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Why does my cat bite me? 7 reasons why this may be happening

why does my cat bite me
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you are asking, 'why does my cat bite me?' you're in the right place! Cat bites range from little nips and gentle bites during stroking and grooming sessions, up to full-on skin-piercing attacks. So why is this happening, and is it normal kitty behavior? Or should it count as a cat behavior problem? Below, we explore the seven main reasons why your moggy is trying to communicate with you using their teeth. We also suggest a few techniques to prevent them for doing so.

1. Cat bites during petting and stroking

A lot of cat owners have experienced an occasion where they are lovingly stroking their furry friend when suddenly, out of nowhere, their beloved kitty gives them a nip or a bite. 'What did I do wrong?' is the first thought, followed by, 'why does my cat bite me?' Don't panic – this is just your cat telling you they've had enough interaction for now.

It can also be a signal that you are stroking them in a place they don't want to be touched, like  its tail or belly. There are usually signs that will warn you they are getting bored or not liking what you are doing: If your cats ears move to the side or their tail starts twitching, it's likely they are starting to become uncomfortable or bored.

Remember, also, that some cats just aren't keen on being petted. They are happy to sit on your lap, but aren't looking to be stroked. Again, use your cat's body language to judge if they are up for a petting session.

It's important you take the hint. These kind of bites are usually not very painful, and won't break the skin except by accident, but if you continue to play with your cat in the same way after they've signaled they have had enough, it's likely they'll escalate that aggression to a harder bite or scratch.

However, if your cat suddenly changes their reaction to petting and is constantly warning you off touching a place where they were happy to be stroked before, then this can be a sign that your cat has injured itself or something is wrong. Felines are fickle as we all know, so it may be nothing to worry about, but if this behavior persists it may be worth getting them checked out.

If you are wondering how you can tell if your cat is just telling you if it's had enough, or if it's something more serious, these kind of warning bites usually aren't associated with stronger indications of cat aggression or discomfort, such as hissing, growling, and clawing.

2. Cat bites for love

Another answer to the question, 'why does my cat bite me?' Cats show affection by nibbling those they love. They are bonding with you and don't understand they are hurting you. It's likely a behavioral holdover from their kitten days, where mock fighting and pouncing was how they would playfully interact with each other. A sudden nip is likely to be their way to let you know they are ready to play.

React to these by giving out a high-pitched 'Ow' (not too loud) and moving them away from you. This will indicate this behavior is unwanted. Cats use high-pitched noises themselves when play is too rough.

3. Cat bites when grooming

Cats love to groom the ones they love. Although this usually starts out with them using their rough tongues to clean you in a rather delightful way, suddenly you may find them giving you a nip or a bite. This is the same way they groom themselves – when there is something they can't remove from their fur with their tongue, they resort to biting it out. 

That said, the jury is out on whether they are really trying to remove a perceived troublesome bit of dirt from you by biting you, or whether this is just a sign of love. Either way, follow the same procedure from point 2, and they will soon learn it is wrong, and you will hopefully no longer find yourself asking, 'why does my cat bite me?'

why does my cat bite me

(Image credit: Getty Images)

4. Cat bites for hunting practice

Cats, especially young cats, have a need to play to practice and maintain their hunting skills. Cats are innate predators, so they need to find an outlet for this behavior. This is especially common with indoor cats – as they are denied access to the stalking grounds full of prey that they would have in the wild, they find alternative things to hunt – namely you!

The easy way to ween them off this is to provide them with cat toys to use instead. Interactive cat toys are a great way to get your kitty to stop attacking you and also get them healthier and more stimulated.

Again, you should also make it clear that biting and scratching is a no no from an early age. Yes, it's cute to have them gnawing on your wiggling toes, but it's a different matter when they are full grown and still know no better. As before a medium volume high-pitched 'Ow' and moving away from them will help them get the message. You should also use toys that move or cat wands to attract their attention away from you, then reward this behavior with a treat – simulating the reward they would get after eating a kill.

5. Cat bites when teething

Another possible answer to the question, 'why does my cat bite me?' Kittens start losing their baby teeth at around nine weeks of age, and to ease the comfort of their new teeth coming through, you can expect lots of chewing. Again, this is a great time to teach them that your toes and fingers aren't for them to bite on by giving them the option of cat toys to chew on instead – particularly those made of cloth. You can also discourage your fingers being chewed by keeping your hands away from their mouth when stroking them.

