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There are many different reasons why your cat may bite you and in some cases, it is quite easy to tell them apart.
Some bites are clearly very aggressive while others might make you wonder if your cat is actually showing affection towards you.
Do Cats Bite as a 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 all of a sudden out of nowhere she 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 in a playful manner while you are having a good time petting her or playing together.
These little bites during petting are actually referred to as cat love bites. They are quite common and not a great cause for concern.
I am sorry to say that unfortunately “love bites” are not usually 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.
You will be able to tell if this is the case by observing your cat’s body language.
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 for a while.
There can be instances when small bites signify some sort of affection though. 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, these little love bites that are no more than gentle peckings are no problem. Just make sure that if these bites mean that you have overstimulated her by petting, then just take a break and let her be. You will have plenty more chances to pet her!
What Does It Mean When a Cat Bites You Hard?
Putting aside the “gentle” love bites mentioned above, there are also instances when your cat might bite you quite hard.
This type of bite may break into your skin and may even cause some bleeding.
This type of aggressive biting may have a couple of meanings, but the most common reason would be overstimulation. Yes, this is essentially the same reason mentioned above to explain the love-bites.
The difference is that love-bites can escalate to aggressive bites if you do not cease to stimulate your cat. When you observe the lowered ears and the agitated tail, make sure you stop interacting with your cat for that moment.
The small love-bites can turn into harder bites accompanied by aggressive scratching.
Cats are very different from dogs in this sense. Unlike dogs, they are usually not down for extended periods of petting. They also do not typically respond well to aggressive and playful petting like dogs do.
Cats also 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. However, their bellies and tail area are very dangerous zones.
Of course, this may vary from cat to cat.
There are cats that enjoy belly rubs or extended periods of intense petting. However, keep in mind that cats that do not react negatively to this kind of petting are kind of rare.
Another reason why your cat may be prone to aggressive biting is that this is what she is used to in terms of communicating with you.
In kittenhood, it is very usual for cats to bite and scratch because this is their way of exploring the world. They are also teething, which makes that area itchy and causes biting.
However, they learn soon enough from their mothers that aggressive biting is uncalled for unless it is for self-defense in a dangerous situation. Cats will not tolerate painful biting from other cats, so other kittens and the mother will react negatively to aggressive biting.
If the kitten has been separated from her mother prematurely, she might not receive this lesson on peaceful communication. If you then continue to enable your kitten’s biting habits, she will get used to this kind of behavior and continue it through adulthood.
How to Stop Your Cat From Biting You?
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.
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 important that your kitten engages with other people this way too. You should make sure that any visitors that 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.
If you have an adult cat that likes to bite and scratch you, there are a few techniques to minimize and maybe even eliminate this behavior.
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 then 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.
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.
With all this being said, never ever try to make your cat do or not do something by using physical punishment. This is really not okay and it will not work on cats anyways.
When your cat bites you, do not show your pain or discontent by slapping her or pushing her aggressively. As I’ve mentioned above, you should communicate your discontent through a painful sound and ceasing your contact as soon as possible.
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.
As you can see, there are ways to still teach your cat peaceful behavior. Just keep in mind that everyone who comes into contact with your cat should mimic your way of interaction so that the things you teach her stick!
Different Types of Biting
I’ve mentioned overstimulation as the main reason for why your cat may be biting you during petting sessions.
To review real quick – biting during petting usually signifies that your cat wants a break and doesn’t want to be pet anymore at that moment.
The type of bite can usually give you a clue on why your cat might be biting you.
For example, if your cat doesn’t like being brushed, she might react by biting and get you to stop brushing. If in the past their bites have stopped you, then they will learn that biting is an effective tool in getting you to stop.
The same can happen with activities like nail-trimming sessions or while you administer parasite drops.
Since you have to do these things, you should be insistent on continuing what you are doing, if you can of course. This will get the message across that biting doesn’t help in stopping what you are doing.
You should utilize positive encouragement as I’ve mentioned above to make these activities more positive experiences for your cat. Reward your cat with a treat after trimming her nails or brushing her.
Another reason your cat may bite you is to call your attention towards something.
If your cat approaches you, bites you a few times harmlessly and then walks away towards something, this may be to draw your attention to something she wants to show you. Cats usually meow to do this, but biting can also be a method of getting your attention.
Apart from these typical types of “harmless” bites mentioned above, there can be unusual overly aggressive bites too.
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, try to evaluate the situation and why your cat might be needing to establish dominance. It might be because she feels threatened.
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 out of 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.
Can Biting Be a Sign of a Health Problem?
Cat love-bites due to overstimulation, “harmless” attention-seeking bites, and bites to get you to stop an unenjoyable activity like nail-trimming are all perfectly normal in cats.
