Hissing, spitting, and flattened ears tell you that a cat may bite. But a bite can also happen during a seemingly innocuous cuddle session- you may get nibbled on. As the intensity is varied, so are the reasons behind why cats bite.
Love bites that occur during affection are a rather disputed and mysterious topic. Many cat owners have observed this gentle biting between mother and kitten during cuddle and play time, and believe that it is just a natural way that cats show love. Why these bites happen, whether from cat to cat, or cat to human, has produced a few theories.
One postulation is that cats bite affectionately to exhibit a little control over the situation. From the cats’ perspective, you are a large, dexterous animal that the cat is humbling itself toward during petting time. The cat may become so relaxed and submissive that it cannot help reminding you of its carnivorous teeth, and does so almost involuntarily, hence the gentle pressure.
Another reason a cat bites during petting is to put a stop to your behavior. Most cats have very few areas on their body that are welcome to the exploration of human hands. Some of these areas a cat will only tolerate with a certain amount of pressure from your hands, or maybe they only feel comfortable letting you pet that particular area for a short amount of time. It’s a good idea to withdraw your hands when your cat bites you, even if it’s only a soft bite. Chances are the bites will increase in intensity if you continue your behavior- you are essentially encouraging the cat to keep sinking its teeth in.
Gentle nips that achieve attention can explain why cats bite. Many owners report ankle-biting, and this has been interpreted as a way of the cat saying, “Come back!” when you are walking away from it. Paw swipes often accompany attention-getting behaviors. Some cats will bite their owners near feeding time, as a way of telling you to hurry up and give them their dinner. A cat ignores you at will, and will ignore any further efforts to get their attention. Conversely, a cat who does not want to be ignored will persist successfully, and can resort to small bites in order to get your regard.
If your cat is accustomed to playing rough, biting may be a part of that. Even though it is just play, you should discourage that behavior by withdrawing your hands and ceasing play after any biting. Cats can learn the difference between intense play with humans (where toys, hands, and paws are involved) and rough play with other cats (where playful biting is expected and accepted). Other humans may not be aware that your cat bites during play, and can get injured. There is also no way to predict the intensity of a rough-play bite on any given day. Just like humans, cats can get carried away with having fun and let their primal brain take over.
Bites that transcend the affectionate or playful level are much more disconcerting, and require an environmental or behavioral change with in the household, immediately. Bear in mind that reprimanding or punishing a cat is useless, can exacerbate their issues, and may even be permanently damaging to your relationship.
Territorial disputes and the threat of possible trespass can cause a cat to maliciously bite. Perhaps your cat is more hostile when you have visitors, or it can see other pets and wild animals near your home and fears its property will be encroached upon. Maybe it’s a simple change in the home, such as the position of the litter box. Does your cat flip out and attack you for no good reason? Transfer aggression can often be why cats bite without a cause obvious to the owner. The cat becomes infuriated or frightened by an outside situation or animal, but can only respond by wildly scratching at and biting its loved ones.
Owners of multiple cats may have had the horrible experience of living with two cats who have decided the house isn’t big enough for the both of them. The fights can be very intense, and usually one cat is a bigger physical threat to the other. The cats need to be separated, lest the tension escalate to more injurious attacks. Start by confining the cats to different parts of the house. Fighting cats absolutely cannot share food dishes or litter boxes. While separated, they will probably still be aware of the other cats’ presence in the home, through scent and sound, but they will not be confronted by that other cat. After a few days, if the cats are both acting calm, open the doors and see if they remain calm. If they begin to fight, separate them again for a longer cooling-off period.
Perhaps your cat bites because it is acting on its’ natural predatory instincts. If they are truly interested in hunting, you will find dead birds and mice on your doorstep or maybe even on your pillow, if mice are caught in the home. Maybe the cat seems to stalk and pounce humans inside of the home- this is another form of rough play. However, if you have another smaller pet in the home that your cat stalks, that pet, be it a hamster or bird, is in danger of becoming the cats’ prey. It does not matter if the cat has previously accepted the smaller pet in the home; it can decide that it is prey at any time it chooses. Any rough play between a cat and a smaller pet should be discouraged- it will evolve into a not-so-playful predator/prey incident.
If you know why cats bite, and you want yours to stop, there are a few simple things you can do. Spay or neuter your cat- this usually calms aggression in pets. React loudly- call out that the bite hurts. A loud, but nonviolent, reaction from a human is a dominance reminder. Finally, end the interaction. Immediately ceasing play or petting after a bite will eventually let the cat know that its biting behavior causes the fun to end.
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