Why your cat bites you and how to stop it

Nasty little cat nips can leave us more than a little shocked and confused, especially when they come from out of the blue. 

Is it something we’re doing wrong? Does our feline have anger issues?

We often tend to think our pets bite us out of aggression, when they’re mad or annoyed. While that sometimes is the case, it’s certainly not the sole cause. 

Gentle nibbles can come from a place of love and affection; their way of telling us just how much we mean to them.

It may be down to overstimulation brought on by a particularly high-energy play session, or an incident that’s left them scared or shaken. It could simply be them looking for attention.

A firm ‘no’ combined with a swift withdrawal of the hand should show your cat they’ve crossed a line, but as this article will explore, there are a number of ways we can put a stop to this sometimes irritating – and painful – habit. 


Is it normal for cats to bite?

It’s rare to come across a pet parent who hasn’t been at the sharp end of their feline’s incisors.

Cats are natural hunters, it’s hardwired into their DNA. By occasionally flashing their teeth, they’re only expressing these predatory instincts.

Cat biting is actually one of the most common feline behavioural problems. In most cases it’s completely normal, but there are instances where it may be sign of distress or anxiety 

This is why it’s crucial that you know and understand the different types of cat bites. 


Types of biting 

  • Playful biting. So called ‘cat love bites’ are often a response to over-exuberant play sessions. It’s a gentle nip that typically occurs while you’re petting them. Cats will sometimes nibble at your skin to show affection, but in this case, they’re telling you they’ve had enough interaction for the time being.  Over in a flash, these ‘bites’ won’t break the skin, and aren’t accompanied by raised fur or a hiss and a growl. However, they can still be painful.


  • Anxious biting. It doesn’t take much to stress out some cats. A sudden change in routine, a new pet or baby, even a switch up in diet; any of these things can leave our felines’ heads in a spin, resulting in strange, never-before-seen behaviours. Excessive biting/chewing is one such behaviour. And these nervous nibbles won’t be confined to you either, with shoes, curtains, and sofas all potential targets. 


  • Aggressive biting. Without doubt the most concerning form of biting, and for those on the receiving end, often an extremely frightening and painful experience. Fortunately, biting of this nature, which can be brought on by fear, annoyance, injury, or illness, is generally a rare sight. The best way to avoid this type of bite is to spot the early warning signs – dilated pupils, arched back, tail erect with raised hair – and diffuse the situation before they strike. 


6 ways to stop your cat from biting 

  1. Don’t use your hands as toys. Offering up your bare hands, or feet, as toys for your cat to play with is only asking for trouble. By wiggling your hand over their face, teasing and tempting them to chase it, you’re giving them the impression that biting you is a game. They may even think that by nipping at your skin they’re bonding with you. 


  1. Toys. Providing your feline with toys to sink their teeth into is a far more sensible – and safer – option than letting them think your hands are playthings. Stuffed animals, wand toys, and laser points will all help to satisfy those hunter instincts, while hopefully making you a less frequent target for their teeth.


  1. Positive reinforcement. Instead of biting, cats may sometimes gently place their mouth on your hand in an attempt to gain your attention. When they do this; give praise, and reward them with a treat. This tells them that their actions are acceptable, and will encourage similar behaviour during bonding sessions. Always feed your cat healthy treats, and make sure they are only used in addition to a complete and well-balanced diet. 


  1. Withdraw attention. The second you feel or see your feline leaning into bite, issue a firm ‘no’, stop playing with them, and walk away. You can return to them a minute or two later, but if they make another attempt to ‘attack’, repeat the process. Over time they should begin to understand that what they’re doing is wrong, and alter their behaviour accordingly. 


  1. Don’t overreact. While there’s nothing wrong with a firm ‘no’, shouting at your cat in an overly aggressive or threatening manner is only going to make matters worse. Not only do you risk putting them under increased stress, which can be severely detrimental to health and wellbeing, you may just be antagonising them further. Similarly, try not to squeal or scream, in case they see this as encouragement. 


  1. Tell the family. As soon as you know how you’re going to handle/react to a snappy cat in the home, make sure the whole family is following the same plan. Training cats can be difficult enough without them receiving mixed messages. Ensure visitors follow the same rules, too. 


Should I take my cat to the vet if they keep trying to bite me?

When cats display out-of-character aggression, such as biting, it’s vital we take steps to find out what’s causing their unhappiness. If you’re unable to pinpoint the source of their displeasure, and their aggressive behaviour continues, speak to a vet.

If your cat does bite you, and the bite breaks skin or draws blood, you should immediately wash out with soap and water, checking for signs of infection. Contact your doctor if the wound fails to heal. 

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