Cats communicate to people in various ways and two of them are through tactile and olfactory communication. They have a very keen sense of smell that is 200 times more efficient than humans.
When they rub against you, they release their scent called pheromones and this will linger on you for a while.
These pheromones are chemical signals that give them the information that eventually affects the behavior of cats. Interestingly, these pheromones may send a cat the information about another cat’s gender, sexual receptiveness, and identity.
Understanding the Behavior
It might be a familiar situation to you whenever you get home and right after opening your door, there goes your charming cat rubbing all over your legs. This is sometimes accompanied by the swishing of their tails around your ankles too. Cat lovers find this very endearing and sweet, which it really is.
This is a form of social interaction that shows their affection for their owners. If you see them doing the same thing to the furniture, protruded edges or even to other pets, then it is their own way of marking their territory. They’re marking you as theirs too by leaving their scent on you.
This chemical also sends a signal of calmness to your cat. So if one day you come home after interacting with another cat, rest assured that your kitties will immediately rub on you to remove the strange scent you have on.
This signal may be used to identify the members of their family, mark their territory, for bonding, attract the opposite sex or as a form of aggression.
The pheromones are secreted through the sebaceous glands found on their forehead, beneath the chin, corners of their mouth, and on the base of their tail. They even have glands located between the pads of their feet, thus the scratching for territorial mark. The term bunting is used when cats rub their heads to scent you.
What is Head Bunting?
Head bunting is their way of bonding with you and is a very intimate gesture coming from them. This is their way of saying how they trust you. An even more intimate movement is when they expose their cheeks and rub it against your head with their eyes open. They feel that the trust between you is strong so they do it at their vulnerable state.
When cats do the head bunting, they are in a very relaxed mode. You can see that their whiskers, pupils, and ears are relaxed according to Pam Johnson-Bennett, a cat behaviorist and book author. Whenever they reinforce their scents on you, remember that they’re doing it because you’re part of the gang.
Sometimes though, cats do this to get your attention. They may want to be petted or groomed when they head bunt you then expose their neck to you sideways. Grooming makes a cat feel safe and secure. If your cat seems to do this often, they might really like you so much.
Allorubbing is another term used for bunting and is usually referred to as the interaction in between cats. It is said to be a feline behavior similar to that of a human hug or handshake. It can be their form of greeting when friendly cats do it to other animals. They only do this to other cats they are comfortable with and should be considered a positive gesture from them.
If you have more than one cat at home, you may be able to observe them head bunting each other. This may also show as a sign of hierarchy between them. It is usually the older and bigger cat which does the bunting to spread its scent all over his loved ones and this may eventually lead to grooming.
How to Respond
The cats’ target when they are about to go bunting depends on the height of their object of affection. If they’re by your legs, they usually use their forehead to rub on you and slowly knead their tails along.
If they suddenly jump close to wherever your face is, they would use their cheeks by rubbing them to yours then towards their mouth. Objects that are lower than them tend to get a rub from their chin or throat.
You should be honored if your cats have chosen you to be part of their tribe and worthy of such intimacy. If you are strongly bonded, you may reciprocate it by softly head bunting them too. Or you may scratch their chin or head or just offer your face to them. They will be contented and happy with just that.
But do know that it is important that there is a strong bond between you two for them to receive your bunting comfortably. Some cats may not still be comfortable with a response from you. Be patient and aware of your cat’s actions before holding out your hand.
You can make this bonding activity enjoyable with your cat by complementing a scratch with grooming, or giving them cat treats whenever they do the head bunting. Another good thing would be to just lower yourself to the ground and communicate with sweet talks by letting them know that they are in good hands.
So remember, the next time they plunge onto you after opening the door, it just means “You’re finally back! What took you so long? I’ve missed you.”