Why Is My Cat Biting Me?

Grey and white cat with brown eyes biting person's hand

Imagine this scenario: You're sitting on the couch, gently petting your cat when suddenly she begins nipping at your hand. This cat behaviour may have you wondering, "Why is my cat biting me?"

For kittens, biting and mouthing their owners is a normal behaviour. They often mouth and paw at objects as a way of exploring their world. Adult cats who bite, however, might be doing so out of fear or for communication. According to Dr. François Martin, Purina pet behaviour scientist, cats may also bite "because they have not been properly socialized and trained. Bite inhibition needs to be learned." Over time, kittens and cats can learn to play and interact without biting and give soft paw pats without claws. Find out why your kitten or cat bites and what you can do to help stop it.

Why Is My Cat Biting Me?

Cats and kittens bite for different reasons, and it's important to distinguish the reasons for biting to allow you to find the best solution. Here's what it can mean if your cat bites you.

Kittens Biting

Kittens usually bite because of an issue with socialization. They learn good manners through interactions with other kittens and their mother. If owners adopt a kitten while she's still fairly young, it may be before she's had time to learn important lessons about interacting with people from her mom and littermates. Dr. Martin also says, "Kittens also need to learn not to bite humans. Too often, humans 'trained' kittens to bite by playing rough with them. It is cute when the kittens are very young and cannot harm a person, [but] not as cute when the kitten gets bigger."

Cats Biting

Adult cats bite for different reasons. It may be a way for them to respond to a threat or demand attention. If your cat bites you and doesn't back down or tries to play, it's likely because they're excited and haven’t learned that fingers are not play toys.

Some cats may also bite or nip to try to get your attention, according to Jean-François Savard, Purina pet behaviour scientist. They could be hungry, want a door opened, need the litter box cleaned or want to go outside. Some cats bite instead of meowing to accomplish their goal.

How to Stop Cats From Biting

Training your cat not to bite is just as important as trying to stop any other negative pet behaviour.

Start by remembering a few basic training principles:

  • Address bad behaviour (a firm “NO!” works well) and reward good behaviour.
  • The reward or punishment should always immediately follow either the bad or good behaviour so your cat learns to associate their behaviour with rewards or discipline.
  • Be consistent. Corrections have to be administered every time; otherwise, your cat won't learn and may get confused. The same is true for rewards. Be ready to dole them out as they learn and cut down on biting so often.
  • You can reward good behaviour with delicious cat treats, such as Friskies Party Mix cat treats.

For Cats Who Are Communicating

If you believe your cat is biting as a form of communication — as in, it doesn't seem aggressive and they follow up their nip with a meow — you can respond in any of the following ways:

  • Ignore them. If you don't respond to their signal and they want something bad enough, they'll try a different approach.
  • Pair their desired outcome with a different behaviour. Do what your cat wants after they rub against your leg or meow. Over time, they should learn to associate their end goal (food, going outside, etc.) with meowing or rubbing instead.

No matter the reason for your cat's biting, you can help counteract this negative behaviour in positive ways. Find out more tips for caring for your cat from Purina Canada.

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