Does your cat suddenly bite you while you are petting her? Cats tend to nip or give “love bites” to their favorite humans or owners for a variety of reasons. These love bites are not meant to hurt you, but are more to “jolt you out of your senses” and act as “gentle reminders” while you are caressing or petting your cat.
Why do cats give love bites?
1. They are overstimulated.
According to Jackson Galaxy, a renowned cat behaviorist, cats give love bites because they are overstimulated. He refers to it as petting-induced overstimulation, which happens when the hair follicle receptors of cats cannot take the petting and pressure anymore.
You may not be aware of it since you thought you were just giving your cat some nice ear rubs. However, cats can only take so much of the pressure, so before you know it, your cat is giving you love bites to let you know it is done.
2. They are just being playful and asking for attention.
According to Dr. Karen Becker of the Healthy Pets website, this kind of love bite is reminiscent of a cat’s kittenhood days . This love bite is not due to overstimulation but is just a cat being extra playful and using actions to let you know that she wants some attention. Some cats will randomly do this, then plop down and expose their bellies.
3. It could be due to play aggression.
Cats tend to give love bites when they are playing aggressively with you. For them, playtime is also their way of practicing their stalking and hunting skills. Thankfully, playtime aggression rarely escalates to real aggression. Aside from love bites, cats will not growl or hiss when playing aggressively.
Dr. Jean Hofve, a holistic veterinarian, states that cats may show unwanted aggression to their owners when they become adults. Unlike harmless kitten love bites, adult cat love bites can cause infection. If your cat resorts to excessive biting, correct it by using toys with strings or wands. Do not play with your cat using your hands and encourage clicker training.
Love biting can be corrected by observing your cat’s body language, redirecting her undesired behavior, and respecting her tolerance for physical interaction. You can tell that your cat is giving you love bites and not real bites because it does not break the skin. When your cat is gently nipping at you, she will not show signs of fear or aggression and she will not be growling, hissing, and clawing. Your cat’s body is also relaxed and calm.
Cat experts also note that love biting may have to do with dominance. Cats usually engage in mutual grooming or allogrooming. This is a social activity that shows affection and reinforces hierarchy. The groomer (the cat doing the grooming) will most often nip or love bite the groomee as a reminder of who is in charge.
How to stop love bites
There are several measures you can take to stop your cat from giving love bites. Try these out!
- Cats are visual predators. Hand movement encourages prey drive. So, if your cat gives you love bites, do not pull your hand away immediately. Stop moving your hand, and once your cat stops nibbling, you can proceed to move your hand.
- Use a reward system like treats when your cat listens to your command to stop the biting. Do not yell or swat at your cat as it can result in fearful or aggressive behavior.
- If your cat resorts to excessive love bites, try to play with her using a hands-off play style. Feather wands and laser toys are fun to play with for your cat and she won’t have access to your hands.
- Cat experts recommend that petting sessions should be brief and cat owners should pause frequently to check the cat’s level of interest. Cat owners should encourage their cats to interact while they are awake instead of handling them when they are sleeping or resting. Focus the petting on areas that cats usually enjoy, such as under the chin and around the ears. Avoid petting your cat near the tail or on her belly.
If your cat’s love bites result in injury, wash the wounds and see if there is any pain, swelling, or redness. If this is so, consult your doctor for the proper treatment.
Cats are playful pets who like to engage in interactive playtime with their humans. They resort to love biting as a manifestation of playtime aggression, although it is usually just harmless, gentle nips that will not break the skin. Felines also tend to give love bites if they are overstimulated or if the petting becomes too much to handle.
Image: istockphoto.com / Bogdan Kurylo