If you’ve spent any time around cats, you’ll know how quickly a loving cuddle can turn into a sharp bite. One minute, Sir Pounce is purring away happily and the next he’s sinking his razor-sharp little teeth into you. As a cat owner, this can be extremely painful. Not always physically painful, but the sting of this sudden betrayal can really cut deep.
In all seriousness though, why does your cat bite you? This post will take you through the various reasons your cat may be biting, what this means, and how you can deal with it.
Why does my cat bite me?
First, let’s establish some context. What is the situation like when your cat bites you? This will tell us a lot about why your cat may be biting you and what that bite is telling you.
Kittens love to play and often practice their hunting on humans. They will frequently use their needle-sharp teeth to nip during play. Fear not – you haven’t adopted a blood-thirsty killing machine, this is just an important part of the teething process.
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While it’s fun to play with kittens and encourage them to chase and bite toes and fingers, it’s inadvisable to encourage this behavior. Your cat will only continue this into adulthood and let’s just say that while kitten teeth hurt, they’re just a smaller version of adult teeth…
Cats are natural hunters and will always require an outlet for this need to stalk and hunt prey. If you don’t provide adequate stimulation for your cat, they will begin to use you as, well, a convenient, meaty chew toy. They don’t mean this badly, so don’t take it personally. They just want to vent their energy and have a great time.
A lot of pawrents aren’t aware that it’s essential to set aside daily playtime with your cat to give them a good stalking and hunting session. Not only is this great exercise for them (helpful in combatting weight gain, especially in indoor cats), but it’s a healthy outlet for any frustration and energy and the all-important hunting instinct.
Biting during petting
A cat that suddenly bites a human hand during a petting session is a very common scenario. You’re stroking Sir Pounce, who seems to be loving the attention and purring loudly, and all of a sudden, searing pain tears up your arm as a set of strong jaws drives sharp teeth deep into your flesh.
If you ask most humans, they’ll tell you that the cat bites were totally unprovoked.
The truth is that often cats communicate their feelings with us using their body language, and we simply don’t pay attention to the signs. If you don’t spot the signs that Sir Pounce has had enough pets, you’ll continue leaving him with no other choice but to escalate from subtle hints to the body language equivalent of screaming — the bite.
This isn’t meant aggressively or with the intention to harm you. It’s simply your cat’s way of firmly telling you they’ve had enough.
Cat love bites are gentle little nips or nibbles and usually don’t hurt too much. It’s believed that these are learned from mother cats who often give little nibbles or bites to their kittens while grooming them. It’s not an aggressive or threatening action at all, but more of a playful nibble.
If your cat is in a fight mode, upset, frightened, or feeling threatened, they will usually let you know this by puffing out their fur, spitting, hissing, and arching their back. In this state, your cat is telling you to back off. Approaching will more than likely result in a bite.
These defensive bites are deep, painful, and meant to chase you off. If you’re bitten, be sure to clean the wound and seek medical advice. Infection in these wounds is common.
According to the study, cats and other domestic animals are prone to bites when they are under stress. Findings showed that after the natural hazard, the top three trauma complaints included bites from domestic animals.
Cat bites accounted for 40 per cent of people who suffered from animal bites. Following the catastrophe, cat bites oozed away. It explains why cats can suddenly bite you even if such behavior is not common for your purring friend.
Remember, your cat didn’t bite you because they don’t love you. They bit you because you didn’t respect the boundary they laid out. Scolding or shouting at your cat for biting you will do more harm than good.
What does it mean when a cat bites you?
So, we’ve covered a number of contexts in which cat bites are common. But when do we know if we need to be concerned? What is considered bad biting?
Usually, a bite is a sign that you’ve not paid attention to what your cat is telling you. But sometimes cats biting can be a sign of something more.
Know what’s normal for your cat, that way when something changes you can take appropriate steps early on. A cat that suddenly begins biting when they never did before is most likely in pain. In the wild, it’s not a good thing for a cat to show that they are weak or in pain, and they will usually hide this behind aggression. If you suspect your cat is in pain, contact your vet immediately.
How to stop cats from biting?
Biting is a natural part of being a cat. Most often bites can be avoided by paying careful attention to the context and the subtle signals your cat is sending you.
If your cat is biting, there’s usually a pretty good reason for it, and you’ll need to be able to spot the signs to be able to correctly decode the reason for the biting.
Here are a few reasons cats bite and the warning signs you need to look out for if you wish to avoid being bitten:
The cues here are usually very subtle, but if you’re aware of them, it’s super easy to avoid getting bitten. If you see any of the below when petting or playing with your cat, it’s your sign to back away. Your cat uses the following warning signs:
- Swishing and twitching tail
- Flattened ears
- Stiff posture
- Whiskers forward
- Dilated pupils
Frustration and play aggression
This kind of aggression is common in kittens and young cats who are the only pet in the house. This basically amounts to playing a little rough in the absence of siblings, prey, or any other healthy outlets for their hunting instincts.
If your cat stalks your toes, leaps out at you from around corners to savage your ankles, or plays a little too rough with you, these are the signs that you need to ensure that you provide healthy alternatives.
Yes, it’s cute when a kitten plays and bites your hand, but when they get older and bigger (and their jaws stronger and teeth sharper), it will be less adorable. Provide regular healthy playtime and appropriate toys.
Healthy play includes mimicking a hunt. Allow your cat to stalk and chase and run and jump. But before they are completely tired out, give them the satisfaction of catching their ‘prey’ and ‘killing’ it. Omitting these last two steps will just lead to a buildup of even more frustration. Be sure not to encourage overly aggressive behavior.
If you’re bitten, don’t squeal or scream or even shout — this can be seen by your cat as encouragement. Remain quiet and offer a more appropriate toy instead.
Fear, pain, stress
If biting is accompanied by any of the following, you may need to get your cat to the vet for a checkup:
- Over-grooming and hair loss
- Changes in litter box behavior
- Hissing or growling
- Changes in appetite
If your sweet kitty is suddenly biting you when they never have before, it’s likely related to pain. A cat in pain will hide its vulnerability behind aggression – approach with caution, but definitely get kitty to a vet sooner rather than later.
If you have children, it’s important to teach them how to engage with a cat to create a safe and happy environment for everyone. Often, children will handle cats roughly or chase and corner cats in a way that they think is playful. Unfortunately, cats may interpret this behavior slightly differently and feel trapped, threatened, and stressed, leading them to respond defensively in the form of scratching and biting.
Manage your reactions
It’s important that you don’t try to punish your cat for biting. Respond calmly and try not to add further emotion to the situation. Yelling or stomping your feet will only frighten your cat and serve to exacerbate the problem and potentially damage any trust that you’ve built up with your cat. Never try to physically discipline a cat.
Cats won’t associate your shouting as a punishment to their biting, so your attempts to provide consequences for biting will inevitably be fruitless. Your best option is to redirect your cat to more appropriate behavior and reinforce that behavior by rewarding it positively with a treat. Aggression from you will damage the relationship with your cat, thereby creating more problems than it attempts to resolve.