You’re enjoying some quiet time with your furry feline and she seems to be loving all the attention. She head butts you, you scratch her, she purrs, and then out of the blue…she bites you.
What just happened? Why did sweet kitty suddenly go rogue on you?
The first thing you should know is that cat bites happen to the best of us. And as with all mysterious cat behaviors, we’re usually left wondering if this is a strange show of affection or a sign of undisguised aggression.
In fact, it can be a little bit of both. Let’s unravel the mystery of why cats bite, shall we?
Why Does My Cat Bite Me?
First things first – how old is your cat? If she’s still a kitten, biting is pretty standard behavior, especially if she was separated from her family before she learned how to play without causing injury.
But just because kitten biting is fairly normal doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do something to stop it. After all, her teeth will grow as she does and it can really start to hurt.
Now, if you’ve got a full-grown cat that’s been using her teeth on you, there are a variety of possible reasons. They range from a show of affection – which is why many cat lovers call these “love bites” – to more sinister meanings – often termed “petting-induced aggression” by feline behaviorists.
The best way to decipher the reason behind why cats bite? Look for other behavioral cues that accompany the biting.
Your cat is stressed or afraid
Cats often bite when they are stressed, unhappy or afraid. If your cat sees a lot of stray cats or dogs through a window, she may react fearfully or out of stress because she sees the other cats as potential rivals and the dogs as potential predators.
The warning signs that your cat may be about to bite can be very subtle, so you might miss them. If your cat’s eyes are narrowed, she seems tense or stiff and she’s holding her tail or ears in a position that conveys tension or unhappiness, give her some space so she can calm down before you approach.
Your cat has a petting time limit
It’s the classic case of mixed signals: your kitty comes rubbing and meowing for your attention and so you give it to her in the form of a good old petting session.
She luxuriates in all the attention and then suddenly, she’s done with it and ready to move on. Some cats may send subtle signs that she no longer wants to be petted while with others, it can happen in the blink of an eye.
Your cat doesn’t really appreciate being petted
If your cat constantly bites you while you’re petting her, this could be the result of a neurological reflex. Cats usually don’t touch one another all that often unless they’re showing affection, mating or fighting. Your cat may also have a neurological condition that makes petting uncomfortable for them.
Even for cats that do like a good petting session, cats are a lot more particular about how and where the petting happens. Keep in mind that cats don’t like belly rubs like dogs do – the belly is a very vulnerable spot for them. So simply laying off this area can be enough to prevent the don’t-go-there cat bite.
Your cat is showing you who’s boss
It could also be your cat’s attempt to increase her own “social status” in this relationship. Cats generally view their people as a larger animal in their environment. Your cat might be mostly okay with this because she knows you’re not going to hurt her, but some cats don’t take it all that well.
Cats are hardwired to avoid larger predators that could carry them off if at all possible. Some cats react by being shy and others react by attempting to establish their dominance by exhibiting behavior that includes biting.
Your cat is bored
Seems a funny thing to do out of boredom, but some cats may bite simply because they have nothing else to do. Many indoor cats have a lot of pent-up energy and need a way to release it. If your cat attacks your toes or ankle for no obvious reason, she’s probably bored and trying to get a reaction from you.
How to Stop a Cat From Biting
Whatever the reason for the cat bite – you probably want to stop it. Here’s a few steps you can take to gently train your cat not to bite…
Encourage a stress-free environment
You should primarily create an environment that removes as much stress as possible. An ideal environment will include places where your cat can hide when she’s been overstimulated and needs a safe place to calm down.
My cat likes to sack out under the bed when there’s a rainstorm outside, for instance, or you may notice that your cat likes to “hide” in boxes or paper grocery sacks. Cats are also natural climbers and you probably don’t want yours on the kitchen counters, so be sure to provide vertical structures like a cat tower with some play elements for your cat to climb and entertain herself with while getting the alone time she needs.
Recognize the signs that a bite is coming
Be sure to recognize the signs that your cat may be stressed or afraid. A cat who is afraid will puff up her fur to make herself look bigger, hiss, howl and growl, swish her tail back and forth or thump it against the ground, flatten her ears against her head and/or stare at whatever is making her nervous or tense.
