Just a Nibble or Act of Aggression: Why Do Cats Bite Us?

Posted by Megan Swinney
why does my cat bite me

Is it a love nibble? Or should you sleep with one eye open? 

You're sitting on the couch petting your cat. One second they go from purring and cuddling to pouncing and biting. You may wonder what you did wrong that could have caused this sudden change in your cat's mood. Could the meowing somewhere in the middle have been a warning sign that the petting session was about to be over?

It's amazing how fast cats can go from a loving purr to wanting nothing to do with you. Even though cat owners are very familiar with their attitudes, we still wonder, why does my cat bite me?

Reasons For Cat Biting

1. They Are Giving You Love Bites

Believe it or not, a gentle bite can be a sign of affection. It is also a way for your cat to communicate with you. For example, if you have stopped playing or petting your cat, a gentle nip is their way of telling you that they want you to continue. Some cats will merely bump you with their heads, much like dogs, but others think a nip or two will be more likely to get the reaction they are looking for.

However, if you resume petting them, your cat will resort to using nipping as a way to get attention. Instead of rewarding the bad behavior, redirect your cat's attention or simply walk away. Resume petting them when they are sitting calmly.

2. Your Cat's Playing

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During playtime, cats can get a little rambunctious and begin clawing at their toys or at you. Often, they are not being an aggressive cat--It's just how they play, especially kittens. Granted, if you encourage that aggressive behavior in kittens, it can carry over into adult cats. According to Hartz, a common reason for aggressive biting during play is that the cat was taken from its mother too early.

The mother cat and their siblings teach them what is and is not acceptable during play. Then, they will go all out with their claws and teeth, seeing how far their kitty family members will let them go with nipping and nibbling before they get shut down.

Kittens that have not had that experience will transfer the impulse to their human parents, which means you will have to teach your cat what is and is not appropriate behavior for play. If it is just a gentle bite, try not to react and walk away. Your cat will learn that you do not respond to the behavior. Avoid rough play with young kittens, so they do not think that type of behavior is acceptable in the long run.

Also, try to use toys in place of your hands for playtime. That will encourage appropriate cat behavior. If you have an indoor cat, their play aggression may be bored or frustrated. Set up a routine with regular play sessions to keep them stimulated. Give them toys that they can pounce on, and remember to rotate their toys frequently. It doesn't hurt to tire them out, either!

3. They Are In Pain or Scared

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RELATED: Interactive Cat Toys: 8 Awesome Additions for Your Furry Friend's Toy Box

Aggressive behavior can present itself when your cat is feeling afraid. Much like when they meet a new pet or head to the vet, other scary situations can bring out your cat's teeth and claws. If heading to the vet brings out the aggressive bite in your cat, you can get them more comfortable with their carrier or car rides by giving them treats and making it very cozy.

If biting is something new to your cat, it may be a sign that they need a little extra pet care. For example, their paw could be hurt, or they can have an injury elsewhere on their bodies, which is why your attempt to cuddle may be met with a bite.

Stress is another reason for your cat to act out. This may come in the form of biting, scratching, hissing, or not using their litter box correctly. Our cat always leaves little outside of the litter box surprises when something changes, and she is not happy about it, even if it's just us moving her water bowl. Catnip can help ease your cat's stress and tension. Who doesn't want a treat that adds a little relaxation?

 4. Your Cat is Overstimulated

Cats do not like to have too much attention. Hence overstimulation can become a huge issue. As a cat owner, it is crucial to watch your cat's body language. Often your cat's behavior will give you clues to what they want and don't want. If you see any of the following signs, it is time to leave your can alone:

  • Flattened ears
  • Dilated pupils
  • Stiff body
  • Whiskers forward
  • Twitching skin or tail

They may have had too much petting, or they just need some alone time. Unfortunately, if you ignore the signs your cat is clearly giving you, you will likely get a few cat bites.

Another reason a cat could be biting is that they are teething. Make sure you provide your kitten with the appropriate chew toys to ease their teething symptoms and give them a productive outlet that is not your arm.

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Just a Nibble or Act of Aggression: Why Do Cats Bite Us?