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Why does my cat bite me when I pet him or her?

Why does my cat bite meIs it simply a playful bite or is it real aggression? Sometimes a playful bite, and I mean a real bite and not a gentle love bite, shows a cat’s inability to know how hard to do so. This often happens when kittens are taken from their siblings too early — by playing together kittens learn to do it gently. Another reason can be that owners themselves encourage rough behaviour. Thus always be gentle when playing with kittens — when one playfully bites you hard, stop and move your attention away. This avoids a repeat when the kitten is an adult. What is playful behaviour as a kitten can do real damage as an adult. A well brought up kitten rarely leads to the question why does my cat bite me.

Even when a cat gets older avoid rough behaviour. If your cat starts biting you hard while playing disengage immediately. You can easily recognize playfulness examples include batting you with paws, trying to catch your moving hands and stalking. If your cat is on your knee, stand up and walk away, or if on the floor, walk away from her. Even walk right out of the room.

Resist scolding your cat as this may reinforce the undesirable behaviour rather than discourage it. Instead play with your cat more often. Use a wand or piece of string to give an outlet for aggression. Reinforce acceptable play by rewarding with a tasty treat.  Avoid play such as chasing your feet or hands, or pouncing on you, as this will make the problem worse.

There is another reason a cat may bite. Sometimes a cat decides it has simply had enough play. Children may invoke this response when they are not sensitive to a cat’s needs, or if you pick up a cat and start petting it when it does not want the attention. This is most likely when a cat has had too little handing as a kitten, particularly in the first two-to-six weeks. In this case, your cat will tolerate–and may even enjoy–picking up for a short period, but after this will respond with aggression. In this case you will need to recognize how long you can safely hold him or her. Allow the cat to come to you and then, each occasion it does, hold it just a little longer. Reward with treats when you put the cat down.

To do this successfully, watch your cat’s body language carefully.  Once you become aware of the body language, you will notice subtle signs such as a twitching of the tail that indicate unrest, and so you will be able to end the petting session on a high note, before your cat feels the need to escape. There is a certain skill in relating well with a cat. An article in wikihow sensibly suggests–

Why does my cat bite me?

Using too much force or speed, or petting it in the wrong spot can agitate some cats, causing him/her to bite or scratch. A good general guideline is to consider how you would prefer to have a stranger approach you and touch you.

There is one other important thing to note in all this advice. There is always a chance that your cat has a medical problem that is causing the aggression. Thus before assuming the problem is behavioral always check with a veterinarian that there is not a physical cause.

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13 comments

  1. My cat was raised in a barn and not spayed until I took her in at age 3 . She bites when I have not petted her enough. It is gentle, but I pull away and walk away. Now she has begun to simply rub her face on me, I reward that with petting. She is 5 — rescued after several litters of kittens were killed by the dog over there. I put 2 litters to Pet Rescue and kept a kitten for her, which is now 2. Thank you for all of the info on the topic.

  2. I have 5 cats, some of them spat with one another. one came to us royally beaten by someone. they get wounds, and some do not swell, and if the unknown wound is touched, they will nip, swat or bite. they also have accidentally had their tail stepped on, then bite when the tail is touched. the tail is sore, and we don’t realize it. they don’t hate us, they just hurt, and they’re reacting to that pain.

  3. My Gigi, when we play, will playfully nip my hand, then lick me as if she was grooming me. She does the same with my sons.

  4. Thanks for the advise……we have had a cat adopt us……I’m not a cat person at all……..but refused to be cruel and let the pound take her (realizing she would be put down)…….she is older, very cranky and was totally untouchable to begin with, however she has been spade…..soon she realised we wouldn’t hurt her and she became a little friendlier. BUT she is not a “nice” cat at all and will take a swipe if you so much as look at her wrong…..pick her up? I can nobody else is game!! She eventually found the dog door and started to sleep inside without us noticing at first but I sprung her one morning…..she seems to prefer me and seemed to really be happy to see me when I came home from a 3 week holiday, so I’m guessing she will be part of our family til she either dies or decides she doesn’t like living here anymore.
    Thanks again for your post
    Kathie

  5. thank you so much for this info. I have a ragdoll kitten 9 months old he sometimes bites me. I think your right he was 8 weeks old not 12 weeks old this could be the reason.

  6. My cat is 9 months old he is a rag doll he likes to bite. I think he was taken away from his mother to soon he was 8 weeks old.

