Has your cat ever tried to chew on your fingers? My cat sometimes does and the first time she did it I was baffled. Although it didn’t hurt, she never usually bites me or acts aggressively whatsoever. What had gotten into her? Did my cat hate me? Why does my cat nibble my fingers? If you’re asking yourself similar questions, you’re in the right place!
In this article, I share seven reasons why your cat could be chewing on your hands. From teething kittens to a cat wanting to play, there are plenty of possible explanations. But don’t worry – none of them are your cat’s way of saying they don’t love you anymore. If your cat did want to hurt you, they easily could. With their sharp pointy teeth, drawing blood would take no effort.
However, it is still a good idea to stop your cat from gently nibbling your hand whenever they try to. This applies even to kittens; while this might be cute when they’re small, a biting adult cat isn’t fun to deal with! Therefore, I also share some solutions to discourage this behavior in cats to help you out.
Why Does My Cat Chew on My Fingers?
1. Teething Kittens
If you have teething kittens, they may chew on your fingers as a way to ease the pain of their new teeth coming through. This is similar to how we give teething toys to babies to help our little ones through the difficult teething process.
You will easily be able to tell if your kitten is nibbling your fingers due to teething because:
- Your cat will be at teething age. This typically begins around the age of two to four weeks, and again around the three to four month mark as these baby teeth fall out and are replaced with thirty adult teeth.
- Your cat will not exclusively bite your fingers. Instead, they will nibble all kinds of objects lying around your home, such as cables and cords, leather and upholstered items, or any other soft material they can find.
- Your cat shows other signs of teething. This could include pawing at their mouth or shaking their head, a reduction in appetite as it hurts to eat, and potentially some minor bleeding of the gums.
2. Smelling Food
Have you just prepared a nice meal for yourself or handled something a cat would consider tasty? If so, your cat might nibble your fingers as it thinks you’re holding a treat in your hand. They start nibbling your fingers in search of the food.
Even if you have washed your hands after touching chicken or tuna, your cat might still be able to catch a whiff of the tasty smell lingering. Cats have an incredible sense of smell. They have 200 million olfactory receptors in their noses compared to the 5 million humans have. This means they can smell fourteen times better than people!
You’ll easily be able to tell whether your cat is chewing on your fingers because they will only do it shortly after you eat or cook. If they nibble your hands more than this, keep reading through the other possible reasons on this list.
Overstimulation or “petting-induced aggression” is common in cats. This is when a cat goes from calmly enjoying being petted one minute, to nibbling its owner’s hand the next. My cat bites me when I pet her and it is her signal that she wants me to stop. If your cat does this too, she is likely trying to communicate the same thing.
You can easily tell if this is why your cat nibbles your fingers as it happens during petting. This reaction to petting can be very confusing for owners as a cat’s mood seems to change in an instant. Have you done something wrong? Why isn’t your cat enjoying your cuddles anymore? However, don’t worry – you haven’t done anything wrong at all!
When stroking cats repeatedly over and over in the same spot, it can cause the nerve endings to become overstimulated. Think of it as rubbing a patch of your skin again and again – after a little while it gets annoying and uncomfortable. When this happens, your cat wants to get off as they’ve simply had enough and feel smothered.
However, cats cannot communicate through words that they are feeling this way. And so, they let us know by gently biting your fingers. When doing so, they will never draw blood. Instead, it is always a gentle nip as a reminder that you’re pushing their boundaries. Always listen to your cat and stop stroking them as next time they will bite harder.
4. Showing Trust and Affection
Your cat may chew on your fingers to show that they are trustworthy. It could easily bite down hard with its sharp teeth and draw blood from your hand. However, it instead simply holds your finger in its mouth and presses down lightly with no intent to hurt. This proves you can trust them and is a sure sign that you have a close bond with your kitty.
As with cats that are overstimulated, a cat that chews your finger as a display of trust and affection will do so when petting. However, you can easily distinguish between the two, as a cat that is showing affection will:
- Have an extremely relaxed body posture and look completely at ease. Their eyes will be slowly blinking, their ears in an upright relaxed position, and their tails curled gently around their bodies. In contrast, overstimulated cats will be tenser and thump their tails.
- Continue to bite your hand even if you stop petting them. If they were biting due to overstimulation, they will stop biting as soon as you stop petting them. However, cats that are displaying affection may continue to do so.
- Continue to nibble your fingers even if you pass them a chew toy or something else to nibble on. Again, this proves that they are purposefully nibbling you rather than anything else as they are intent on proving their trustworthiness and love for you.
