Cat owners rarely enjoy a peaceful start to the morning. Most days begin with a cat staring at you, inches from your face. In some cases, cats even appear to headbutt you. Contrary to appearances, this is not an act of aggression. A feline headbutt is known as bunting.
Cats have scent glands at the top of the head. By bunting you, the cat is exchanging scents. This is partly to mark you as the cat’s property. It’s also likely that your cat missed you while you were sleeping. Bunting can be a plea for attention. In the morning, a cat is likely requesting breakfast or play. Ensure your cat is not bunting to display dominance.
Do not confuse bunting with head pressing. This is a separate behavior that has negative connotations. It’s important to recognize when a cat is bunting, and why. This will lead to a positive bond between you and your cat.
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Why Do Cats Bunt You?
This behavior is particularly common first-thing in the morning. Many cat owners awake to the sensation of a cat pushing their head toward them.
Cats may be born imitators, but this is not a replication of a violent act. When a cat headbutts a person of object, it is referred to as bunting. This is a common feline behavior that will be witness in all cats at some point.
The question remains, though – why do cats bunt? There are four possible explanations for your cat’s actions.
It’s quite possible that bunting is simply a display of affection from your cat. While you were sleeping, the cat missed you. It has been waiting for you to wake up so you can spend time together. The cat wants to demonstrate this in the best way that it knows.
If the cat is purring while it bunts, moving the head up and down, affection is the likeliest explanation. This love should be returned in kind. Pet your cat and speak to it a soft, soothing voice.
This will quickly improve your bond with your cat. Even if you would prefer a cat not to bunt, do not make this obvious. Your cat will assume that any display of affection is considered bad behavior.
Another explanation for bunting is that your cat is sharing scents. As explained by the Canadian Journal of Zoology, cats secrete scents from their head and face. Bunting is the easiest way to do this. The cat is mingling its own scent with your own.
This is partly an extension of the affection that your cat is showing. When you have been sleeping, the cat will notice changes your scent. Any perfume or cologne will have worn off, and you may have released sweat overnight. The cat is covering his aroma with its own.
This is also a way of the cat marking you. Cats always apply their scent to things that matter to them. This includes their owners. By marking first thing in the morning, the cat is setting a precedent. It is making it clear that it has laid claim to you.
You’ll find this behavior common in multi-cat homes. Felines are hardwired to compete for resources. Do not be surprised if several cats take it turns to bunt you. Alternatively, different cats may bunt on different days. Each cat is trying to stake their claim.
This action should not be deterred or considered a problem. It is an important part of the bonding process between cat and human. The cat is saying that it accepts you as part of the family. That is quite the compliment and should be embraced accordingly.
Seeking Food or Attention
Many cats look for attention first thing in the morning. Nighttime can be boring for a feline. Cats are not nocturnal but are often active after dark. They enjoy the peace and quiet afforded by a life without active humans. After a while though, the cat will seek interaction.
Some cats will amuse themselves by wandering at night. Others simply stare out of the window. By the time you wake, though, the cat is ready for interaction. This is especially likely if you have established a routine of play or feeding in the morning.
If you have established this routine, do not deviate from it. The bunting is a gentle reminder of your responsibilities. If you fail to meet the cat’s expectations, these reminders will become less subtle. Elongated meows, and even scratching or biting, can follow.
You could also look out for other classic signs of attention seeking in cats. These include:
- Circling your feet when you get out of bed
- Pawing at your face or toes
- Knocking items over, such as glasses or ornaments
- Cuddling and purring
- Flopping onto the back and exposing its belly
There is no harm in responding to these requests, as long as they part of a cat’s routine. Some felines will try their luck. If you do not typically feed a cat in the morning, don’t start when it bunts. You may inadvertently end up overfeeding, which leads to obesity.
A potentially less savory element of bunting could be an expression of dominance. Your cat may bunt to ensure that its scent is spread far and wide. This can me more than just marking. The cat may be attempting to exert power over you.
Cats are not pack animals, but inter-feline dynamics do usually involve dominant and submissive roles. A dominant cat will typically instigate bunting in a submissive animal. This may then be followed up by grooming. It’s rare for a submissive cat to groom a superior.
If you cat wants to dominate you, it is not always a problem. If the cat displays no problem behaviors, there’s little harm in letting it feel in charge. This will help the cat relax around you and in the home.
Do be mindful of dominance becoming challenging, though. Cats with excessive dominant tendencies can become bossy and demanding. The cat may harass you for food or attention, growing belligerent if you do not respond.
