Updated - Jul 10th, 2021
Cats have many peculiar behaviors that mystify us, and biting – as unpleasant as it can be – is one of them. As consummate predators, cats have many instinctual aggressive actions, like pouncing, clawing, and, yes, biting. That doesn’t make biting okay. Understanding why cats bite and how to change their behavior can save your hands and face if your cat crosses the fine line between healthy interaction and aggressive play.
Why does my cat bite me?
Cats are not as social as dogs. They groom each other and will sleep together, but that’s the extent of their interaction. Petting is not an instinctual behavior for them – it’s something we, as humans, have domesticated them to accept. So it’s kind of understandable if they seem to find it annoying.
Cats most commonly bite us to tell us they want to stop interacting. Cats have sensitive nerve endings on their bodies that can lead to them becoming overstimulated. If you miss other signs they want to stop interacting, they may resort to biting you.
Why does my cat bite me when I pet her?
There are a couple reasons your cat may bite you during petting. The three most common reasons are:
- You’ve exceeded their sensitivity threshold: Extended petting sessions can be uncomfortable for cats with sensitive skin. Signs of overstimulation are a rippling of the skin on their backs, flattened ears, growling, dilated pupils, and a twitching tail. To avoid a painful bite, let your cat move away from you if you see these signs.
- Pain: Cats are masters at hiding their pain. If your cat is in pain, it may hurt when you hug or pet them, causing them to bite you to stop the interaction. Talk to your vet to rule out any medical issues.
- Control: Cats are all about territory and control, and if you’re petting them in their quiet place, they might not feel they have control over their environment. You risk getting corrected with a bite if your petting isn’t welcome.
Kittens learn about their own bite strength and how to use their claws from their mom and siblings during play. If a kitten is separated from its litter too early, they won’t learn appropriate limits for their teeth and claws – which means they’ll need to learn it from you. We’ll go through some methods to discourage them from biting in a minute, but for now, know that cats have a peculiar way of looking at punishment and don’t react like dogs do. Physical punishment won’t work for cats and could even make the biting issue worse.
Why does my cat bite me gently?
This is most often a love bite. When momma kitties groom and clean their kittens, they gently bite them. Cats use those gentle bites to gain our attention or to show us love and affection.
However, there’s a fine line between stimulating play and aggressive behavior. The latter is called pet-induced aggression. Some cats have negative associations with being touched.
This is true for cats who’ve come from abusive situations or who didn’t have control of their environments. These cats feel fear and anxiety, and they can be over-territorial. Giving them the option to bow out of human interaction can dissuade them from these behaviors. Redirection and positive reinforcement of desirable behavior also work well to discourage pet-induced aggression.
Why does my cat lick me then bite me?
If you watch your cat, you’ll notice they bite and lick themselves (and other cats) when grooming. Biting is also soothing for them. When they lick and bite you, they may be simulating the act of grooming. It could also mean they’re trying to show you that you’re important to them.
Another reason your cat may lick and then bite you is because they want to play. Kittens will lick and bite their siblings to say: “You’re my buddy and I’m feeling feisty. Let’s have some fun!”
Why does my cat bite me unprovoked?
Your cat is on your lap and you’re softly stroking their fur, until suddenly they turn around and bite you – hard. This can be a case of pet-induced aggression, but it’s also possible your cat is overstimulated. Redirecting your cat with a toy or removing your hands from their body can help, but if they’re overstimulated, your cat will appreciate you giving them a chance to move away.
Why does my cat bite my nose?
This depends on the bite. A hard bite can mean your cat has become overstimulated or angry and needs to stop interacting with you. A softer bite can mean your cat is giving you a love bite or trying to simulate grooming. Watch out for signs of overstimulation and release your cat before they give you a hard bite.
Cats also release pheromones from glands in their mouths to leave their scent, and bites release those pheromones on you. So when your cat bites you on the nose, they may be marking you as theirs. If there are other cats in the household, or a new cat coming into your home, your cat may want to mark you in this way. This will let the new cats know: “This person is my territory.”
Why does my cat bite my feet?
Most of the time, when your cat bites your feet, it’s because their hunting instinct is taking over. Cats are very predatory, and moving feet are irresistible if they’re feeling feisty. Human feet are small enough that cats are pretty sure they can take them. So if your feet or your toes are moving, the game is on.
