Greetings cat lovers! Skye Blake here, reporting in to answer a puzzling question… “Why does my cat bite?”
We felines bite for different reasons… it’s one way we defend ourselves!
Let’s discover more…
The information here is for general knowledge… always see your vet with questions about your cat’s individual needs.
Who Is Skye Blake?
Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, is a curious cat researcher (not a veterinarian or behaviorist) who sniffs out expert, reliable sources about cats, studies their information, then passes it on to you!
Sometimes there’s not enough evidence for easy answers, so Skye gives you all sides, explains the situation as thoroughly and clearly as possible, and links you to experts on each page.
All sources are at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping…
The Mystery of Cat Behavior
As with all puzzling cat behavior, the root of biting is in our instincts.
Nothing we felines do is random… there’s always a reason. You just haven’t cracked our code!
Most people know that cats are predators (we’re good at it too!).
But they don’t know that we’re in the middle of the food chain. That makes us both predator and PREY!
Our survival instinct requires us to find safe territory, defend it, and be able to fulfill our basic needs.
The “hunt, catch, kill, eat, groom, and sleep” cycle is our nature, whether in the wild or on your lap.
People who understand this cycle and approach their cats from this perspective create a safe and happy world for their cats.
Discover more about the inner cat at “Cat Behavior…Is My Cat Nuts??“
How Does This Relate to Biting?
Biting is what happens when any critter (including people) uses its teeth to cut or tear through something.
There are a few different reasons cats will bite…
- Hunting – the “kill” bite and eating prey
In order to survive, cats have to hunt and kill their food.
Mother cats in the wild (including barn cats) will teach their kittens how to hunt and deliver the kill bite to the neck of the prey.
This is a precise, surgical bite that breaks the neck and spinal cord of the prey, making it ready to eat.
Domestic cats, especially indoor cats, don’t need to kill prey to eat since you feed them, and most queens (mother cats) don’t know how to do it.
Their kittens don’t learn the kill bite, even though they know instinctively how to hunt.
This explains why your cat will drop a mouse at your feet for “mom” but not show interest in anything but playing with it.
Biting is still part of the catching process in order to hold and carry the prey.
This translates to play hunting with people.
If you know how to properly play with cats do it as part of a daily routine.
You’ll fulfil their need to hunt using an appropriate toy, instead of your hands, ankles, and feet!
Kittens Learn to Hunt
Kittens learn through play how to hunt and be social… how hard they can bite and scratch.
When it becomes too aggressive, mom gives warning swats, bites or nips to say, “cut it out!”.
If kittens haven’t had the benefits of learning from mom, they need to learn from people.
They greatly benefit from having a kitten companion, which is why behaviorists often recommend getting two rather than one.
Warning bites are part of the feline defense system, along with those “murder mittens”.
They are one of a few signals that cats give when they get annoyed or threatened.
Feline bodies can give many subtle (and not so subtle) signals to communicate what we feel or sense.
Tail twitches, eyes, ears, whiskers and vocalizations are all used to send a message that people don’t always know how to interpret (to their peril).
Bites can range from light pinches to deep punctures, depending on how agitated and threatened the cat is in any situation.
As just discussed, warning bites are part of a cat’s self-defense system.
All cats have a hardwired instinct of “flight or fight”, preferring to find an escape route and run away or warn the threat to leave.
If the threat doesn’t leave and continues to move toward them, they will fight to the death to make them leave.
That means all razor-sharp claws and teeth will be used with as much power behind them as possible.
Discover more at ” How to Stop Cat Fights“.
Illness & Injury
If your cat is normally relaxed and happy but begins to hide, pee or poop outside the litter box, hiss, swat, or bite, it’s time for a vet visit.
Cats hide illness well but if something’s wrong they will feel the need to defend themselves from whatever it is.
Anything from a toothache to cancer can cause behavioral changes so it’s important to get to the vet right away.
Often without realizing it, a person is annoying a cat, and the response is telling you to back off.
The cat has given warning signals (twitching tail, ears rotating back, even growling), but the person hasn’t paid any attention!
A perfect example of this is when a cat rolls on his back, exposing his belly.
People misinterpret this is a request for a belly rub… dead wrong!
In the feline world, as with other critters, that soft underbelly is the most vulnerable place on our bodies.
It protects all the vital organs and if attacked, serious injuries and death are likely.
Think of it this way… do you like someone tickling your belly?
If a cat is comfortable and trusting in your presence, he will roll over, relax, and even fall asleep in this position.
This is the ultimate cat compliment!
He trusts you completely… but it isn’t an invitation to touch.
Resist the urge people!
If you suddenly wake a cat by touching the tummy or other sensitive areas, a bite can happen instantly because that touch is a threat.