You should not worry about these bites so much because they are your cat’s way of communicating with you and you can effectively minimize these bites through adjusting your own behavior and interaction method with your cat.
With this being said, if the bites are unusually aggressive and persistent, this may signal psychological or physical issues.
As I’ve mentioned before, 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 big changes like this in your cat’s living arrangement can prompt aggressive behavior. So make sure that you identify the reason and take action to make your cat feel better as soon as possible.
Sudden aggression in cats such as biting can also be due to a rare but serious health problem called 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; however, it can be explained as a neurological issue similar to a panic attack in humans. It may have a number of reasons for being triggered such as stress or anxiety.
Some physical problems that may be causing biting can be dental issues, internal and external parasites, hyperthyroidism, and any undetected wounds or pain.
As I’ve mentioned before, kittens usually bite to scratch their gums when they are teething.
This is perfectly normal. However, in adult cats biting may be prompted by dental problems.
If your cat is experiencing pain in her teeth or gums, this will most likely trigger biting. It can also enable biting through aggression because your cat will be in a foul mood because of the pain.
Internal and External Parasites
As I’m writing this heading, I realize that parasites can be the source of every problem.
It seems like I’ve written about parasites in every article as a possible cause for a medical problem in cats.
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 be feeling itchy and uncomfortable. They might also bite you as a symptom of distress and anxiety.
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.
Keep an eye out for these symptoms which are quite easy to recognize when observed all together.
Hyperthyroidism will make itself very clear once you pay attention to your cat. If you do observe these symptoms, visit your vet as soon as possible!
Undetected Wounds or Pain
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. It may cause self-harm and aggression towards you.
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.
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. They do not meow between themselves! They have other vocal reactions that they may use towards other cats like yowling or hissing.
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.
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, stressful, 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) and defensive, aggressive scratches which can be due to a number of reasons just like aggressive biting.
The Cat Loaf
The cat loaf is a very common sitting position specific to cats. It is when cats tuck all paws underneath themselves and resemble a loaf of bread.
This position means that your cat is feeling calm, safe, and even sleepy. For a more detailed account of the cat loaf, you can refer back to my article called 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.
Behaviors Based on Breed and Age
Here is some interesting information about some common cat behaviors that differ from cat to cat based on their breed and age. These are selected bits of information sourced from this study.
Showing affection towards their owners is a trait in cats that varies significantly from breed to breed.
Breeds more prone to showing affection are the Ragdoll, Maine Coon, and Burmese, while Siamese and Bengal cats typically show less affection to their owners.
Abyssinian, Burmese and Siamese cats are prone to having hyperesthesia. As I’ve mentioned before, hyperesthesia is a neurological condition in which cats may be prone to sudden acts of aggression towards you and themselves. This condition may cause excessive biting and scratching in these breeds.
Oriental, Tonkinese, and especially Siamese cats are known to be very vocal – they meow significantly more compared to other breeds.
The quietest breeds are Persian, Ragdoll and Maine Coon cats.
The other distinguishing difference between these breeds at the ends of the meowing spectrum is their level of activity. The quietest breeds are also the breeds that are the least active and the most vocal breeds are the most active.
Other very active breeds include Cornish Rex and Korat, while the least active breed appears to be the British Shorthair.
Aggression towards their owner in cats is something that may also depend on their breed. Studies have shown that Bengal, Turkish Van, Abyssinian, and Siamese cats are higher on the aggression scale than other breeds. On the opposite end of the spectrum are Ragdoll, Persian, British Shorthair, and Norweigan Forest Cat.
Shyness towards humans is observed more in the Russian Blue breed, while Burmese cats are better at socializing with us.
Age is also a very significant factor in determining behavior patterns in cats. Generally speaking, older animals may display more aggressive behavior due to illnesses and discomfort. Younger cats in their prime will typically engage in more playful behavior.
Older animals are more prone to developing illnesses such as hyperthyroidism. This may cause distress and aggression which will definitely affect their behavior. Hyperthyroidism will also trigger over vocalization.
Older cats may also be more prone to meowing excessively because they usually become disoriented, especially at night.
To get more information about cat life stages and how they usually behave during each stage, you may refer back to my previous article called when do cats stop growing?
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.
Bites on your skin can be a problem because they may get infected.
Cat bites are more prone to infection than dog bites. The infection chance in cat bites is 20-50 percent while in dog bites this number is 4-20 percent.
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 that is 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 on yourself, 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 avoid aggression in your relationship.
Aggressive behavior in cats such as intense biting and scratching is not normal and should be taken seriously. As we have explored, this kind of behavior can be due to many things ranging from psychological to a number of physical issues.
Although it is kind of fun to play around with your cat even when she is occasionally biting you, I would really 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.
Remember – peaceful communication is key to a long and healthy relationship with any pet!