Cats are such a great part of the family – so adorable and full of surprises! Sometimes, though, they do really odd things – like suddenly biting after being affectionate. Understandably, most people find this a bit confusing.
If your cat bites you while purring, it is not actually out-of-the-ordinary behavior. Most cats tend to get a bit overstimulated if you pet them for too long, or they may be trying to tell you something and you failed to listen. Cats do not speak our language, so it can be difficult to decipher their behavior if you know nothing about cat language.
Why cats give love bites
Most cat owners stroke or pet their felines as a sign of affection. Sometimes, however, the cat ends up biting their hand in response, and then running away. This can be unexpected and confusing, and you may not be totally sure of how to manage this strange behavior.
Overstimulation aggression is a common feline behavior. At first, your cat might respond to your physical affection with a purr and a gentle nibble, but if you continue to pet him once he is feeling overstimulated, this might lead to some negative behavior. But why do cats do this?
Know that your furry friend is not trying to hurt you. Cats frequently use their mouths to grab or hold onto something. For example, a mother cat gently bites her kittens while grooming them. Hence, when your cat gives you a gentle nibble, it may be a form of affection. Cats also bite if they want you to stop whatever you are doing – perhaps repeatedly petting their back or rubbing their sensitive belly.
Sadly, some cat owners fail to heed their cat’s warning. And, if you continue to pet your feline despite his efforts to make you stop, the nibble may escalate to a painful bite.
Just keep in mind that there is a fine line between a gentle bite and an aggressive one. Cats often do the latter if they are struggling with behavioral issues or dealing with an underlying health problem. As his human guardian, you need to figure out what your kitty is trying to tell you. Learn to translate his body language so you can respond better to his needs and establish a deeper bond.
Why does my cat bite me hard while purring?
Learning to read your cat’s body language can take a long time, but it is essential if you want to coexist happily and peacefully with your furry friend. Cats cannot speak our language, but they do show subtle signs to express their emotions, whether they are feeling relaxed, anxious, or annoyed by your petting.
If you are having trouble deciphering your cat’s language, you are not alone. Cats can behave in ways that are quite confusing to humans and other animals, and an example of such behavior is the sudden transition from a sweet, affectionate kitty to a grumpy and annoyed cat. The reason behind this behavior could be any of the following:
One moment, you are happily stroking your purring cat, and the next you see her sharp fangs piercing your skin. What went wrong?
Overstimulation can occur when your kitty receives too much petting. In reality, most cats find long stroking sessions uncomfortable, even if we do this lovingly. That is because cats’ skin is full of nerve endings, especially on their sensitive “touch spots.” At first, your furry friend will ask for pets by rubbing himself against you. However, repetitive petting will eventually cause overarousal and, instead of pleasure, your cat will now feel irritated or uncomfortable. At this point, he will turn and bite your hand as a way of telling you “I’ve had enough!”
Petting-induced aggression is a common behavior in cats, so it should be no surprise to see your feline react this way from time to time. It can be really frustrating and frightening, which is why you need to learn your cat’s individual sensitivity threshold. Some cats do not like long strokes and want to keep petting sessions short and sweet. Know what feels good for your cat and make sure you respect his boundaries.
Back off if you see any of these signs of overstimulation:
- Swishing tail
- Flattened ears
- Dilated pupils
- Low growls
- Twitching fur on the back
- Arching back
- Tensed body
2. Playful biting
Some cats enjoy a bit of rough play – and you probably know from experience that involves claws and teeth! Biting during play sessions is your cat’s way of showing her natural hunting prowess. Cats even bite their littermates during play to hone their hunting skills. Typical predatory and playful behaviors also include stalking, pouncing, and clawing anything that mimics prey. However, there is a fine line between playful bites and aggressive ones. If your cat bites too hard and causes injuries, you must do something to stop it; otherwise, it might lead to problematic behavior that you do not want to deal with.
Sometimes, biting is your cat’s way of telling you to stop whatever it is you are doing. Perhaps you are touching his belly or his sensitive whiskers or maybe he has just had enough petting. If you fail to understand his cue, he might bite again and lash out harder, this time with a growl or a hiss. It might sound rude when all you are trying to do is cuddle and show your affection, but Fluffy has had enough of the petting and wants to do something else. Just back off and let him walk away.
When your cat is ready for more affection, he will come back to you at his own will, as if nothing had happened.