She may also look like she is about to pounce. If she shows any of these signs, remove any elements that may be making her afraid and let her calm down on her own. If you have any other pets that may be causing stress for your cat, be sure to supervise their time together so that none of them are injured when a stressed or frightened cat inevitably scratches or bites them. Especially don’t try to pick your cat up when she is exhibiting any of these warning signals.
Rule out any potential injuries
If your normally calm and sweet-tempered cat has suddenly started exhibiting aggressive behavior that includes biting and you’re positive that nothing has changed in her environment, this may be a sign that she is trying to cover up an injury or illness.
Most animals will try not to exhibit any signs of weakness, including injuries, because other animals may try to take advantage of that weakness. In that case, a trip to the vet may be in order.
Interactive play time releases frustration and energy
Don’t forget to play with your cat for at least half an hour daily so that she isn’t attacking your feet out of pure boredom. You generally won’t have to spend a lot of money to keep a cat entertained. She may still like to chase strings and bat a toy mouse around. My cat plays with twist ties.
The important thing is to make those toys fun for her. She’ll usually get the idea if you tie a toy mouse to the end of a string and then drag it around and make it move like a living mouse so she’ll stalk and pounce it instead of your feet.
React the right way
If she still bites you, don’t yell at her. This will only scare her even more and make her more likely to bite you when she’s frightened. Instead, remove yourself from the situation and ignore your cat for a few minutes when she bites. This will give her a chance to calm down.
A few repetitions will start to give her the idea that her biting is what’s causing you to stop paying attention to her. Another good way to cure her of stalking and pouncing your feet instead of her toys is to have a few squirt bottles filled with water around the house. Just pick one up and give her a squirt or two when she tries to pounce on your feet.
She won’t like it, but it’ll also give her a quick incentive to stop.
How To Treat A Cat Bite
Got a cat bite? Don’t worry, it might not be serious, especially if it’s a “I’m bored and I want to play!” type of bite which didn’t puncture the skin.
However, if your cat went ballistic in a pure panic and now you’re bleeding or you were bitten by a cat you don’t know, you’ll want to get the injury treated right away because cat bites that break the skin can be very prone to infection.
Are cat bites dangerous?
According to researchers at the Mayo Clinic, cats don’t have any more germs in their mouths than dogs or people. That being said, cats do have sharper teeth which are capable of delivering deep puncture wounds and allowing the transfer of bacteria into skin and joints.
This is the reason why cat bites that break the skin are at a high risk for serious infection.
So the first thing you want to do is prevent infection. Immediately after a cat bite, clean the wound thoroughly and rinse it with cold water to get rid of the saliva, which can contain several bacteria that can infect the wound. Let it air dry.
Apply a topical antibiotic like hydrogen peroxide or iodine scrub and apply a Band-Aid to keep it from getting dirty. Make sure you apply an antibiotic cream regularly as the cut heals because cat bites can be nasty if they infect.
If it was a deep bite, the bite won’t stop bleeding or the cat bit you on the face or a joint, it may have damaged tissues under the skin. In this case, go to the doctor right away to have it checked out. The doctor may close the wound, remove dead tissue to prevent infection, and do an X-ray to assess the damage.
If the damage was severe or might leave a scar, your doctor may recommend reconstructive surgery. In less severe cases, your doctor will usually prescribe an antibiotic.
The best way to prevent infection from a cat bite is to keep up with your cat’s immunization schedule and prevent bites whenever possible.
If your cat has not been vaccinated for rabies or the cat bite was caused by a stray or unknown cat, consult a doctor right away because you may need a rabies shot. You should also consult a doctor if you feel feverish after a cat bite, you notice any pus or foul odor around the wound, or you notice signs of gangrene because these are severe cat bite infection symptoms.
When your cat bites, she may not necessarily know that she’s being naughty. She may just want to play or be stressed or scared about something. The important thing is just to remember the reasons that cats bite and know what to do if you are injured from a cat bite.