How to Stop Your Cat From Biting

Janelle Leeson
By Janelle Leeson. Reviewed by Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP on Jul. 10, 2023
A cat nibbles on a hand.

In This Article

Why Do Cats Bite?

Cats express their emotions through subtle body language, but most people have limited understanding of what these signals mean. Biting is just another way for cats to express themselves, and without understanding the why behind their bite, we tend to view this behavior as always negative. But to understand biting in cats, we need to understand what the cat is trying to tell us.

“Cats aren’t exhibiting bad behavior when they bite,” says Samantha Bell, a cat expert from Best Friends Animal Society. “It’s instinct.”

Though your cat may bite on instinct, there are ways to redirect them. Let’s explore why cats bite and how to address this behavior.

Key Takeaways

  • Cats typically bite as a way to express themselves.
  • When a cat is nipping us, we need to understand what they are trying to tell us.
  • Biting is a natural behavior for cats, so pet parents need to find ways to redirect them.

Why Do Cats Bite?

“When your cat bites you, it shouldn’t be ignored,” Bell says. So, what makes a cat bite? Here are a few reasons why.

Love Bites

A “love bite” could be a sign of affection from your cat, but it’s usually a signal that your cat is feeling overstimulated.

These bites may begin with gentle licking and progress into soft nibbling. Love bites can be a polite and gentle way for your cat to ask you to stop petting them or for another interaction to be over.

“They may be saying, ‘I'm enjoying this interaction but it's becoming too much for me. I'm nearing my limit,’” Bell explains.

According to Bell, love bites can be difficult to interpret, and it can be tough to figure out what comes next from your cat. Be cautious of this behavior and be considerate of your companion if they begin to nibble.

Biting Is a Sign of Overstimulation

Overstimulation, also called petting reactivity, may occur when your cat gets overexcited. This could be from a petting session, or if they react poorly to unwanted petting.

When cats want you to stop petting or touching them, they’ll likely communicate through signals. These signals include outward-turned ears, tail flicking, skin rippling, and quick head turns. These behaviors mean that your cat is reaching their limit, and a swat or bite may follow.

Cats Bite When in Pain

Pay attention to your feline friend—is biting out of character for them? Your pet may nip at you when they’re in pain. Be on the lookout for other signs that your cat is experiencing discomfort. These behaviors may include:

  • Reactivity when you touch a certain area on their body

  • Hunched body position

  • Hiding

  • Lack of appetite or interest in their usual activities, poor grooming

Cats Bite Out of Fear

Fear can prompt a cat to bite. This fear is usually caused by the feeling of being preyed upon or harmed.

This might occur at home when your cat feels trapped or forced to do something. According to Bell, giving your cat the option to leave a situation can prevent them from feeling like prey. People are large compared to cats, and unsocialized cats may feel afraid or intimidated by our size.

Before cats bite out of fear, they’ll typically give warning signs, like flattened ears pressed against their head, dilated pupils, raised fur, hissing, spitting, or snarling. These behaviors serve as clear indicators that a cat is feeling threatened and you should give them space.

Cats Bite for Attention

Cats understand that biting grabs our attention. Your cat might attack your feet when they want to play. When your cat is bored, they may misbehave. They may scratch furniture or bother your other pets.   

Cats Bite While Playing

Your cat may give you a nip while you’re playing together. If this happens, try to redirect your companion to one of their toys.

Cats may also bite each other when they play.

“If cats are biting each other during playtime and they’re relatively quiet, consider this enrichment,” Bell says. “Non-playful biting can cause yowling and one cat will typically try to get away.”

You can tell the difference between playful biting and reactive biting by sounds and behavior. If both cats engage, they’re likely playing.

How To Stop a Cat From Biting You

Your cat won’t ever completely stop biting—it’s a natural behavior for them. However, you can ensure your—and your cat’s—happiness by following the steps below.

1. Redirect biting. It’s important to redirect your cat when they bite. Provide them with an appropriate toy, like a catnip kicker, and praise them when they sink their claws and jaws into it. 

2. Engage your cat. Participate in daily playtime with them, using wand toys that mimic prey and satisfy a cat’s need to bite.

3. Understand and respect your cat's touch preferences. Learn what your cat enjoys and honor their boundaries. Pay attention to how your cat reacts when you touch certain places and stop petting before noticing signs of reactivity. Most cats prefer pets under the chin and near their ears, while the belly and legs might provoke a nip or a swat.

4. “Listen” to your cat's body language. Pay attention to signals that mean your cat wants to be left alone or is overstimulated.

5. Give your cat choices and seek their consent. Offer your cat the freedom to choose their activities and leave a situation when they want to.

6. Two kittens are better than one. When adopting a kitten, consider a second companion. Two kittens help minimize biting because they learn at a young age that they can playfully bite each other, not their pet parents.

Don't punish your cat for biting. It’s ineffective, damaging to your relationship, and can lead to fear-induced reactivity.

Bitten by a Cat? Here’s What to Do

If a cat bite punctures your skin, take immediate action by washing the wound with water, apply pressure to stop any bleeding, and seek medical attention.

Cat bites carry a high risk of infection and disease. Your doctor may prescribe preventative antibiotics for you to take before symptoms of infection can occur. 

Featured Image: zsv3207/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Janelle Leeson


Janelle Leeson

Freelance Writer

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