4. Seeking attention
Cats are independent creatures and can be very specific about what they want, and when. Your cat might want your attention or to ask you to play with him, and biting your hand is his way of gently grabbing you to get your attention, just like a human baby would do.
But, if you cannot meet his needs and instead do something else that upsets him, he may warn you with a gentle bite. At this point, he will probably move away from you, as if he is embarrassed and saying sorry for his inappropriate behavior.
5. Sign of illness
Biting could also be your cat’s way of telling you that he is not feeling well, especially if the bite comes with loud purring. If your furry friend seems lethargic, refuses to eat, loses weight, or frequently hides away from people, these signs might indicate a potential illness. Talk to your vet if you suspect your cat is struggling with an underlying medical condition. The earlier you have him checked, the better his chances of a quick recovery.
What to do if your cat bites you
Cat bites come with a high risk of infection to both animals and humans. Thus, the first thing you should do is wash the wound well with soap and water. Gently apply pressure around the wound using a clean towel to stop the bleeding. Use healing ointments and a sterile bandage to protect the area.
If the bite is very deep and the bleeding does not stop despite applying pressure, you need to go to a clinic immediately for proper treatment. Cats are carriers of several highly pathogenic bacteria that can cause serious infection. If your health is compromised due to any existing condition such as diabetes or a weakened immune system, all the more reason to see your doctor right away.
Depending on the severity of your injury, your doctor might prescribe an antibiotic and give you a tetanus shot if you have not received this vaccination within the last five years.
How to prevent cat bites
Knowing your cat’s individual needs and demeanour is important to maintain a happy relationship between the two of you. The goal is to make sure you can interact safely with your kitty, without him resorting to painful bites. Here is what you can do to prevent those love bites:
1. Observe your cat’s body language
Cats usually nibble their owner’s hand to signal that they are done with the interaction. Or, the cat might be trying to communicate that they hate being touched on certain body parts. You might notice your pet’s tail starting to swing from side to side, his back fur twitching, and his ears turning back. All of these are sure signs that kitty has “had enough” already and wants you to stop petting him. Otherwise, your annoyed cat will not hold back his sharp teeth – he will bite and run away.
2. Let Fluffy calm down before petting him again
Never rush to pet your feline again if you notice signs of petting-induced aggression. Instead, let him calm down and do something else. Some cats need more time than others before they are ready to be touched or held again. The trick is to let the cat make the first move – a cat that wants your attention will come to you, rub his face and body against you, and ask for pets.
3. Limit your petting sessions
Most cats can only tolerate short spurts of petting. If you are not sure about your cat’s limits, pet him for a few seconds and observe his body language. Then gradually increase your petting sessions so you can determine how much petting your cat can tolerate. Remember that most cats prefer short interactions and it is best to keep it that way to prevent harsh biting and scratching.
4. Know the best spots to touch
There is nothing more comforting than petting and hugging your furball after a long and busy day. But do you know that most cats have preferences regarding where they want to be touched? Every cat is unique, so it is up to you to find out your cat’s favorite spots. If he loves to be touched on his cheeks, then focus on that area instead of on the parts he hates. This will guarantee you an extended cuddle time without any painful surprises.
Advice on cats and kids
Unfortunately, even the slightest cat bite can injure a baby’s or a toddler’s soft and delicate skin. So, if you have young kids and cats at home, make sure to monitor their interactions.
While some cats might allow kids to pet them and carry them around the house, most cats do not like this. Cats will usually give signals if they are not enjoying the interaction, and it is up to your children to understand these cues. Thus, it is very important to teach young children how to interact with pets and when to back off. You should also discourage children from picking up your cats and playing roughly with them. For their safety, make sure that you do not let young children play with cats without your supervision.
You should also not allow your cat to sleep with your baby. It might look cute in pictures, but in reality, this can be dangerous as cats can suffocate a baby while sleeping. One way of preventing this from happening is to install a pet gate to keep your pet out of your baby’s room.
Wrapping it up
Cats use bites and nips to convey certain messages. However, love bites can hurt sometimes, especially if your cat is overstimulated after a long petting session. Of course, there are other potential reasons that your cat suddenly bites, and these can range from being playful to behavioral issues.
Whatever the reason, never punish your cat for his nips! Instead, try to understand what Fluffy is telling you so you can give him what he needs. Look for the telltale signs and know when to back off – rest assured, your kitty will deeply appreciate your response.
Image: istockphoto.com / vladimir_n