself at ease.

There's another scent-related reason cats bunt: When a cat bumps you, he leaves behind his own scent. It's an undetectable scent to you, but your cat can pick it up and smell it later on, says Swiniarski. And "smelling themselves makes cats feel at ease," Swiniarski says. "Headbutting a person is a way of spreading their kitty scent on you, increasing their own personal comfort."

Your cat is seeking attention.

Bunting can be an attention grab, too. A cat who bumps you may be "seeking your attention and attempting to show you—or other nonhuman housemates—affection," says Ireifej. Some cat owners report repetitious bunting from cats, which can be either attention-seeking or affection. "Despite the popular belief that cats are mostly antisocial or uncaring creatures that are either unable or unwilling to exhibit signs of admiration to their humans, studies have shown that cats do in fact exhibit many different signs of affection," he says. "Bunting is one method amongst many by which they exhibit attention-seeking, affection, and admiration to us human owners."

No matter the reason, bunting is a normal behavior in cats, though some may do it more often than others. "Cats who are outgoing may head press against people more frequently than shy cats," Swiniarski says. "If a cat is more timid than others, he may press his head against only certain people and in certain situations." That just means he's shy—there's no reason to worry.

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