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Why does my cat bite me when I pet her? As a cat owner, this is a question I’ve been pondering over for ages. One second my cat is purring and seems to love the cuddles and attention I am giving her. Next thing, she starts licking me and out of nowhere bites my hand. Sound familiar?
If you’ve answered yes, you’ll want to keep reading! After too much confusion over why my cat lightly bites me when I pet her, I did some digging and found the answers. As it turns out, these soft nips are better known as “cat love bites”, but their meaning is far from affectionate. They are your cat’s way of saying they’ve had enough cuddles and wish to be left alone.
Although this sudden change in attitude may appear random, there are is a reason why your cat might want to be left alone. The main explanation is overstimulation, but it could also be down to a medical condition that is causing them pain. I’ll cover both of these things in more detail in this article.
There is also a big difference between when my cat nips me and a full-on aggressive outburst, which can happen if you ignore your cat’s desire to be left alone. So, I’ll also talk about what to do when cats bite you when you pet them and how to stop a cat from biting when petting.
What Are Cat Love Bites?
Sometimes my cat lightly bites me when I pet her. Usually, she will initially be enjoying me stroking her and purring away to her heart’s content. Then a switch flips – my kitty goes from enjoying her cuddles to nipping me! These little soft nips are what are known as cat love bites.
Despite their name, cat love bites are anything but sweet. In fact, another phrase for this behavior is “petting aggression”, which is a much better description of what is going on. I discovered that cats do this as a way of telling you that they have had enough cuddles and would like you to stop.
This behavior may upset some owners, and before I understood why my cat bites me when I pet her I was a little disheartened too. Without knowing what your cat is thinking, it can be upsetting to believe that your cat wants to hurt you. What did you do that was so wrong to deserve that?!
However, cats are communicating with you in one of the only ways they can. They can’t speak to you or tell you to stop, so this friendly nip is its way of communicating this information to you. It is part of cat language! This is why it is so important to understand all these quirky and confusing behaviors, so you can give your cat what it wants and needs in life.
Petting Aggression vs. Fear
It is important to know the difference between petting aggression and aggression due to fear or defensiveness. If your cat gives you a love bite, they will bite down very gently and typically won’t draw blood. It is also common for your cat to start by licking your hand before giving you a little nip.
Additionally, if your cat is biting you due to fear, they will show other typical signs of defensiveness. Examples include hissing and growling, scratching, and strange body language, such as an arched back, lowered head, wide eyes, and tense muscles. When a cat is engaging in love biting, you won’t see any of these other signs. Instead, your cat will still be relatively relaxed and at ease.
Moreover, cats purr when you pet them if they are enjoying themselves. Sometimes, my cat drools when I pet him he loves it so much! Therefore, if your cat has gone from purring to biting, it is almost definitely an example of petting aggression. Conversely, cats that are scared won’t typically purr or in any other way seem to be enjoying the petting before they lash out.
Why Do Cats Bite You When You Pet Them?
Now we know what petting aggression is, we need to know the reason behind this curious behavior. When my cat bites me when I pet her, it seems completely random and out of the blue! Cats have this love-hate relationship with petting, and at first glance, it doesn’t make much sense as to why.
However, there is a simple answer to the question “Why does my cat bite me when I pet her?” – overstimulation. Here I explain this in a little more detail, so next time your cats bite you when you pet them you can begin to understand the reasons.
Why Do Cats Become Overstimulated?
Like most nice things in life, they are only nice in moderation. For example, chocolate could be your favorite food, but eat it every day and you’ll feel sick and wish you had something else to eat. More alike to petting is cuddles. If you’re feeling down and receive a hug from a friend this can be comforting, but if the hug lasts too long you can feel uncomfortable and wish they let go.
A situation similar to this arises with petting aggression. It isn’t that your cat wasn’t enjoying their cuddles with their favorite person, they’ve just had too much of it. The petting has gone from being enjoyable to a little irritating and uncomfortable. But, where does this annoyance come from?
