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Why, Cat?!

Did My Cat Just Headbutt Me?

Cat behaviorist Jennifer Van de Kieft says I should take it as a compliment.

by Charles Manning
November 2, 2021
A cat headbutting a woman on her laptop.
Bogdan Kurylo / iStock

Your pet wants you to read our newsletter. (Then give them a treat.)

Picture it: You’re sitting at the table, minding your own business, reading a book (definitely not staring at your phone) when out of nowhere…bonk! You look up to see Bubba, the eight-year-old Abyssinian-Persian mix with the extra long tooth you found on the Staten Island Ferry after a particularly harrowing date, standing there, staring at you. 

“Hello,” you say. “Can I help you?”

Nothing. Bubba’s not much of a talker.

You return your attention to TikTok — I mean, your book. And…bonk!

“What?” you ask, suddenly noticing a wisp of wet belly fluff wrapped around that one extra-long tooth. There’s a hairball a comin’, you think to yourself as you glance at your once pristine flokati rug, now dappled with remembrances of sick-ups past. 


You turn back to Bubba. So cute. So weird. So frustratingly enigmatic. And as you gaze into his one good eye, he headbutts you for a fourth time. It doesn’t hurt or anything, but you are compelled to ask, “Why, cat, why?!”

“It’s one of the ways cats show affection,” says New York-based cat behavior consultant Jennifer Van de Kieft. “My cats do it to each other, often. If they rub their cheek on you in the process, they may be marking you. Take it as a huge compliment.”

Okay. But what’s the appropriate response to this affectionate ramming? Should you do it back to them? “You could offer your head to see if they’d like to bump it, but I’d leave it up to the cat to decide,” says Van de Kieft. “You can gently reciprocate when your cat does it to you by leaning in.”

And are there any circumstances in which this behavior is indicative of some underlying issue about which I should be concerned? “Not to my knowledge,” says Van de Kieft. “It’s a sweet, affectionate behavior. If your cat is excessively marking you, I might be concerned that they are feeling insecure, in which case, you can alleviate their anxiety by providing consistent, positive, and predictable human-cat interactions.”

And you’re definitely going to do that. Just as soon as you finish this TikTok. I mean book!

Charles Manning

Charles Manning is an actor, writer, and fashion/media consultant living in New York City with his two cats, Pumpkin and Bear. Follow him on Instagram @charlesemanning.