*This post may have affiliate links, which means I may receive commissions if you choose to purchase through links I provide (at no extra cost to you). Thank you for supporting the work I put into this site!
Click here for a comprehensive cat care guide
Are cat love bites a type of feline bad social skill? For example, when I have guest over Shrek, who always loves the attention of others, always comes out of my room and greets folks with a whiny meow and a rub against the leg…it’s the cutest thing.
Then, out of the blue Shrek will turn and gently bite the hand that pets him. Not a hard bite. But unless the person is well versed in cat behavior, Shrek’s love bite can be misunderstood as cat aggression.
Cat Love Bites versus Aggressive Cat Behavior
So, what does it mean when your cat bites you? Cat bites when petting is sometimes called “cat play biting”. Play biting can be observed between kittens when they interact or play with each other. Cats are natural hunters so this type of play is how kittens hone their skills as predators.
However, this type of playing by your cat is not cute when it comes to human contact. Although, you might know that a nip means “my cat loves me”, it is a form of cat aggression. The correct term for cat love bites is petting-induced aggression.
This type of biting is a signal that your cat is showing you who’s boss or in control of the present situation.
Here are some other causes of petting-induced aggression:
- Separated from mama cat as a kitten – Kittens separated from their mothers early never learn the proper way to socialize.
- Limited human contact as a kitten – Kittens who have had limited contact with humans, grow up with trust issues.
- Cat doesn’t like the spot you’re petting – Most cats are picky when it comes to where you can touch them. Stray off course to one of their off-limit spots on their bodies and you might get bitten.
- Bad timing – your cat might not be in the mood for petting.
- It just might be a cat love bite – How do cats show affection? Some cats (not all obviously) show affection by giving a little nip. It could be a sign your cat loves you and establishing a strong bond with you. But remember it’s still a sign of aggression.
For more information on pet care and cat love bites, read "Cat Love Bites: A Unique Form of Communication".
Petting your cat after he overstimulated after playing or wrestling with another cat can cause the cat to nip you.
Rough-housing or catfighting can lead to re-directed aggression in cats. If your cat is angry at another cat but can’t or is unable to act out the aggression on the intended target, your cat could act out on you.
Cats are territorial animals by nature. However, some cats take it to a whole new level. Most of the time territorial aggression is acted against another cat. But sometimes it doesn’t matter who it is – anyone that gets too close to their territory will get attacked.
How to Calm an Aggressive Cat
- Get to know your cat – Determine the cause of the biting. Look for signs that your cat has had enough petting. Learn your cat’s body language. Here are some signs to look for: body gets tense, tail twitches, ears flatten, rippling back. Immediately stop petting your cat if you see them reacting negatively.
- Build up your cat’s tolerance for petting – For instance, start out petting your cat for 5 seconds. Stop before your cat gets irritated. Then increase the time by 2 more seconds if this is tolerated by your cat. Praise your feline munchkin and give a treat. Keep increasing the time.
- Reward good behavior – give cat treats and praise.
- Stop petting immediately if your cat gives you a love bite – shout “ouch”, walk away and ignore your cat. They will learn that you don’t tolerate the biting and eventually will stop the love bites.
- Make sure your cat’s basic needs have been met – a consistently clean litter box can go a long way in changing aggressive behavior. Cat’s are very finicky and for the most part, creatures of habit. So make sure that you’re feeding your cat properly and that he has access to clean water.
Are you using the best cat litter box for your fluffball, read my article on cat litter boxes by clicking here.
- Re-direct the aggression – Engage your cat in some type of interactive play; use a toy that simulates hunting. Play with your cat for at least 30 minutes or two 15 minutes each.
Recommendation: Go Cat DaBird feather toy
Never…did I say never… use your finger, hand or toes as a play toy. Don’t be surprised if your cat gets confused and bites your finger in utter joy because in his mind your finger, hand or toes has become entertainment.
Instead of your appendages, I recommend catnip-stuffed chewy toys to deal with unprovoked aggression in cats.
What To Do When The Cat Love Bite Turns Vicious
If the aggression and biting become vicious it’s time to seek help from your Vet to discuss other options such as behavioral medication. Cat aggression medication sounds over the top but it might be the most sympathetic way of helping your cat.
And as a cat lover, you shouldn’t be subject to painful attacks from your cat. The first thing you want to do if you sustain a cat bite wash the wound with clean water and apply an mild antiseptic. Then, seek medical advice from your doctor.
Cat aggression is not acceptable or cute and for outsiders (non-cat lovers who don’t quite understand cat behavior) it could be deemed scary.
Be patient and stay consistent. Try implementing behavior modification techniques and stay consistent. In time your cat will get the hint and the love bites should lessen.
If behavior modification doesn’t work or the bites intensify, seek help from your cat’s veterinarian.
Not sure what cat furniture to purchase? Read my review of the Curious Cat Cube!
Are your cats fighting each other? Read my post “Cats fighting? What should I do about it?”