Why Do Cats Bite?

Does this sound like you? You’re petting an adorable cat that’s nestled up next to you and suddenly….she bites you? I have.

It’s such an unexpected experience. But figuring out why cats start biting can be confusing–because cats will bite unprovoked and seemingly out of nowhere.

Cats are notorious for wanting their space and running the show in the house. But when they start biting, it can be a little concerning. There are lots of reasons a cat may bite someone.

Let’s explore 4 reasons and how you can stop or prevent your cat from biting.

Reason 1: Cats are in charge.

…and that’s probably why so many cat-people love them! Felines pretty much call the shots. Sure, you control their next meal and clean the kitty litter, but at the end of the day, cats are the boss.

Cats, more so than dogs, decide when they’re in the mood to play. Most dogs may become excited the minute they see the leash or a favorite toy. A cat…she’s a completely different creature.

A cat may bite you to remind you that she’s in charge (so leave her be).

Reason 2: Cats have something to say about how you pet them.

Sometimes cats bite when they are trying to communicate that the contact they’re getting isn’t pleasant.

There is a very fine line between enjoyable handling and irritating petting. So while you might think the bite has come out of nowhere, your kitten feels her actions are justified.

For adult cats, there are a few different messages the biting is trying to communicate:

  • I’m afraid. Your cat has become fearful during the petting or play.
  • You’re too aggressive. You may be playing with her more aggressively than she’s in the mood for or your touch is too hard.
  • I think you’re another cat. She may be playing with you like she would with another cat.
  • I’m in control. Your cat may be trying to assert her dominance.
  • I feel threatened. Your cat has become overwhelmed and suddenly feels threatened, so, naturally, she bites to make the threat stop.

It’s important to understand what your kitten is trying to communicate when she starts biting. She’s trying to send you a message, and that message is “stop”.

Cats will essentially bite to stop the unwanted actions or behaviors by humans or other animals. If biting has worked in the past, the cat will continue to use it.

However, some bites are used to demand your attention. Cats tend to bite more often than meowing. If your cat nips you then tries to lead you to a toy, she probably just wants to play.

For young kittens, they are still learning about play aggression and the line of “too much.” They may rough-house a bit with other kittens and think it’s appropriate for a human…but it isn’t. They have to learn this as they grow.

Some cats even give a “love bite” to show affection. These gentle bites are a sign that the cat wants your attention and would like to be near you. This can be managed by observing your cat’s body language and reading the signs before the love bite. You can also try some enrichment toys or increased playtime!

Reason 3: You’re getting them dirty.

Cats are clean creatures. The primary reason cats lick themselves is to eliminate dirt, debris, and odors, including human odors. Maybe you’ve noticed your kitten might groom herself right after you pet her to eliminate your scent to smell like herself again.

Everything has an odor. Hand soap, doorknobs, clothing, and even your breath has an odor that your cat might not like. So, if you petting her puts your scent on her, she may bite you as a way to get you to stop.

Your cat wants your love, but she also has to keep clean. Your cat has to lick herself clean and to do that she tastes everything. So be mindful of where your hands have been and what scent you’re leaving on her fur.

Reason 4: Your cat has reached her petting limit.

It’s hard to judge just how long to pet your kitty without her telling you “enough is enough.” And I’m guilty of this as well.

Next time you’re petting your cat, make a mental note about how long it takes before she says enough.

There are other signals as well for when your cat has reached her tolerance level. Look for:

●     Dilated pupils

●     Thumping or lashing tail

  • Flattened ears
  • Shifting body
  • Twitching skin

Learn the cues to stop petting before your majesty “takes control” of the situation by observing her closely. Just remember that like you – pets need space too.

How should I respond to a cat bite?

The instinct is to be mad. Anyone who’s been around a cat long enough knows…a cat really doesn’t care if you’re mad. They are not like dogs.

Even so, getting mad won’t solve anything. Depending on the context, if your cat bites you, immediately stop petting her or doing what you were doing. This will tell your cat that you respect her wishes or that her bite was inappropriate.

You should never react negatively to the cat’s bite.

“The owner should never scruff, shake, spray or frighten the cat in any way; this will cause the cat to reply with true and dangerous aggression,” Dr. Bright told PetMD.

Because cats use their teeth to express their annoyance, it’s important to avoid the annoying trigger and possibly modify your cat’s response.

What should I do if a cat bites me?

If a cat does bite you and punctures your skin, be sure to wash the wound quickly with soap and warm water. Look for any pain, swelling, or redness that may spread. If you see any of these, consult with your doctor or go to a walk-in clinic to prevent any infections. A bite can become unpleasant rather quickly.

If your cat draws blood after she bites you, then cleans the wound. Use an appropriate disinfectant and seek medical attention, depending on the situation.

Continue to practice more friendly play and call your vet or an animal behavior specialist if attacks keep happening. An increase in bites or general aggression could be rooted in an underlying medical condition.

Remember, cats aren’t necessarily trying to harm you, and becoming angry, yelling, or punishing won’t help the situation.

How to train your kitten to not bite.

Contrary to popular belief, cats can be trained. Think of how many people now leash-walk their cats!

If you want to nip biting in the bud, it’ll be most effective to start early on, when she is still a kitten.

Before you begin training though, make sure to get a full check-up at the vet to be sure that your cat doesn’t have any underlying medical conditions and are causing any biting behavior. Joint pain and hearing problems could be at the root of biting.

Here are a few of my training tips to reduce biting:

  • Speak clearly and confidently and reinforce with positive praise like “sit, good, sit.”
  • Use a reward system with food as reinforcement during your kitten’s training.
  • Using a “clicker” or soft sounding bell once you provide a treat will help your cat to associate that sound with a present.
  • Keep sessions short, ending them before your cat gets bored or tired. Try sessions not more than 10-15 minutes to keep your cat-student fresh.
  • Keep training sessions consistent. Use the same cues, signals, and rewards.
  • Wait until your cat has mastered one skill before trying to show them another. Kittens love variety and will get bored quickly.
  • Try to fit a training session in a day – sporadic sessions might not get you the results you would like and will confuse your cat.

When training your cat to use the litter box or not jump on the counter, the main thing is to be patient and reward the behaviors you want to see. This will take time.

Encourage your cat in each session with as many positive praises and rewards for her good behavior.

If your kitty does something wrong, use a firm “no” before directing them to something else.

For example, if she’s knocking items off the table firmly say “no” and dangle a toy for her to play with. You’re not rewarding bad behavior by doing this since you’ve told her no. Your cat will see it as “Mom’s not mad at me, but don’t do it again.” And she’ll see it that way since you’re not withholding your love.

All in all, cats will bite for a variety of reasons. Learn the cues your cat gives you prior to a bite so you can avoid it in the future. If your cat is love biting you, try some of the training techniques to redirect her behavior to what you want…and give her some more playtime and attention every day!

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