If you must, gently pet his head and cheeks, avoiding tummy and paws.
There are some situations where a cat is relaxed and happy in your lap and suddenly nips or licks you then bites.
It doesn’t break the skin and is more of a “gentle” pinch.
This is often referred to as a “love bite” and people think it’s cute.
Your cat does it to get a treat, affection, petting, or something else from you.
No matter how cute, any biting should be discouraged because cat bites can be dangerous.
The bites will get more intense if your cat becomes used to doing this and you don’t respond as expected.
The best way to stop this behavior is to not react at all… relax your hand or move it slowly toward at her so she’ll let go.
Then quietly ignore her and remove yourself from the situation.
Repeating this every time she tries will send the message that it’s not worth trying.
Along with telling her “no” by withdrawing, teach her a “yes”… something she can do to communicate what she wants without biting.
Biting and licking your hair is most likely allogrooming, meaning she’s showing affection by social grooming you.
Train her to give a specific signal to tell you she wants to be petted or other attention.
This could be a “boop” with her nose on your hand or tap with her paw (claws sheathed, of course).
Training can be fun for you both and will create trust between you.
Discover more about training at “How to Train a Cat“.
The Dangers of Cat Bites
Besides the fact that even gentle cat bites are painful, anytime a bite punctures the skin infection can set in.
You can immediately wash and disinfect the surface part of the wound, but if it’s deep it can easily develop serious infections.
This is why doctors advise you to always have the wound checked as soon as possible by a physician.
There are bacteria in a cat’s mouth that can be difficult to eliminate even with strong antibiotics.
This video gives more details…
How to Stop Cat Bites
The most obvious way to stop a cat from biting is to stop aggravating him!
One of the best ways to keep your cat from biting you or your kids is to learn to play with him the right way… and teach your kids too!
Playing using wand toys instead of hands and feet teaches your cat what’s appropriate to hunt and what isn’t.
It’s fun and should be part of your cat’s daily routine, expending all that pent up energy and fulfilling the hunting instincts.
Discover more at “Playing With Cats the Right Way!“
Children can easily be threatening to cats because of their noise and unpredictable movements.
It’s your responsibility to supervise young children and not allow them to tease or pick up a cat.
They should learn to respect a cat’s boundaries and be gentle for their safety as well as the cat’s.
Toddlers are especially vulnerable to bites and scratches because they’re not able to understand this yet.
Cats don’t distinguish between threats and will defend themselves no matter who’s manhandling them.
Even young children can learn not to put their face near a cat’s face.
A bite or scratch can happen in the blink of an eye and can seriously damage a child’s face and eyes.
Teach older kids to play with cats using wand toys instead of their hands and feet.
They can also learn to let cats come to them instead of chasing them around.
They’ll have fun playing the right way and might also want to learn how to train cats.
This creates a trusting bond between them as they learn to be responsible for the care of animals.
Does Declawing Cause More Biting?
Some people claim that declawing cats makes them more fearful, aggressive and bite more frequently because there front claws are gone.
The simple answer to this claim is what vets and behaviorists have observed… it does affect some cats negatively, but others don’t seem bothered by it.
As always, we cats remain mysterious!
Discover more about what declawing actually is, why it’s being outlawed in many places, and other non-invasive techniques you can do to deal with unwanted scratching at “Declawing Cats – Good or Bad?“.
These videos have helpful info about why cats bite and how to prevent this…
Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.
Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.
Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.
Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own.
However, sometimes they refer to primary sources.
When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.
List of Sources
“The Cat Whisperer”, by Mieshelle Nagelschneider, Bantam Books, The Random House Publishing Group, New York NY, 2013, www.bantamdell.com
“CatWise”, by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, Penguin Books, Penguin Random House, LLC, New York, NY, 2016
“Do Cats Mean to Be Mean?” by Terry Marie Curtis, DVM, MS, DACVB, Decoding Your Cat, by Editors, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., New York, hmhco.com, pp. 144-145
“The Reasons Some Cats Bite“, Cornell Catwatch, by estaff, Published: March 23, 2022, Updated: February 26, 2023
“Think Like a Cat, How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Cat – Not a Sour Puss”, by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, Penguin Books, Penguin Group (USA) Inc, New York, NY, 2000, 2011
“Total Cat Mojo”, by Jackson Galaxy with Mikel Delgado, PhD, Tarcher Perigree, Penguin Random House, LLC, New York, NY, 2017, pp. 288-294
“Unlocking the Feline Mind” by Lisa Radosta, DVM, DACVB, Decoding Your Cat, by Editors, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., New York, hmhco.com, p. 117
Updated December 28, 2023