5. Wanting to Play
Cats are extremely playful creatures and do so by mimicking how they catch their prey. They will stalk and chase an object, before biting it and batting it between their paws. They aren’t fussy about what this item is, be it a cat toy, piece of string, or your fingers!
Playing in this way is an inherent part of all cat’s personalities. Even the most domesticated cats will still have this “wild” urge inside them to chase and catch something. This has been passed on from non-domestic cats through years of evolution and is deeply ingrained in their DNA.
Some cats will nibble your fingers as a request for you to play with them. They are asking you to go and pick up one of their toys. You can easily tell if this is the case because your cat will usually nip you and then run away playfully. They may even run off in the direction of their toys in the hope that you’ll follow, or bring one back over to you.
In other cases, your cat will be nibbling your fingers because they think your hand is a toy itself. This is where it can get dangerous! Cats can really let their wild side out when they play, so you must redirect their attention to a toy if they seem to think you’re something to play with.
Either way, cats only usually demand playtime from their owners like this if they aren’t getting enough attention or playtime already. If this is the case, you’ll usually notice some of the following signs:
- Your cat running around like a maniac due to all their extra pent-up energy
- Your cat is either extremely clingy and starts following you around the house or extremely standoffish towards you
- Your cat is slowly becoming overweight due to the lack of exercise
- Your cat is pouncing on anything it can, such as your ankles, your dog, or a toy
6. Enjoying the Feeling
Another explanation could be that your cat simply likes how your fingers feel in its mouth. They could enjoy the feeling for one of three reasons:
- They can massage their gums which can feel extremely relaxing. Our fingers are the perfect size to fit in most cats’ mouths easily without straining their jaws. They are also a perfect fleshy texture that they can sink their teeth into.
- They enjoy the new and unusual texture. Cats are very curious creatures indeed and discover a lot about the world around them through their sense of taste. A human finger is something they might not get to chew often, and so they jump at the chance.
- They find it comforting as your cat might have picked it up as a habit. This is comparable to how humans sometimes can’t resist nibbling the end of their pens when writing. They might be doing it without thinking but enjoy the calmness it brings.
7. Feeling Stressed
Stress manifests in different ways in cats. Some cats bite their nails in response to stressful situations and start excessively self-grooming. Whenever my cat is hiding and acting weird I know they’re stressed, but other cats might become overly affectionate and clingy. Stress can also cause more major behavior changes, alterations to appetite, and restlessness.
It has also been noted that some stressed cats chew on non-food items as a way to help them relieve their anxiety. The best comparison is how a baby sucks on a pacifier when they are feeling overwhelmed and stressed. It offers your cat some form of comfort.
Cats don’t tend to be fussy about what they chew when they are stressed, but our fingers are the perfect recipient. They are soft, squishy, and the perfect size to fit in their mouths. Besides, some stressed cats will find being near their owners very reassuring, and it doesn’t get much closer than putting your finger in their mouth!
How Do I Stop My Cat From Nibbling My Fingers?
Although letting your cat nibble your fingers is unlikely to do you much damage, it is still a good idea to teach them no. Setting boundaries is important and reduces the risk of your cat accidentally causing real damage someday. Thankfully, you can stop your cat from biting you by following these steps:
- Play Together Regularly: Playing with your cat regularly means they won’t nibble your fingers in an attempt to initiate play. If they ever do go for your hands while playing together, deflect their attention to a toy.
- Create a Calming Environment: Stressed cats aren’t happy cats! Therefore, creating a relaxing home and introducing any changes to routine or environment slowly can both stop your cat from nibbling your fingers and help them live a happier life.
- Learn Cat Body Language: Learning the cues our cats use to communicate how they are feeling is crucial for spotting signs of overstimulation early. You can then learn where their threshold for petting is and never go beyond this.
- Use Chew Toys: If your kittens are teething or you think your cat just likes the feeling of chewing on your fingers, you can try to offer them a chew toy to nibble on instead. This will help teach them your fingers are off-limits.
- Wash Your Hands Thoroughly: Having handled any form of food, ensure you wash your hands thoroughly. This will help to remove the scent so your cat doesn’t think you have food, but you need to be thorough if you’re going to fool their powerful noses!
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
So, why does my cat nibble my fingers? As you can see, there are a whole host of possible explanations! Looking at other signs such as their body language and what was happening just before they bite you can help you determine which applies.
Even though it may be harmless, always try to teach your cat that they are not allowed to bite your fingers. My tips above will help with this, but be sure to choose a solution to match the cause for the most effective results.