The situation usually goes like this: you and your furry feline are having some cuddle time, you’re petting him gently around his belly, back, and neck, and then all of the sudden…BAM! He rears up and delivers a bite to the offending hand. Why does he do this when it seemed as if both of you were getting along swimmingly? Unfortunately, animals can’t tell us in plain English, “Mom/Dad, you’re bugging me” or “Mom/Dad, that makes me feel so good, I’m just going to give you a quick love-bite.” Just like all things with pets there are a multitude of reasons behind their behaviors and it’s up to us to interpret the behavior correctly.
They Love You
Hard to believe but cats often show their affection for one another by play-biting. These types of bites usually don’t break skin although they can feel uncomfortable. There are different types of play-biting. One type is meant to keep their skills sharp. You may often experience this with young cats when you’re petting them. They will want to wrestle with your arm and hand, grappling it with all four legs and gnawing on your skin. This doesn’t normally result in injuries – although minor scratches can unintentionally occur from their claws.
Another type of love-bite happens when the cat feels very stimulated! Yes – you heard right. When you stroke your pet you can set off feelings of arousal. Sometimes a cat deals with this in the same manner as playing – they will grab your arm with all four legs while sniffing and gently biting your flesh. The biting in this instance is usually more like a pinch. Cats know how and when to injure an enemy or prey. They won’t intentionally harm you with love-bites.
They Are Unhappy With You
Some cats seem to be very unpredictable with displays of affection. Maybe they come to you looking to be pet, but then will bite you after a few seconds of this. This seems to happen more often with cats who weren’t socialized early on in their lives. What is clear is that the cat wants to be near a human, but doesn’t necessarily want to be touched by the human. You might think that biting is a bit of an overreaction. If you look at it from the cat’s point of view, there are telltale signs that point to his displeasure.
Look for these signs that your cat has had enough affection. An uncomfortable cat tenses up. His ears, tail, and limbs will be tucked in. He won’t be relaxed. Conversely, a relaxed cat is usually sprawled, with limbs and tail stretched out. When your cat is tense and possibly making a low rumbling sound this means that it is time to stop petting him. Let him just be near you. The fact that he comes to you is enough of a sign that he trusts you.
What to Do About Biting
The best thing to do is to stop over-petting and over-stimulating your cat. Even if he is only delivering love bites, it’s not good for you or for other people if he gets used to this kind of behavior. Although unusual, a love-bite could accidentally break the skin causing an infection. Cat fangs are very sharp and needle-like. When their bites penetrate the skin the pierced flesh can immediately close over the wound trapping in harmful germs. Even though your cat is hardly being malicious biting and scratching should be avoided and discouraged as much as possible.
Don’t reprimand your cat by yelling or hitting him. If you punish him for loving you up, you are basically rejecting him. Likewise, if he bit you because you were over-petting him, it would be unfair to punish him when you could have read his body language before the situation escalated. In any case, cats often have a fragile sense of trust. Punishing your cat will confuse him and may work to sever that tenuous bond between you.
By Gabrielle Allemeier
About the Author
Gabrielle Allemeier volunteers her free time as an animal rescuer and foster pet parent. As an animal lover, she enjoys sharing the knowledge she has gained from her experience with a variety of animals. Along with being an animal lover, Gabrielle is a globetrotter. She lives in Los Angeles, California with her terrier, Thisbe.