Cats sure do a lot of strange things, don’t they! But one of the strangest behaviors cats do has to be rubbing their faces all over everything.
Even things you might think your cat wouldn’t want to rub their face against, like sharp furniture or rocks, get the same treatment.
But why would your cat do this? Is this normal? Could there be something wrong with your cat? Let’s find out why cats rub their faces here, there, and everywhere.
Why Do Cats Rub Their Face on Things?
The reason why cats rub their face on things is surprisingly simple.
Cats have several glands in their faces that contain strong scents called pheromones.
When a cat rubs their face on something, this action deposits these scented pheromones onto that surface or object.
Then other cats can smell these pheromones, which function kind of like an “I was here and this is mine” sign. So basically, your cat is saying to those other cats, “this is my territory.”
Learn Why Cats Rub Their Faces on People
As this short, interesting YouTube video explains, cats rub their face on their people as well as on objects and surfaces.
Cats do this for the same exact reason they rub their faces on objects or surfaces – to mark you as “taken.”
If another cat were to come along and sniff your face (or arm or leg or hand), they would smell your cat’s pheromones and know you have already been claimed.
Understanding Bunting, Head Butting, Head Boops, and Allorubbing in Cats
As Sitter for Your Critter explains, there are lots of different names for what is essentially the same feline behavior – rubbing their heads on things.
Bunting is the main term that describes this behavior. Cats may bunt your face, a surface, the grass outside, or even another cat.
Either way, head boops, allorubbing, head butting, and bunting are all basically interchangeable terms that describe the same cat behavior.
Are There Hidden Messages in Feline Head Butting?
There are a number of ways to interpret face rubbing or head butting behavior in domestic cats.
As VetStreet explains, biologists see the same basic behavior in wild cats as well as in domestic pet cats.
However, since cats can’t tell us why they are head butting, we must rely on observation, action, and reaction to make our best guess about the meaning and purpose of this strange feline behavior.
And different people may have very different interpretations depending on their reason for studying cat behavior and their feelings about cats in general or about their pet cat in particular.
For example, the researcher might simply say the cat is marking their territory. The cat owner might say it is because their cat loves them. A feline behaviorist might say the cat is letting other cats know the area, object or person is safe for cats.
It is also important to remember that cats may have more than one reason for rubbing up against things, head butting, or allorubbing. This is similar to how we may say a phrase in different ways, using a different tone or different facial expressions.
Is There Something Wrong with a Cat That Doesn’t Rub Their Face on Things?
As Vet Organics explains, head rubbing or bunting is just one of many communication tools that a cat may use to “talk” with you or with other cats.
But if your cat doesn’t ever do this with you or with other objects or surfaces, it does not necessarily mean there is something wrong.
Here, it is important to look beyond the presence or absence of a single feline behavior. Instead, you want to look at the bigger picture of how your cat is interacting with you and with their environment.
Some cats just do a lot more face rubbing than other cats. Intact (not neutered or spayed) cats may do more face rubbing than “fixed” cats. Adult cats often do more face rubbing than do kittens or senior cats.
However, it is equally important not to overlook a sudden increase or absence of head rubbing. If your cat has always done a lot of face rubbing and suddenly stops doing this, you don’t want to ignore this change in communication.
In the same way, if your cat has never engaged in face rubbing before and suddenly starts doing a lot of it, you want to look closer and try to discern why.
When in doubt, it can be smart to schedule an exam with your feline veterinarian, who can check for underlying health or behavior problems that may be contributing to the sudden change in behavior.
Could Your Cat Have a Medical Issue That Causes Bunting Behavior?
The next logical question here then becomes, is there any possibility your cat might start or stop rubbing its face on things due to a medical condition?
While head bunting is generally acknowledged to mean your cat is engaging in a form of turf marking or greeting, there is another similar behavior that could mean your cat needs medical attention.
That behavior is head pressing.
As PetMD explains, feline head pressing happens when you see your cat repeatedly pressing its head against an object or surface.
Often, head pressing occurs in the absence of any other stimuli, such as you entering or leaving the room or the home.
The head pressing behavior may continue for some time or take precedence over other formerly favorite habits or routines.
In this case, you really don’t want to wait. You want to make an appointment with your cat’s veterinarian right away to look for underlying neurological issues.
This is especially in order if you are not sure whether the behavior you are seeing is head bunting or head pressing.
If the behavior is head pressing, it is important to know that your cat may have been exposed to toxins or have an infection or disease. Head trauma, tumors, and brain damage are also very real possibilities when you start to see repetitive head pressing.
Your veterinarian can run a series of tests to look for the cause of the head pressing and recommend the appropriate treatment.
How to Respond to a Feline Face Rub
Some cats like to lightly rub their face on their people while other cats prefer to give an all-out forceful head butt.
Regardless, many first-time cat owners are understandably confused to be on the receiving end of their new cat’s allorubbing or face butts. And many newbie cat owners wonder if there is a particular response they should give to their cat.
The good news here is that there is no particular response required to a head butt or face rub.
As Cat Behavior Associates explains, you will likely start learning how to read your cat’s non-verbal cues as you spend more time together.
You can also experiment with different responses to see what gets the best response from your cat. This can give you clues about the response your cat is hoping for when they head butt or face rub you.
You can try petting or scratching your cat’s face and in other favorite places. If you don’t yet know your cat’s favorite places to be petted, try some different areas to see what gets the best response.
You may also wonder like many cat owners do if it is okay or desirable for you to head butt your cat. Some cat owners like to do this – to initiate face rubbing or a gentle head butt – and other cat owners prefer to wait for their cat to initiate.
Ultimately, when your cat rubs their face on you, they want your attention. So while there really is no “right” or “wrong” answer, don’t be afraid to try some new things to see what your cat seems to like best.
Could Your Head Bunting Cat Be Stressed?
As Tufts Catnip explains, there could be a component of stress or anxiety to feline head bunting or face rubbing behavior.
You are more likely to see stress-based face rubbing when your cat is new to your home or when you are together in unfamiliar surroundings such as a hotel or a friend’s house or the veterinary office.
Here, head butting can be an attempt by your cat to deposit more scent markings to make the new place smell more like “home.” In this way, it is possible to face rubbing is a form of feline self-soothing behavior.
One big worry many cat owners have is that head bunting or face rubbing is an early warning sign of feline aggression.
Feline behaviorists say that in most cases, there is no correlation between head bunting and feline aggression. The opposite is more likely to be the case – excessive face rubbing is a sign your cat is starting to settle in, trust you more, and claim you.