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Cats have sharp teeth well-adapted to hunting prey. Therefore, kitty bites can be pretty painful! Unfortunately, they’re also quite common. Most pet parents have dealt with their cats biting them at least once, and many want to know how to stop this unwelcome aggressive behavior.
As always, the best way to stop any behavior is to figure out the cause. Why is my cat biting me? What has sparked this behavior? And how can you ensure it doesn’t happen again? There are many different reasons why your cat may bite you. Some bites are clearly very aggressive and result from stress or fear. However, others might make you wonder if your cat is actually showing affection towards you.
In this article, I run through 12 possible reasons your cat might bite you. As you’ll soon learn, most bites are not a sign of actual aggression but a means of communication! However, it’s still good to put this unwanted behavior to bed. Keep reading, and you’ll find out how to do just that – with my tips, you can avoid your cat’s bites for good!
Why Does My Cat Bite Me?
Cat bites can mean all kinds of things! Some are clearly aggressive and usually indicate your cat is extremely scared. When bitten violently, I must deal with my cat hissing at me. It’s horrible having my cat attacking me all of a sudden, and I’m sure you want to figure out the cause.
On the other hand, cats also bite as a means of communication. These bites are gentle and don’t cause any real pain. They’re more like a gentle nip and tend to be your cat’s way of saying they’ve had enough of something. They can also be used to communicate love and affection.
Finally, biting can be caused by pain. Teething kittens like to chew on soft items to soothe their gums, and some health conditions can also lead to biting and chewing. Likewise, mental trauma like stress and anxiety can cause cats to bite their owners.
As you can see, cat bites are more complex than you might have initially imagined! Below I break down 12 causes of biting in more detail. Read each section and see which you think applies. As you’ll discover, paying attention to the type of bite and other body language is crucial for determining the cause.
1. Sign of Affection
I’m betting we have all been through this: you start petting your cat, and she seems like she is having a good time when she suddenly starts biting you. She doesn’t bite hard, and it doesn’t break your skin, but it still makes you question her mood and whether she enjoys your petting or not.
It is very natural to interpret these not-so-aggressive bites as affection from your cat because they usually do it playfully while you are having a good time together. These little bites during petting are referred to as cat love bites. They are pretty common and not a great cause for concern. As long as your cat seems happy and content, you can take these love bites as a good sign.
Many owners believe the little nips from their cats are a true sign of affection. But sometimes, “love bites” are not done out of love! When your cat starts biting you after you’ve been petting her for a while, this typically means that your cat has been overstimulated and wants you to stop petting her.
Next time you ask yourself, “Why does my cat bite me when I pet her?” stop and observe her body language. Your cat’s body language will tell you everything you need to know about her mood. If her ears are to the sides and her tail is restless, this probably means that your cat is becoming agitated.
When this happens, it is a good idea to leave her alone. Small love bites can turn into harder bites accompanied by aggressive scratching. Indeed, love bites can escalate to aggressive bites if you do not cease to stimulate your cat. This type of bite may break into your skin and may even cause some bleeding, so pay attention to what your cat is trying to communicate.
3. Petting in the Wrong Place
Cats have very specific preferences about which part of their body you should pet. They usually enjoy it very much when you pet them around their ears, on top of their heads, and under their chin. It is almost universal among cats that scratches in these areas feel amazing!
However, their bellies are very dangerous zones. This is the most vulnerable part of your cat’s body. If a predator was to injure your cat in the stomach region, its internal organs could potentially be damaged. Although you only intend to stroke your cat, the natural impulse to protect this vulnerable area kicks in instinctively.
Of course, this may vary from cat to cat. There are cats that enjoy belly rubs or extended periods of intense petting. If this sounds like your cat, take it as a huge compliment – cats only allow people they really trust anywhere near this delicate area. However, keep in mind that cats that do not react negatively to this kind of petting are rare. If you’re unsure about your cat’s preferences, it’s advisable to give the belly region a miss.