  7. Bruce Friedrichsmeyer

    I have a rescue and the only baby born to a rescue, both Tabbys and I didn’t adopt either of them, they adopted me. The “only baby” though, is ten, and has always bitten hard and really gotten aggressive with her claws and “rabbit feet” with the back. My ex raised her to the age of about 9 months, and she decided I was her human. She owns real estate in my lap a great deal of the time it’s available, and the rescue is only four, very gentle, and had a half a dozen “litter-mates”. I do believe that’s the big difference. But age and “standing”, as well as a good bit of jealousy over who gets my attention, also aggravates the older one to more aggression. They glare at each other but at this moment are less than two feet away from each other.
    How they were raised has shown in the way they interact with one another as well, and the youngster is always better prepared to defend her “position” except when it comes to the lap, where the older one has a clearly higher place in the order. Both are fastidious about clean! So I think personality plays a part as well, because they both have a fastidiously clean and attentive personality. The younger is more submissive than the older one, and I think it has to do strictly with age. It’s how I read it anyway. Makes for a lot of variables. All we can do, is the best we can do, to “shove” the natural tendencies of the uncontrollable parts in a general direction that is acceptable, and do all we an with the “controllable” parts. Course, now, when someone finds out just what parts of a cats personality we can really “control”, do get a hold of me and tell ME what they are! LOL! Great post!! <8-]

  8. I have recently lost a cat due to ill health and my other cat seemed lonely, I went to rspca and adopted a 1 year old but at the moment my other cat is just about tolerating him by hissing. what i have noticed is that my new cat tends to bite when he is being stroked but the rspca said he started to get like this as he didnt like his pen and was getting kennel bound. I’m hoping this will stop as he gets used to us, he can be very loving when he wants it. I will walk away when he chooses to bite, wish me luck lol

    • James Lautner, Senior Cats Editor

      Tracey — good luck with your new cat. I am sure things will turn out well after a little time for him to adapt and gain confidence :-)

  9. i have a 10 year old male that sometimes nips at my hand when stroking him, They do this as a love bite, In the wild cat love is aggressive and i believe this behavior is an extension of that wild nature in them,
    If the cats is not drawing blood or hurting alot when he bites,more like a nip or pinch, then this must be the intention because if they wanted to draw blood they most certainly could,!
    When he nips i withdraw my hand with strong ” hey no biting” comment to him and he knows what im saying perfectly well, You may also tap them lightly on the nose with one finger and i mean tap! not hit and they dont like it but lets them know you are unhappy with their behavior ,Cats are super smart and they understand more than anyone thinks, they know what you are thinking before you do sometimes.
    If the cat is piercing the skin or drawing blood, You should seek veterinary care for the animal, they usually only do this when they are in some kind of pain, This is assuming you are the owner or primary caregiver of the animal, if your a stranger, the cat may bite out of fear or in a perceived defence tactic.

  10. my boy, Oscar has been biting me since he was a kitten. I bought him from a pet shop, last year when he was 9 weeks old, but he’s a Heinz 57 cat. he had stopped biting for a while, but now he’s started again. to be honest, I think it could be my own fault, as I did put my finger in his mouth, when he was a kitten. he caught on pretty quickly. so now, when I fuss him too much, he’ll grab my hand with his front paws, and bite me. I do pull my hand away, and stupidly carry on stroking him.

    I don’t get any of this with my older cat, Flossie. but with her, i’m the only person who is allowed to stroke her belly, without any aggression from her. she’s also a Heinz 57.

  11. I raised my cat ,Tyler, when his mother abandoned him at less than 24 hours old. I bottle fed him and my mixed breed dog, Toby, cleaned, kept him warm and socialized Tyler. After Toby passed away, I totally became Tyler’s mom. If one of my other rescue cats were in my lap, tyler went right over them to get in my arms. There no fighting, spats of any kind. They made enough room for him to get threw. He’d lay on my arms like a baby. If the phone rang, the person on the other end asked if that was a cat purring. Tyler putted very loud. When he got old I noticed a difference in his purr. His vet tried different meds on him and offered to send him to a vet school. I would have done anything, but Tyler was ready to see Toby once again. It was hard for me to not be selfish, but I had him euthanized. I still miss Tyler and his “mama” Toby but honored that they were part of my life. I have since rescued other kittens and cats. Most get along well. I have one who likes to exert his authority. Nathan exerts his authority by a little growling and chase. No blood involved. Opie likes to bite my hand, which hurts, but when Ieave, the next time he runs up to me purring. I have a wreath in my cat room that says “Dogs Have Masters. Cats Have Staff”. How true this is. I’ve never had any two cats alike.

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