Your cat’s foot fixation can also help them get your attention quickly if they need something like food or water, or want to start a play session. Your cat will bat at your feet or chase their movements until they get what they need.
Why does my cat bite my hair?
Cats like to groom their favorite companion, which in this case is you. When they bite and lick your hair, they’re grooming you, demonstrating that you’re their preferred person.
Kittens weaned or separated from their mom too early will suck and bite on their preferred human – it’s considered a self-soothing behavior. However, if you don’t like it, redirecting your cat’s attention can stop the behavior. And when it’s excessive, it may be due to stress or a medical issue. Seek your vet’s advice to rule out medical issues if necessary.
Why does my cat bite me when I sleep?
Cats are most active at dawn and dusk – they’re nocturnal or crepuscular by nature. In the wild, the small rodents that cats love to hunt are most active at dawn and dusk, so it makes sense that those times are the most active hours for cats, too.
If your cat bites when you when you’re asleep, it means they’re bored and want you to wake up and play with them. They could also be self-soothing or grooming you. Cats get bored in the late night and early morning hours, which can make them want to interact with you. (At least, that’s what my cats do with me!) Your cats might also bite you at night if they’re hungry.
The best way to stop this behavior is to redirect your cat’s attention. Leave out some interactive toys for them to play with or feed them before you go to bed.
Why does my cat bite my face?
If you’re cuddling with your cat and they gently bite your face, they’re giving you a love bite – complete with pheromones! – to mark you as theirs. But if the bite is hard, it’s time to let your cat move away from you.
Remember: a cat doesn’t bite without a reason. Watching out for signs of what they’re feeling can help you avoid most bites, even love bites.
Cat Rules to Curb Bites
Cats are aloof and don’t respond well to punishment, especially physical punishment like swats or water spritzing. Physical punishment can make aggressive behavior worse – now, your cat will want to fight back, and will prefer to avoid you.
Since cats aren’t driven to work alongside humans like dogs, they require different methods of training. They tend to respond best to positive reinforcement.
When your cat scratches their cat post instead of your furniture, reward them with a treat or a play session with their favorite toy. When you’re cuddling and your cat wants to bite you, redirect them by changing position or petting a different area of their body. If you see signs of overstimulation, allow your cat to end the interaction.
It’s also helpful to pay attention to when and where the aggressive behavior begins, along with environmental factors:
Time of day: Does your cat bite when they’re naturally most awake and ready to hunt or play (dusk and dawn)? If so, they may be trying to get your attention to play or interact with you.
Location: Cats are all about territory, and this applies to humans, as well. If your cat is napping on the cat tree – or anywhere else they consider their “quiet place” – interacting there may not be welcome. There’s also a good chance they’d prefer not to interact with you near their feeding dish and litter box.
Other pets: In multi-cat households, territories can change throughout the day. If one cat is in the forbidden territory of another cat when the other cat enters the room, they may be distracted and unwilling to interact with you. This can also happen if a dog or another human enters the room.
If a cat is new to your household, they can become stressed around other animals if their territory hasn’t been firmly established. This can leave them feeling vulnerable.
Cats are also easily stimulated by noise or excessive activity, which make them want to escape. When you have company, many cats will disappear, seeking quiet and solitude away from the noise.
What your cat was doing beforehand: Cats have a pattern of activity they follow. They hunt, eat, groom, and then sleep. If you watch them closely, you can see this behavior play out day after day with all cats.
The best time to interact with your cat is when they’re hunting – they’ll be willing to play and get out some energy. Conversely, it’s not a good idea to interact when they’re grooming themselves. Most cats (including mine) get offended when you interrupt their self-grooming time, or pet their freshly groomed fur.
Many cats also like to cuddle when they’re sleeping. My cats will purr if I stroke their fur when they’re napping. I watch them for signs of discomfort or aggression, but it’s rare that I see one during naptime.
Cats bite us for many reasons. Most of the time, they want to stop us from doing something – like petting them – but sometimes, they bite us to reciprocate love and attention. Figuring out why your cat bites you can help you stop this behavior so long as you avoid punishment and use positive training practices.
Cats are curious creatures, and we love them for their quirkiness. Understanding their instinctual urges not only deepens our relationship with them – it also helps them gain confidence, keeps them healthy, and makes it easier for them to be our companions and confidants.