4. Communicating Dislikes
As mentioned, cats often use biting to communicate to their owners that they don’t want to be petted anymore. Cats can’t verbally tell you to stop, so they use their teeth as a tool for communication. Likewise, they might bite you to ask you to stop petting a particular spot they dislike the feel of.
However, cats can use bites to communicate many other dislikes. For example, if your cat doesn’t like being brushed, she might react by biting and get you to stop brushing. The same can happen with activities like nail-trimming sessions or while you administer parasite drops.
Since you must do these things, you should be insistent on continuing what you are doing, if you can. This will get the message across that biting doesn’t help in stopping what you are doing. You should utilize positive encouragement to make these activities more positive experiences for your cat, rewarding your cat with a treat after trimming her nails or brushing her.
5. Getting Your Attention
Another reason your cat may bite you is to call your attention to something that’s bothering them. If your cat approaches you, bites you a few times harmlessly, and then walks away, she might be drawing your attention to something she wants to show you. You might want to follow her and see where she takes you – it could be an empty food bowl, a dirty litter tray, or a toy she wants to play with.
Cats usually meow to do this, but biting can also be a method of getting your attention. It depends entirely on your cat and how they have learned to communicate with you. Cats tend to stick with the communication methods they know work, so if you always respond to their nips and bites, they might rely on this more than vocalizing.
As you’re undoubtedly already aware, cats love self-grooming. In fact, there is little they love more than keeping clean! And it isn’t just themselves they like to prune for fun – cats also groom each other and their owners. If your cat starts out by licking you and then transitions to small biting, this is usually a replication of her grooming process performed on your skin.
Cats groom themselves by intense licking of their fur, followed by some gentle pecking and biting of their skin. While your cat is licking your skin, she may start biting you by habit because it resembles her grooming process.
This act is kind of affectionate because it can only happen if your cat feels safe and close to you. Grooming is a very important and intimate activity that requires feeling safe and comfortable. So, although the biting and licking might feel uncomfortable, try to take it as a positive sign!
7. Teething Kittens
Kittens usually bite to scratch their gums when they are teething. This is nothing to worry about and is definitely not a sign of aggression. Your kitten is simply in a fair bit of pain and discomfort and needs something soft and squishy to chew on. Unfortunately, your skin is a prime target!
You might also find teething kittens chewing on other soft items around your home. One example is trailing cables – they’re the perfect size for small kittens to fit their small mouths around and the perfect texture for soothing gums. However, chewing on wires is extremely dangerous! In worst cases, kittens can burn their mouths or electrocute themselves.
Therefore, it is worthwhile kitten-proofing your home and keeping all chewable hazards out of reach. You should get some kitten chew toys as well. These are specifically designed to help soothe sore gums. Plus, it helps to teach young kittens that your fingers aren’t for chewing. Teaching this young is vital to avoiding aggressive behavior in adulthood.
8. Feeling Threatened
Another reason your cat might bite you is that it’s scared. If your cat is fearful, their bites are usually violent and aggressive. In fact, aggressive biting is usually a symptom of feeling threatened and wanting to exert dominance over something. This will probably be due to external factors such as a big change in your cat’s surroundings or routine.
For instance, if you introduce your cat to another cat very hastily and without preparation, this might cause agitation and security issues in your cat. She will try to defend her territory and establish dominance. These will cause her to act aggressively and defensively. If you are thinking about introducing two cats peacefully and without any serious problems, you can refer back to a previous article I’ve written called how to introduce cats.
Any other significant changes like this in your cat’s living arrangement can prompt aggressive behavior. So, make sure you identify the reason and take action to make your cat feel better as soon as possible.
9. Stress & Anxiety
Cats are sensitive creatures and get stressed by minor changes to their environment or routine. Unfortunately, stress and anxiety also cause cats to bite their owners; aggression is one of the outlets they use for this negative emotion. They feel out of control in stressful situations, and their “fight or flight” response kicks in, telling them to attack or flee.