6. Cat bites due to depression

When pondering the question, 'why does my cat bite me?' there have been some studies that suggest cats can detect depression in humans, which can cause them to become more aggressive. Using 1.3 million medical records over a 10-year period, the University of Rennes in France found that more than 41 per cent of those who had gone to hospital with a cat bite were also treated for depression at some point. 

The link is not clear cut, however, and it is more likely that the biting behavior was due to changes in the way their owners behaved, such as reduced responsiveness – depressed individuals often make less eye contact compared to those without depression. The data is also slightly skewed, as many depressed people are advised to get a pet to help them feel calmer, so are far more likely to own a cat.

7. Cat bites due to fear

Cats can get scared when there is a change in routine or living conditions. Cats are not keen on change, and can feel threatened or want to escape. If they are prevented from doing so, they can attack. Fearful cats cause the most damage, so when introducing a new person or animal to your home, or planning a major refurbishment, it's important to watch your cat for changes in its behavior. 

If you notice them getting more defensive your first thought may be to comfort them to calm them down, but if they are feeling threatened when you approach, you may be doing more harm than good. Wait for your cat to come to you, and leave treats out for them to help them understand the new situation is not a cause for alarm. Hopefully you will no longer be asking, 'why does my cat bite me?'

What to do if your cat is aggressive

Cats usually only get aggressive if they feel threatened – usually because they are guarding their territories, defending their offspring, or they feel they need to protect themselves from attack. Signs that aggressive behavior is likely from your furry pal include dilated pupils, ears flattened backward on their head, tail held erect with hairs raised, and an arched back. If you're still asking, 'why does my cat bite me?' hopefully your question will be close to getting answered.

Cat aggression can be down to medical causes too, especially likely if there has been a sudden change in their behavior. Conditions like toxoplasmosis, hyperthyroidism, epilepsy, abscesses, arthritis, dental disease, rabies, trauma, and sensory decline or cognitive dysfunction in older cats can all cause your kitty to feel under attack, and so more likely to defend themselves at the slightest provocation. The first thing to do is to visit the vet to check that nothing is wrong.

If your cat gets a clean bill of health, then try to understand why your moggy feels the need to attack. Aggressive behavior signals that your cat feels trapped, and can't escape from what is threatening them. A simple way to fix this is to keep away from your furry friend (as hard as that can be) until they come to you of their own accord – then they can't mistake your friendly overtures for threatening behavior.

Aggression caused by territorial behavior is usually triggered by change. Introducing a new cat, a cat in the household becoming sexually mature, or stray cats getting into their personal space can all cause them to go on the defensive. They also react to major disruptions in their living space – a house redecoration or a new person moving in can also make them uncomfortable enough to attack. Again, leave them alone so they have the time to adapt to the new situation. Threatened cats aren't interested in being petted or played with, they need space to come to terms with the new situation. With this in mind, if you're asking, 'why does my cat bite me?', you might be asking the wrong question. 

Another trigger linked to territory is redirected aggression. The cat attacks you because they can't get at what they really want to attack. This can be caused by something as simple as a dog walking past the window. This isn't malicious, it's just a reflex caused by the fight or flight reflex we get too. These attacks usually happen when you surprise them – they do not go looking for something to attack. This is why it's not a good idea to try to break up fighting cats or suddenly approach them when they are agitated. Read their body language, and if they are looking riled, leave them alone.

Persistent cat aggression not caused by a medical condition means it's time to call in the professionals. A Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist can help you develop a plan to reduce aggression and guide you through its implementation. The ASPCA can help you find a certified trainer.

Are cat bites dangerous?

If you're regularly asking, 'why does my cat bite me?' you should consider this. Aggressive cats don't hit the headlines as much as aggressive dogs, mainly because they can do a lot less damage, but that doesn't mean cat bites should be taken lightly. A study by researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that of 193 patients who came in for cat bites on their hands over a three-year period, 30% had to be hospitalized for an average of 3.2 days, usually due to infection. To prevent this, immediately sterilize any cat bite that breaks the skin and visit a doctor if there are signs of persistent swelling.

This underlines the importance of training your cat from a young age that biting isn't tolerated. It's never too late to start, and if you learn the signs of when your cat wants to be left alone and when they are ready to play, both aggressive and playful biting will soon be a thing of the past. Hopefully this article has been helpful, and you will find yourself asking 'why does my cat bite me?' no longer.

Jamie Middleton

Jamie Middleton is a freelance editor and writer - or at least he is when he is permitted to by his cat Pirate, who enjoys the warmth of laptops too much to allow being creative to get in the way.