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Why Do Cats Bite & How to Stop Them From Biting | BetterVet

Cats are wonderful pets and can provide invaluable companionship. They can be friendly, affectionate, and playful, but sometimes they may also bite. Cats may bite for various reasons and this can cause harm to humans and other pets. If your cat bites you or someone else, it’s important to consider the possible reasons why this happened to stop it from happening again. Why do cats bite? We’ll discuss the reasons now and how you can help the situation. 

Why Do Cats Bite? 

The reasons why a cat may bite vary depending on the cat and their situation. It may be an isolated bite or it may be a regular occurrence. Bites can be soft and playful or they can be quite damaging and may even require medical treatment. Either way, the fact that your cat is biting is a warning sign. There are many reasons for this, including:

Fear/Anxiety

Cats that are fearful may escalate to biting as a last resort. They display body language that tries to convey that they’re scared. This includes signs such as:

  • Meowing
  • Hissing
  • Crouching down or arching their back
  • Dilated pupils
  • Raised hair on their back or tail 
  • Ears flattened against the back of their head 

With these body language signs, your cat may be trying to tell you to give them space. If these signs aren’t recognized and they feel threatened, they may bite in an attempt to get away. It’s important to recognize the signs of a fearful cat so that biting can be prevented. They are not necessarily biting because they are an ‘aggressive’ cat, but because they’re so fearful that they bite out of instinct. 

Another form of this part of “petting and biting” behavior. This is when you’re petting your cat and they seem to be enjoying it, and then they suddenly turn around and bite or scratch you. This is because cats have a strong survival instinct and although they enjoy petting if they allow themselves to become too relaxed and comfortable they can become conflicted and attack. They’ll often change their body language before they do this. They may stop purring, stiffen, thrash their tail from side to side, and may even hiss. You should stop petting your cat immediately when you notice any changes like these to your pet’s body language. 

Frustration 

Cats can’t talk and tell us what’s bothering them. This can be frustrating when they’re trying to communicate through body language and vocalizations. If their communication signs aren’t recognized or acted on, they may become frustrated. This may lead to biting in an attempt to convey their frustration. A milder example of this is a cat that wants to get attention and be petted, if they’re rubbing into your hand and getting nowhere, they may nibble your hand in an attempt to get your attention.

Inappropriate Play 

This is a very common reason for biting in younger cats and kittens. It’s often due to rough play as a kitten where they would bite their owner’s hands or feet and may have been encouraged to do so by their pet parent. Pet parents may not mind this behavior when kittens are young, but this can lead to rough play and biting as adults, which may cause serious harm. This behavior should be avoided in kittens and you should never encourage the use of your fingers or feet as play toys. Fishing rod-style toys are very good choices because they increase the distance between your hand and the toy which helps your kitten or cat to differentiate between the two. This will also encourage appropriate play. 

Social Pressures 

Cats are territorial pets and will often act aggressively if another cat invades their territory. This may happen if a new cat is brought into the home without an appropriate introduction period. This can lead to biting and fighting between the cats. 

Another form of this is redirected aggression. This may occur if a pet cat sees a cat entering their territory. They may not be able to get to them because they’re indoors and they may redirect that aggression toward their owner instead. This can include biting and scratching. 

Illness or Pain 

If your cat is suddenly biting and this is a new behavior, it’s important to rule out illness and pain as a cause. Like humans, cats who are in pain will have less patience and may be more irritable. Cats that have had a behavior change should be seen by a veterinarian to rule out a medical reason for the behavior. This is particularly important for older cats that may be suffering from osteoarthritis or cognitive dysfunction. 

What Can You Do if Your Cat Bites

If your cat is biting, you should book an in-home vet visit to rule out any illness or painful condition that could be causing them to bite. Once this has been ruled out, your vet can discuss other options with you such as referring to a feline behaviorist. 

It’s important not to punish your cat for biting. They don’t understand that they’ve hurt someone and may have simply been defending themselves or frustrated. Take measures to protect children and vulnerable people in the household (e.g. separate them from the cat) and wear long-sleeved tops or gloves to protect your hands. Seek help from a feline behaviorist as soon as the problem starts. 

Kittens should be encouraged to play with a fishing rod and stick toys and should never be allowed to play with human fingers and toes. This will encourage inappropriate play and aggression when they’re older. 

What Should You Do if You’ve Been Bitten by a Cat?

If you’ve been bitten by a cat, you should wash the area immediately with running water. Contact your doctor for advice. Cat bites often need medical treatment as they can cause bacterial infections (particularly from Pasteurella multocida). 

Conclusion

Cats can bite for many reasons and the most common is that they’re feeling scared or threatened. If your cat has suddenly started biting for no apparent reason, schedule a home visit or telemedicine appointment with your vet to rule out any potential illness or pain. Seek advice from a veterinary behaviorist if the behavior is continuing or is very severe. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Why does my cat grab my hand and bite me?

This may be for multiple reasons such as fear, frustration, inappropriate play, or redirected aggression. Examining what happened before the bite may explain why they’ve bitten you. Schedule a vet appointment if you think your cat is sick or in pain.

Why do cats bite their owners gently?

Cats may bite their owners gently if they’re looking for attention (frustration) or playing inappropriately. You should never encourage your cat to play with your fingers or toes as this may lead to biting.

Why do cats bite you when you pet them?

This may be due to fear if the cat isn’t used to being petted. Or it could be due to “petting and biting” syndrome which is when a cat becomes conflicted between being petted and keeping their guard up.

How do you discipline a cat for biting?

You should never attempt to discipline a cat for biting. They won’t understand what you’re doing and you’ll likely make them more aggressive and nervous of you. Seek help from your vet and a behaviorist.