In worst cases, stress and anxiety can also cause a rare but serious health problem called hyperesthesia. Abyssinian, Burmese, and Siamese cats are prone to having hyperesthesia. The symptoms include excessive to the point of self-harming grooming, aggression, and even seizures.
The cause of hyperesthesia cannot be pinpointed to one thing, so it is not entirely caused by stress. Yet it can be explained as a neurological issue similar to a panic attack in humans, and stress is closely linked to the condition. If you think your cat could be suffering from this medical condition, you should speak to your vet as soon as possible.
9. Hunting Practice
Cats are natural-born hunters. They have an instinct to hunt prey which has been passed on through years of evolution. These hunting instincts usually kick in during play as chasing toys is similar to chasing live prey.
In fact, look closely at how your cat plays with its toys. It will run, pounce, bite, and bunny-kick as if it’s caught a real mouse! As such, biting during play is extremely common in young cats. They have not learned that biting your fingers is unacceptable behavior. Kittens play rough with their littermates and mothers, and they assume it is no different with their humans.
However, try to discourage this behavior from early on. Having a little kitten run and chase after your fingers might be adorable, but a full-grown adult with no regard for your pain is not cute at all! Redirect their play towards toys, so they learn this is a more appropriate outlet for their hunting instincts.
10. Aggressive Biting
An overly aggressive bite can be due to issues such as exerting dominance or feeling threatened. When biting hard, a cat tries to exert dominance over the thing she is biting. If this happens, evaluate the situation and why your cat might need to establish dominance in the first place.
When you observe the lowered ears and the agitated tail, make sure you stop interacting with your cat for that moment. Or if your cat bites you and refuses to let go, this signifies that she probably feels threatened somehow and is in panic mode. It is not usual for cats to bite this aggressively for no reason!
If your cat performs this behavior more than a couple of times in a short period of time, you should definitely consult your vet. Your vet will probably ask about any changes around the house or her routine. It is essential to figure out what may be causing her behavior and eliminate it as soon as possible.
Another type of aggression to be aware of is redirected aggression. This is one of the most confusing forms of aggression as it seems to have no cause. Nothing will have happened, but you’ll notice your cat so aggressive all of a sudden. So, what’s going on?
Well, your cat has probably been spooked by something entirely unrelated to you or your environment. For example, cats often see prey out the window they cannot reach or an unfamiliar cat in the yard. This frustrates your kitty, but they’re unable to fix the situation. Unfortunately, they take this out on something or someone else instead – such as you.
11. Health Issues
If your cat’s bites are unusually aggressive and persistent, this may signal physical health issues. Some physical problems that may be causing biting can be dental issues, internal and external parasites, hyperthyroidism, and any undetected wounds or pain.
Here is a quick look at each of these in more detail and why each could cause unwanted aggression and biting in cats:
- Dental Issues: If your cat is experiencing pain in her teeth or gums, this will most likely trigger biting. Biting or chewing on soft surfaces can help soothe the gums and help your cat deal with the pain. It can also enable biting through aggression because your cat will be in a foul mood because of the continuous oral discomfort.
- Internal & External Parasites: Internal and external parasites such as fleas, mites, lice, and worms can cause distress that may enable biting and aggressive behavior. Cats will most likely bite themselves if they are infected by external parasites because they will feel itchy and uncomfortable. They might also bite you as a symptom of distress.
- Hyperthyroidism: Hyperthyroidism is a glandular disorder and has many symptoms such as weight loss, increased appetite, vomiting, constant thirst, excessive urination, appearing unkempt, hyperactivity, and aggression. Aggression and hyperactivity will usually prompt biting and scratching – both themselves and you.
- Undetected Wounds: Any undetected wounds or pain that may be causing your cat discomfort can cause her to be in a foul mood and act unusually. For instance, if your cat suffers from arthritis, she will be experiencing chronic pain. This type of pain will affect your cat’s mood and behavior significantly and may cause aggression towards you.