It is all to do with overstimulation. When petting, we often rub the same spot on our cats’ bodies again and again. This can cause the nerves in this area to become overstimulated, making the feeling of being petted transition from pleasure to discomfort.
Do All Cats Exhibit Overstimulation?
Most cats will exhibit overstimulation to come degree. However, our furry friends are all unique and how long your cat enjoys being petted may be completely different from my cat. They all have different tolerances, so some cats will bite due to overstimulation a lot more than others.
Petting aggression is much more common in young felines that have been taken away from their litter early on in life. One suggestion is these cats are not used to being groomed and touched by other felines and so don’t develop a high tolerance for petting. For the same reason, cats left alone for long periods when young are more likely to bite you when you pet them.
Certain medical conditions or diseases can also make cats more sensitive to touch, causing pain when petting. Skin irritation or injuries are two obvious examples, but there is a whole range of diseases also linked to overstimulation, including:
- Fleas: This pesky parasite can cause your cat to become severely itchy and uncomfortable. Some act extremely adversely to flea bites, which may make it painful when touched. If you notice your cat running around like a maniac, grooming excessively, and scratching a lot, fleas are a common culprit.
- Arthritis: Arthritis is a disease of the joints which can make movement uncomfortable. It mostly affects older felines but can occur in cats of any age, especially if they are overweight. Arthritic cats can become hypersensitive to touch and have a lower petting tolerance.
- Dental Problems: Dental diseases such as gingivitis can cause a lot of discomfort around a cat’s face and mouth. In these diseases, plaque builds up and their gums become inflamed. If your cat is making weird mouth movements, eating less than usual, and their gums look red and sore, a dental condition is likely.
Thankfully, you can usually tell whether your cat’s aggression is due to illness as they will suddenly start biting you when petting, rather than it being a behavioral trait they have always had. You can also lookout for the symptoms mentioned above. If you think your cat is sick, I suggest you take them to the vet for a professional diagnosis and treatment.
Additionally, some felines may be more sensitive in particular areas. For example, they may happily let you stroke under their chin for hours but may have enough of you stroking their more sensitive back area within a few seconds. Get to know what your cat likes and doesn’t like and your petting session can soon be bite-free!
What Are The Signs of Overstimulation?
Cats bite you when you pet them due to overstimulation, but this is not the only sign. Below are a few other signs that scream the same message as cat love bites. Be sure to take note of these and use them as warning signs to stop petting your cat.
- Licking: Have you been wondering “Why does my cat lick me when I pet him?”. In several cases, this can be a sign of affection. Your cat is trying to groom you, returning the favor of you petting them. However, cats will often lick you before giving you a gentle bite and can be one of the first indications that they are feeling a little sensitive.
- Tail Movements: Cats use their tails frequently to communicate their emotions. Whereas a quivering tail means excitement, a puffed-up tail means fear. When cats thump their tails when lying down, it nearly always indicates that they are irritated and a little annoyed! If you see your cat thrashing their tail when petting, a love bite is likely to soon follow.
- Rippling Back: Sometimes when petting your cat, you may see the skin across their back start to twitch and move in a rolling motion down their spine. This occurs sporadically in cats with Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome, but can also happen if you have been petting their back for too long and the muscle beneath the skin is getting overstimulated.
- Raising a Paw: Instead of biting, a cat may try to get your hands away from them by using their paws. Usually, they won’t have their claws drawn as they aren’t trying to hurt you. Instead, they will bat you away with their hand or raise their paw out as if to get in the way.
How Should I Respond to Petting Aggression?
It can be confusing for owners when their cat bites them midway through petting. They assume their cat is misbehaving and acting aggressively to try and hurt them. As such, many owners respond by hitting the cat, but this is the worst thing you can do!
By using physical means as a form of punishment, you’re only going to give your cat more reason to become aggressive. Even yelling can have negative consequences and make them more nervous and ruin your close bond. They’ll associate petting with this negative action and their tolerance for stroking may become even lower.
So, how do I respond when my cat nips me? I stop stroking her – in this situation, this is all you can do! Besides, your cat is only biting you as it is starting to feel discomfort and not enjoy your cuddles. We love our cats, so why would we put them through something this dislike?
