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Does Your Cat Bite?

Does Your Cat Bite?

Sometimes cats bite the hand that’s petting them–occasionally hard enough to break the skin. Why do they bite, and can you train them not to?

It is easy to mistake the reason behind the nip, according to Arden Moore, author of The Cat Behavior Answer Book (Storey Publishing, 2007). In the book, she explains that your cat is not delivering a love bite, but rather a clear indication that she has endured enough of human kindness. Her nip translates into “Kindly stop petting me or I will bite harder.”

Some cats bite because as kittens they were permitted to play “hand wrestling” with their owners, who considered it cute antics. They grow up thinking it is okay to bite and swat at hands. But when they do it as adults with big sharp teeth and sharp claws, they aren’t nearly as cute.

Other cats bite because they are scared or do not feel well–but if the biting has been going on her whole life, it sounds like a classic case of petting-induced aggression. While some cats can tolerate being petted, others feel overstimulated by the sensation and automatically react by lashing out. Your cat may be lashing out at you as a last resort after delivering what she believes to be clear pre-strike warnings. These may include tail lashing, ear flicking, dilated pupils, shifting position, tensing muscles, and ceasing to purr. When your cat displays these warning signals, that’s your cue to stop petting. She has communicated with you that she is done with being petted.

Do not be eager to pet your cat for a while. Greet her in a friendly tone, but avoid petting her for a couple of days. This will make her desire your physical attention. When you do pet her, do so for just a few seconds then stop. By being in better tune with her body signals, you can stop before she feels overwhelmed and save your hand from an unwanted bite.

Read more: Behavior & Communication, Cats, Pets, , ,

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.

139 comments

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9:13AM PST on Feb 22, 2014

LOVE BITES ONLY!!!

11:52AM PST on Feb 14, 2014

I've had a multi-cat household for 30 yrs along with dogs and kids and never had a biter, other than the occasional love nip or warning nip when petting some cats bellies. So it has always amazed me when hearing of cats that do aggressively bite. I recently watched a series called 'My Cat from Hell' on Netflix (maybe on cable) that successfully deals with all kinds of unwanted cat behaviors from a very interesting & entertaining cat whisperer type. Despite all my years with multiple cats, I've learned a lot, and much like undesirable dog behaviors, it most often stems from ignorance on the owner's part and not understanding the cat. Most untoward behaviors can be resolved very quickly.

1:01PM PST on Feb 13, 2014

My rescue cat is a "biter" but she won't go for the face. I got her at a year old and I'm convinced she was with people who played rough with her. When I first got her, I couldnt touch her back or stomach. She now LOVES me to brush her back and raises her rump. She also allows me to stroke her from head to tip of tail. She STILL goes into fight mode if I get anywhere near her tummy. Just know your animal. Some can only stand so much stimulation. I let her determine when she wants to be cuddled and stroked. She loves to have her ears rubbed (inside and out) and loves to be kissed on her forehead, ears and neck.

8:57AM PST on Feb 13, 2014

Your link headline is "does your cat bite while being pet?" Your article has proper English, but the headline doesn't; the word is PETTED. And the best way to avoid a cat bite is to PAY ATTENTION TO THE CAT'S BEHAVIOR. I've lived with dozens of cats in my life and never had a serious bite. A cat will tell you when enough is enough. But you have to listen.

8:34AM PST on Feb 13, 2014

My Coonie-mix Thori sometimes shares some so-called "love bites", but those never get very deep into my skin. He really doesn´t mean that badly, but sometimes it just happens. But if he looks at me with his big green eyes, I just got to forgive him immediately! My Norwegian-mix Gizzy´s never bitten me yet since I got him from private more than 3 years ago, Thori´s with us since the end of May 13. They´re nine and a half years and six and a half years old now and my babies. But they shall stay whole tomcats...

9:05PM PDT on Oct 11, 2012

i have a one year old cat that loved being petted, however ever since we added the new kitty to the family she don't let anybody get close to her.. and when she does she starts hissing and bitting. why is that?? and what can i do??

10:24AM PDT on Aug 30, 2012

Thanks for the article. Very interesting ideas though I do believe that some cats nip to show their love. I have one who does so even when I'm not touching him and he's just lying in my lap.

5:52AM PDT on Aug 30, 2012

I usually deserve them as I've done something to make her mad, their never deep.

1:43PM PDT on Jul 23, 2012

Thanks for posting!

7:56AM PDT on Jul 22, 2012

Just love bites and you know this because they go to bite bur automatically stop instinctively before puncturing the skin. As this is also another way of showing their affection.

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