As per the Journal of Feline Journal of Medicine and Surgery, dominant cats can also become aggressive. The cat will feel disrespected if its demands are not met at once. It will resort to less welcome tactics, including scratching.
This must be trained out of the cat. Start by simply ignoring the behavior. Most cats change tack if they do not see results from behavior. In extreme cases, you’ll need professional help. Seek the advice of a trained behaviorist.
How To Respond to a Cat Bunting
The best reaction to a cat bunting is no reaction. Regardless of the cat’s meaning, it is advisable to avoid encouraging bunting. By the same token, do not punish the cat. If it was being affectionate, your cat’s feelings will be hurt and your bond damaged.
When your cat bunts, retain a poker face and see how the cat reacts. If it walks away, it was likely just expressing affection. If it continues to bunt, it wants attention. If the cat starts to groom you, it was likely showing dominance. Tailor your response accordingly.
If you enjoy bunting, offer your cat petting and tickles. Do not immediately provide food or treats. This will create a dangerous precedent. You do not want a cat to bunt every time it wants something. Return any affection shown by your cat, though.
If you suspect that the cat is being dominant, ignore it. Go about your business and make it clear that the cat is not the boss of you. You should still meet the cat’s needs, so lay down food or change litter. Just avoid allowing the cat to believe it controls your movements.
If you do not want you cat to bunt you, proceed with caution. This practice is not appealing to everybody. You’ll end up with a mouthful of cat fur, for starters. Do not physical restrain the cat or push it away. Instead, make a high-pitched, “ouch!” noise.
This will leave the cat thinking that it hurt you with bunting. Cats do not wish to inflict pain unnecessarily, so it will cease the behavior. Just be mindful that the cat may find other ways to get your attention. This can involve biting or scratching, which will genuinely hurt.
Should I Headbutt My Cat Back?
This depends on what you mean by ‘headbutting.’ Obviously, you should not aggressively aim a headbutt toward your cat. That will end badly for all concerned. You could attempt to replicate delicate bunting, but this practice can be dangerous.
Some cats will enjoy an attempt at bunting. As felines cannot communicate with us in words, they rely on body language. If you use cat-friendly movements, the cat may appreciate it. Finding a common form of communication is the key to developing a bond.
Be wary, though. Understand that cats are fragile. You intend to lightly brush against your cat’s head. That is not always the case, though. You may inadvertently strike a cat hard, inflicting pain. Cats have long memories for this. You will be considered a dangerous threat.
Even if you are gentle, a cat may not understand your intentions. No matter how strong your bond, your cat will always be a little afraid of you. That’s just common sense; your cat is considerably smaller than you. This means a cat may immediately go on the defensive.
The cat will not necessarily know that you are attempting bunting. All is sees is a larger animal, with a mouth filled with teeth, descending upon it. Survival instinct will then kick in. Your cat will likely claw, bite and flee.
To be on the safe side, do not respond to bunting in kind. Allow your cat to demonstrate this behavior if you feel comfortable with it. Find a different way to express your own affection, though. You can rarely go wrong with simple petting and positive verbalizations.
Head Pressing vs. Bunting
A cat pressing its head firmly against you, walls or floors for prolonged periods is not bunting. This is called head pressing. Head pressing is much more serious than bunting, and usually has medical explanation.
Head pressing in cats is an attempt at pain relief. The cat likely has a headache. Felines cannot take aspirin for this ailment. As per the British Veterinary Journal, these human medications are toxic to cats. The cat will resort to other means to relieve discomfort.
Seek professional advice if you notice your cat head pressing. There are many possible explanations. These include:
- Ocular problems (including glaucoma)
- Consumption of toxins
- Issues with the metabolism
- Infection to the nervous system (potentially caused by a fungal infection)
- Prosencephalon disease (swelling of the forebrain caused by infection)
- Swelling in the brain caused by head trauma
- Tumors growing within the brain
As per the Journal of the American Veterinary Association, head pressing is also linked to high blood sugar. This can be related to head trauma. Older cats, especially those carrying extra weight, can be prone to diabetes.
A vet will run an array of tests on your cat to determine the cause of the head pressing. Resolution and prognosis depend entirely on this diagnosis. As always, early intervention will yield the best possible results.
Bunting may seem like an act of gratuitous violence, but it is quite the opposite. It was only trying to demonstrate affection. Lean into this and learn how to accept bunting safely.