In these situations, you must know how to distance yourself from your cat in the right way. If my cat is next to me, I simply stand up and walk away from her. If she is sat on my lap, I stand up and let her jump off. I suggest using this method every time instead of picking your cat up and moving her away, which could result in more kitty scratches!
How to Stop a Cat From Biting When Petting
Owners can work to correct petting aggression, increasing their cat’s tolerance for being stroked so it never gets to the point of overstimulation. This is great for two reasons: (1) You won’t get bitten or scratched by your cat; and (2) your cat can enjoy being stroked without ever feeling discomfort.
Here are all the things you can do to stop a cat from biting you when petting them:
- Know the Warnings: Above I have listed all the indicators that your cat is starting to feel a little uncomfortable. Learn to notice these and read your cat’s body language and stop petting as soon as you notice the first signs of irritation.
- Learn Their Time Limit: After a little while, you’ll know precisely how long your cat will happily be petted before the first warning signs show. Once this is established, stop petting just before this point to let them relax a little before stroking them again.
- Learn Your Cat’s Preferences: Cats all have their own likes and dislikes, and this extends to where they like to be petted. Pay attention to where you are stroking your cat when they bite or nip you. In the future, try to avoid these off-limits areas and you should notice a reduction in their aggressive behavior.
- Offer Rewards for Not Biting: You can try training your cat to enjoy longer petting sessions by adding rewards. For example, if your cat enjoys four strokes before showing signs of distress, give them five strokes followed by a treat.
- Play with Your Cat More: Sometimes, my cat keeps trying to bite my fingers when I pet her in a playful way. In these cases, this is behavior is more likely due to boredom. Your cat could be seeing your fingers as a toy and is trying to play with you. By increasing playtime, you may release this pent-up energy and have a more relaxing and enjoyable petting session.
Why Do Kittens Bite When You Pet Them?
Typically, kittens bite more when you pet them than older cats do. Although pets are domesticated, cats are inherently wild animals born to pounce, attack, and act as predators. When they see a moving object, it is hardwired into their DNA to attack it as if it were prey.
At a young age, kittens haven’t learned that it isn’t okay to bite people as these predatory instincts kick in. When your stroke your kitten, your moving hand is seen as a target for them to catch. As such, they will bite more during petting than older cats do.
Although this can be cute and many owners love using their fingers to play with their kittens, this can be troublesome in the long run. It can lead to older cats becoming more vicious and not learning what is okay for them to bite and what isn’t. Therefore, we need to direct our kittens’ predatory behaviors towards toys or another appropriate target.
To do this, you first need to make sure you have plenty of toys for them to play with. Kittens usually aren’t fussy with toys – they are eager to explore and learn about the world. However, pay attention to what your cat responds to best so they enjoy playtime more. You then need to ensure you engage in playtime with your kitten every day.
During playtime, be sure to never wiggle your fingers in their faces or on their bellies in a play-like fashion. This is only teaching them that it is a toy they can sink their claws into! Stick instead with the cat toys that you have bought for them, using their favorites more frequently. If they do go for your fingers, redirect them towards a toy instead.
After each play session, reward them for their good behavior, such as giving them a treat. This lets your kitten know that she’s done the right thing and will start to learn how to behave. Remember, don’t punish your kitten for doing wrong though – this can cause an increase in aggressive behavior, the opposite of what we are trying to achieve.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
To summarize, cats bite you when you pet them as they are overstimulated. Cats are more sensitive to dogs and other pets, and they can go from enjoying their strokes to feeling uncomfortable pretty quickly. You haven’t done anything wrong, this is just normal feline behavior.
Some cats have a lower tolerance for touch than others, so learn what your cat likes and where their limits are. This can prevent a cat from nipping you while petting. If your cat does lightly bite you, stop stroking and walk away from your cat, allowing them to relax.
Remember, while this behavior is normal, a sudden increase in sensitivity could be down to medical conditions. Watch out for other symptoms and if in doubt contact your vet.