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Why Do Some Cats Bite?

Updated on March 24, 2016

It is common for kittens to bite during play, but what does it mean when a cat bites you during petting or nibbles your toes when you get out of the shower?


Kitten Bites

Most cats learn about biting during kitten play. With their playmates they learn how much is too much, a rough bite to a sibling ends with a quick yell and a bite or claw in return. By grooming each other they learn what a bite to the ear or other body part feels like. This can be a problem for kittens who were separated from their mother or siblings too soon. In this situation your kitten will need training to not bite human hands.

Why Do Cats Bite?

If you have more than one cat or are experienced cat owners you will recognise that cats all have different personalities. Their independent natures and varying attention spans means that they differ in how much petting, stimulation and play they will tolerate.

Many owners have been in the situation where they will be stroking their purring cat and they suddenly try to bite them. Alternatively during play a cat turns from biting the toy to biting the human hand. The reason behind the biting can be baffling at first but there are several possibilities as to why the cat is displaying the behavior.

1. Over Stimulated

If a cat is purring while being stroked and suddenly bites it may be over stimulated. Some cats will jump up and move away when they have had enough of petting but others respond by biting to signal they have had enough.

2. Hurt or Sick

During stroking if a cat is touched on an injured or sore body part it might instinctively bite. The cat is communicating to you to stop. This can also be an issue with children and rough handling. The cat may enjoy pleasurable petty but not rough handling. A cat who is feeling unwell may wish to be left alone.

3. Afraid or Angry

A cat who is afraid or angry may instinctively bite you warm you how it is feeling. For example a cat being chased by a dog may bite its rescuer when picked up by a human and removed from the situation.

4. Redirecting Aggression

The website The Conscious Cat describes redirected aggression as

"it happens when a cat is agitated by an animal, event, or person it can’t get at. Unable to lash out at the perceived threat, the cat turns to the nearest victim. This may be another cat or pet in the household, or it may be the cat’s humans"

This could happen when the usual situation changes, visitors to the house, a new pet or moving house.

How to Anticipate Biting

It is generally believed that cats show they are about to bite by their body language. By watching your cat carefully you will be able to recognize the signs. Some signs could be -

-twitch of the tail

-ears turned towards the back of the head



If your cat is biting during stroking, it is also possible to measure how much time it can tolerate stroking before it becomes over stimulated.

Kittens Playing With a Feather Wand


What Can you do to Stop the Biting?

There are several ways you can train your cat not to bite. Avoid play fighting with your cat, especially with your hands. You are trying to train your cat that human hands must not be bitten. For rough play cats should have 'prey' like toys or feather wands so that your hands are not involved in the play.

One way to begin training is during petting. Watch for the signs that your cat will nip and reward with a treat before it happens. Continue stroking and offer another treat. Repeat this over a period of time to teach the cat that you are rewarding them for not biting.

Alternatively if your cat nips or tries to nip during play or petting, remove yourself from the activity. By stopping and walking away the cat is learning that you do not want to be with them when they bite.

Another strategy is to pick up the cat and place them on their scratching post when they signal they are about to bite.

Some people do use a water spray bottle to deter biting. It is important to not spray the cat directly in the face or up close, you need just enough for them to feel the spray. This method is not popular with everyone.

So a combination of rewarding for positive behavior and withdrawing during negative behavior your cat will learn overtime that nipping is not acceptable.

Bite on Arm Received from a Kitten

bruise on arm from cat bite
bruise on arm from cat bite | Source

What to do if you Receive a Cat Bite.

Cat bites can be harmful as their mouths are full of bacteria that can cause infection. It is important to wash the wound and look for signs of infection. If the skin is broken hold the wound under running water to wash away as much bacterial as you can. Wash the area with soap or a salt water solution. It may be necessary to seek medical help for antibiotics if the wound becomes infected.

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© 2014 Ruthbro


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