Why Do Cats Bite?

It happens all too often: one second I’m petting my cat and he’s happily purring, then the next second he’s biting me. It’s not an aggressive bite, but it still hurts a little. Weirdly enough, almost all of my cats do this.

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While my cats aren’t biting me out of aggression, it still seems like a weird habit. What does it mean when a cat bites you?

Quick Answer…

Cats bite their owners for a variety of reasons, but the two main reasons are basically polar opposites of each other. It could either be out of aggression, or it could be what’s called a “love bite”. Cats love bite as another way to show their affection for you, similar to purring or kneading.

Why Do Cats Bite?

As I mentioned above, cats can have multiple different intentions when they bite you. However, since the reasons are so different, it’s usually easy to tell what’s an aggressive bite and what’s a soft bite. That being said, here are the main reasons cats will give you a nibble.

To Show Their Affection

This affectionate bite is called a “love bite” and typically happens when you’re petting your cat. It’s usually a soft nibble, and doesn’t break the skin. It can still hurt a little, because cats have sharp teeth! But the intent behind this love bite isn’t to hurt you — it’s to say they love you back.

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For some reason, cats have an instinctual desire to give a little nibble when they get excited or feel an intense bond.

To Tell You They’ve Had Enough of You

If your feline starts nibbling a little too hard, they might be signaling for you to stop petting them, even though they enjoyed it at first. Cats tend to bite when they start to feel over-stimulated.

Pets feel good at first, but if you pet your cat for too long their hair follicles might start to get a bit irritated, and it won’t feel so good anymore. They might give you a little nibble to kindly ask you to stop, since they aren’t sure how else to convey discomfort.

To Ask for Something

Another reasons your cat may bite you is to tell you they want something. I can’t even count how many times my cat has woken me up in the middle of the night with a not so gentle nibble because he wants me to pet him. He’ll pretty much bite anything — my leg, hand, arm and even my face. It’s not the best wake-up call!

If your kitty bites you then seems to want something, like attention, or leads you to their food or water, they’re just trying to get your attention. I know — I’d prefer to be meowed at rather than bitten when my cat wants something, but cats like to communicate with body language.

Because They’re Playing a Little Too Rough

This reason is more common in young cats and kittens simply because they have so much energy and need to play. Your young cat could be play-biting, but it still might be a little aggressive.

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Typically, kittens will play rough with each other. Their skin and fur is much more protective than a human’s skin is against cat teeth and claws. If you only have the one young cat, or your other household animals won’t play with him, he’ll probably take out all his energy on you.

I had an issue with my youngest cat when he was around six months old where he’d latch onto my leg, dig his claws in, and bite me. It wasn’t easy to get him off, and he’d attack just about every member of my family, too. Now he’s over a year old and hasn’t done it in awhile. Hopefully your cat will also grow out of this aggressive playful behavior.

To try and curb this behavior while it lasts, make sure to play with your cat for at least 15 minutes per day, and provide plenty of different kinds of toys and boxes for him to explore.

To Assert Dominance

If your cat is feeling scared or intimidated, he might aggressively bite in an attempt to assert his own power. This is the worst type of biting, as it stems from behavior problems and stress your cat is facing.

These bites can easily cause you harm, since the cat probably isn’t holding back like they do with a love bite or play bite.

What Do I Do If My Cat Bites Too Much?

The answer to this question really depends on why your cat is biting. If you want your cat to love bite you less, try to pay attention to their body language so you can tell when they might be getting tired of your pets. Look for a swishing tail or flat ears to see if they’re getting a little tired of your attention before they start biting.

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For cats that are biting as a signal for your attention, ignore them. Don’t make eye contact or say anything. If you completely ignore their demands when they bite you, your cat will try using another signal such as meowing or rubbing on your leg. When they try a method besides biting, give them what they’re asking for! Positive reinforcement, even just petting them or giving a small treat, is important when correcting a cat’s behavior.

If your cat is biting aggressively, it will take a bit more effort to correct their behavior. When your cat aggressively bites you, say “No” firmly and loudly. Cats aren’t as receptive as dogs are to voice commands, but they’ll eventually understand and respond to your tone. If you have an an un-neutered male cat, get them fixed — this can greatly reduce aggression in male cats.

The most important thing to remember here is to pay attention to why your cat is biting to better understand their behavior. From there, you can work on adjusting it or just dealing with it and knowing your cat is giving you a little nibble to say they appreciate you.

As with many strange cat behaviors, your feline is simply trying to communicate with you. Listen to what their body language is saying, and let them know you love them back!

Jacquelyn Pica

Jacquelyn Pica is cat mom to Bean Man Jones, a 2-year old adopted stray. She's also a top-notch pet writer based in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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