The Scientific Reason Your Cat Head-Bumps You

Our pet cats are full of intriguing behaviors, aren't they? From licking us to asking to be petted, only to end up hissing and scratching. One of the most common cat behaviors of all, as any cat lover will tell you, is head-butting. We humans think of head-butting as something aggressive. Is that the case with our feline companions? Turns out, there are a few reasons cats like to head-butt. And when taken too far, there's one big thing cat owners should look out for.

The first thing to understand is that in their little kitty minds, cats aren't head-butting you so much as marking you. They have glands on their head and face, and particularly just in front of their ears, as PetMD explains. What this means is, whether or not the cat is gently tapping their head against you or going after you aggressively, they're spreading their pheromones to mark you as their territory, establish a colony with scent, and just to show their affection.

Other reasons cats may like to head-butt

Marking you as their territory, signaling that you're one of the pack, or just saying thanks for the kibble, are the primary reasons scientists say our feline friends like to give us a head-butt, per Doral Pet Care. There are a few additional reasons, though, your cat may be engaging in this behavior. For example, if your cat likes to head-butt objects, not people, it's still just marking its territory. If there's another cat in the house, your cat may head-butt its roommates to establish a "colony scent" or exert dominance, per PetMD.

Another reason your cat may head-butt is just because it's an enjoyable experience for the cat. Smelling their own pheromones can be quite comforting for felines. They might also just be playful, restless, or just looking for some attention. If they're purring and otherwise appear to be happy, head-butting is nothing to worry about. If that's not the case and your cat seems out of sorts, or if their behavior is more like "head pressing," then there might be some cause for concern.

The dangers of 'head pressing'

If your cat seems agitated in any way, and is deliberately pressing their head against something such as a wall, especially to the point of self-injury, this could be the sign of a serious health issue such as stroke, brain tumor, or liver toxins, among other examples, according to Everhart Vet. If your cat is engaging in such behavior, or the behavior is accompanied by signs of anxiety or discomfort, then take the cat to the vet right way (via PetMD).

The last thing to consider is that not all cats head-butt. If you own a cat that doesn't engage in this kind of behavior, it's nothing to worry about. Head-butting most often shows up in the dominant cat, and it can even become less frequent over time as the animal settles into their surroundings, gets to know you, or establishes a pecking order with other cats in the household. Otherwise, happy head-butting should be seen for what it is: a sign that your furry friend really likes you.