Consequences of Cat Bites for You
Small love-bites that do not break your skin are normal and easy to avoid, but deeper bites can be quite dangerous. The main issue is that these bites can get infected. In fact, cat bites are more prone to infection than dog bites. The infection chance in cat bites is 20-50%, while in dog bites, it’s 4-20%!
A common infection due to cat bites is called “cat-scratch disease.” This is caused by a bacterium called Bartonella henselae. It is an infectious disease initiated by bites or scratches of a cat and has symptoms including tiredness, fever, headaches, and swollen lymph nodes. If you observe any of these symptoms, visit your doctor as soon as possible.
So, you should make sure that you avoid cat bites. Not only is it safer for you, but it is also a much better way to interact with your cat when you prevent aggression in your relationship. Aggressive behavior in cats, such as intense biting and scratching, is not normaland should be taken seriously. As we have explored, this kind of behavior can be due to many things ranging from psychological to several physical issues.
Although it is fun to play around with your cat even when she is occasionally biting you, I would suggest that you take this issue seriously. Occasional love bites are fine, but please visit your vet if you experience more aggressive and painful bites from your cat.
How to Stop Your Cat from Biting You?
Discouraging biting behavior during kittenhood is the easiest and best way to deal with this issue. However, do not worry if you have an adult cat that bites you. I’ve listed several must-try tips below you can use to help stop your cat from biting you.
1. Discourage Biting in Kittenhood
The best way to avoid your cat’s bites is to discourage them from the beginning, in kittenhood. When you play with a kitten, her bites and scratches will not hurt you because their teeth and claws have not yet fully developed. But do not let this fool you! Within a few months, their bites and scratches will start hurting you.
So, make sure this does not become the way you engage with your cat. You should be very clear in establishing that your hands and arms are not biting/scratching boards for your cat. Use your hands only when petting or carrying your cat, and not as toys. You can use actual toys to play with your cat. This way, they will not see your hands as things to catch and bite.
It is essential that your kitten engages with other people this way too. You should make sure that visitors who come to your house also play with your kitten as you do. If they encourage aggressive play with their hands, it might undo all your efforts in training your cat not to bite.
2. Communicate Pain Clearly
You should be very clear to voice your pain so that it is obvious to your cat that something is not right when she bites you. Even if some of their bites do not really hurt, act as they do. Make a painful sound and disengage. Do not keep on playing and escalating the situation because your cat will think that there is no problem with biting and continue.
When disengaging during a very aggressive bite, do not pull away forcefully. This will encourage your cat to bite even harder and hold on to your skin. Instead, push your hand in towards her, which will prompt your cat to release her bite.
3. Use Positive Reinforcement
Another thing you can try is positive encouragement. For instance, if your cat starts biting your feet, have her get off gently by pulling away and calm her down. Then, once she is calm and settled, give her a reward and say positive things like “good cat” or “well done”. Once this interaction becomes routine, your cat will understand that she will be rewarded when she is not biting you and acting in a calm manner.
Keep using this positive encouragement whenever your cat displays peaceful behavior. For example, when she withholds her claws when engaging with you, pet her gently and say positive things. Be obvious in your contentment with this behavior. Cats will understand.
4. Avoid Punishing Your Cat
Never ever try to make your cat not do something by using physical punishment. This is not okay, and it will not work on cats anyways. If anything, it will only make your cat more fearful, aggressive, and likely to bite you harder in the future.
Do not show your pain or discontent when your cat bites you by slapping or pushing her aggressively. As mentioned above, you should communicate your displeasure through a painful sound and cease your contact as soon as possible.
5. Reduce Stress Levels
Finally, you should eliminate any possible stressors from your home environment and introduce any necessary changes gradually. This keeps stress levels to a minimum, giving your cat a happier and more fulfilling life. It also reduces the incidence of biting – cats often bite when scared or stressed, so cutting the cause avoids this issue.
