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If a person were to head butt you, you’d probably have a pretty good idea of what they were trying to tell you.
But when a kitty bonks you with her forehead, the meaning may be less clear. Is she merely saying hello or has she been watching too much pro wrestling?
We asked Dr. Meghan E. Herron, DVM, DACVB, a clinical assistant professor of behavioral medicine in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at Ohio State University, to explain the curious cat phenomenon.
According to Dr. Herron, this behavior is something that domestic cats share with their wild counterparts.
“Cats do this to deposit facial pheromones on people or objects in their environment,” explains Dr. Herron. “The head butting is actually something that we call bunting.”
Since kitties usually seem relaxed and friendly while bunting, people rightfully assume that it's a sign of affection or acceptance into the feline’s domain. But Dr. Herron says that bunting is a bit more nuanced.
“Rather than territorial marking or ‘claiming’ someone, as is commonly thought, cats do this to mark something as safe — sort of like leaving a signal of comfort and safety,” adds Dr. Herron. “So you could think of it as a sign that they are ‘trusting’ that person or environment.”
There are a lot of bunting variations among kitties, with a wide range of frequency and intensity, so you shouldn’t necessarily be concerned if your cat doesn’t bump or push you with her head.
“While cats that do this are often feeling safe and trusting, I don't know that I would say a lack of bunting indicates a problem,” says Dr. Herron. “Each cat may have a different propensity to bunt over others.”
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