Many species, including cats and humans, enjoy friendly touch and use touching as a means of communication. One of cats’ more distinctive and delightful ways to express themselves with touch is head-bumping, also called head-butting, head-bonking, or (more officially) bunting. Cat behavior consultant and author Pam Johnson-Bennett explains this behavior well:
When [your cat] comes up to you, lowers his head, and seems to butt it gently (or sometimes not so gently) right in your face he may me doing what is referred to as bunting. This is a very affectionate behavior that is displayed only toward another companion animal or human family member. Bunting is a very respectful way that a cat shows affection.1
Bunting also leaves a “you’re in my club” scent mark on the “buntee.”
Some cats are quite enthusiastic with their bunting. You may occasionally get your eyeglasses knocked slightly askew, or be momentarily startled when your cat affectionately rams his head into your nose. Of course, that’s a very small price to pay for genuine kitty love.
When you come home and your cat trots over to greet you, you may want to kneel down and lower your head (and perhaps brace yourself) so your cat can execute a full head bump and give you a proper feline welcome.
Bunting is often the equivalent of a spirited “high five.” Or it can be a spontaneous expression of happiness or appreciation. At times it may mean much more, as in this anecdote:
Several years ago, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary had just completed construction of a new building for feral cats. The facility had all the amenities: skywalks, hiding places, scratching posts, soft beds, high perches, and screened-in porches. The construction took months and now the big day had arrived. A shelter volunteer let the first cat through the door to render judgment. The cat, a semi-feral, ventured a few steps, took a good look around, walked straight over to the volunteer and gave her a powerful head-bump to signify his approval. You could write a long thesis about the new feral cat building but it would not be nearly as eloquent as that one head-bump.
1Pam Johnson-Bennett, Starting From Sratch, the Penguin Group, 2007