All cats have different triggers and handle stress differently, so the changes you must make are highly personal. If your cat doesn’t like strangers, you might consider keeping her in a separate room whenever you have several guests visiting, for instance. Likewise, cats that suffer from separation anxiety often benefit from having the TV left on or motorized cat toys to keep them occupied while you’re away from home.
Of course, an entirely stress-free home environment is impossible. Too many factors outside your control could trigger stress and anxiety! Therefore, ensuring your cat has somewhere to hide when things get too much is also crucial. Fearful cats bite when their “fight or flight” response kicks in, and they choose to attack. However, if there is an option for “flight” and a safe space to retreat to, most cats opt for this over aggression.
Other Common Cat Behaviors
Small, non-aggressive biting is a pretty common behavior in most cats. So, what about some other peculiar things cats like to do on a regular basis? Being familiar with some of these behaviors will enable you to understand and communicate with your cat much better. Here are five common behaviors and what they could mean.
Some cats have a habit of licking their owners’ skin. I have always envied this because my cat does not do this, and I find it to be a very endearing kind of behavior, which it actually is.
Licking is the most essential component of grooming for cats. When your cat licks you, she mimics her grooming process, which can be a great signifier of affection and feeling safe and secure. Cats may also lick you because they want your attention or if they taste something different on your skin.
Your cat licking you doesn’t have any unhealthy consequences for you. Just make sure that your cat is not licking a fresh wound on your skin because that will definitely cause an infection. Other than that, enjoy it!
When I first learned about this, I was shocked: adult cats meow only to communicate with us humans. Kittens may meow to their mothers when they are hungry or scared. However, as they grow up, meowing becomes a tool to communicate with humans only. They do not meow between themselves! Instead, adult cats have other vocal reactions that they may use towards other cats, like yowling or hissing.
Therefore, for adult cats, meowing is mainly a way to get our attention. Whenever your cat is hungry or thirsty, she will meow to have you provide food and water. If you want to decrease your cat’s excessive meowing to get your attention, you should cease responding to your cat as much as possible when she meows at you and do what she wants whenever she is quieter.
There are also some other important reasons why cats can meow at you. They will meow if they have an illness, are experiencing pain, feeling alone, stressed, or when they want to breed (if not neutered).
Scratching is very similar to biting in terms of when and why cats do it. In fact, scratching usually accompanies biting and these two actions typically occur together. Therefore, scratching has the same reasons and meanings as biting.
There are playful, non-aggressive scratches (which are like love-bites) that are usually a sign of play, attention-seeking, or communicating a like or dislike. There are also defensive, aggressive scratches, which can be due to several reasons, like aggressive biting. Often, this is due to a change in the environment or routine that triggers stress. Scratching is your cat’s self-defense mechanism that impulsively kicks in during threatening situations.
The Cat Loaf
The cat loaf is a prevalent sitting position specific to cats. It is when cats tuck all paws underneath themselves and resemble a loaf of bread. This position means your cat feels calm, safe, and sleepy. For a more detailed account of the cat loaf, you can refer to my article, “Why do cats loaf?”
Kneading is one of my favorite behaviors in cats. It is when they continuously push and pull their front paws one by one on a soft surface. Some common examples of surfaces they will knead on are pillows, clothing, and your lap!
This is a behavior remaining from your cat’s kittenhood. As kittens, cats knead their mothers’ breasts to stimulate the area and increase milk secretion. When adult cats knead, this usually means they are relaxed, calm, and about to sleep. If they knead on your lap, be very happy because they are showing affection towards you.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
“Why does my cat bite me?” is a complex question with many answers. To figure out which reason applies, make sure you assess the situation closely.
Is your cat biting you gently without cause? She might be telling you she loves you! Is your cat biting you during petting? You probably rubbed an unpleasant area or stroked the same spot for too long. Has your cat bitten you viciously and drawn blood? She’s likely scared or stressed due to a sudden change, previous trauma, or even redirected aggression.
Always try and figure out which applies – you can then understand what your cat is communicating and how to make the biting stop. Remember – peaceful communication is key to a long and healthy relationship with any pet!