Why Does My Cat Nip Me?

Why does my cat nip me?

Cats often exhibit surprising behavior like biting out of nowhere in the middle of a playing session. This may feel strange and even hurtful but does not necessarily show malice on the part of the cat. 

Why does my cat nip me?

Your cat may nip you for the following reasons:

1. She has enough of the petting and wants you to stop. 

According to Dr. Kelly Ballantyne, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois, Chicago, biting their owners during a petting session is one of the common behavioral problems of cats.  These so-called love bites or when a cat nips you are usually referred to as petting-induced aggression and your cat’s way of telling you that she has had enough. 

Some cats will also lick and then bite you but the bite does not typically puncture your skin. 

Dr. Liz Stelow, Chief of Service of Clinical Behavior Service at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at the University of California also notes that cats that engage in love biting do not show other signs of aggression such as hissing, growling and clawing. She also adds that the cat’s body language is relaxed but the cat could become slightly tensed immediately before biting. 

Observe if your cat is manifesting the following behavior as it will give you cues when not to overdo petting to avoid overstimulation:

  • her tail or skin is twitching 
  • her pupils are dilated 
  • her ears are flattened 
  • her body is stiff
  • the whiskers are forward 
  • her head or eyes are turned toward your hand 

Cats will usually give a warning before nipping or biting you, thus, it is important to watch out for any warning signs as indicated above to decrease your chance of being bitten. 

2. To express her natural hunting instinct.

Domesticated cats especially indoor cats that have no access to the outdoors may resort to nipping at you during your playtime as their “prey”. Since your cat is mostly indoors she cannot practice stalking and pouncing live prey outdoors, thus, her instincts divert to you as well as the furniture and other objects. 

3. To express her affection for you. 

Your cat may be nipping at you to show her affection and fondness. She may gently nibble or bite you although you are not petting her or while lying beside you in your bed. Cat behaviorists note that love bites are reminiscent of a cat’s kittenhood when their mothers lick and nibble them while grooming them. When cats do this they will start by licking and eventually gently nip at you in a way that does not break the skin. 

4. To communicate or to get your attention.  

Cats have sneaky ways to catch their owners’ attention and usually succeed at doing that through nipping or biting. Notice how your cat suddenly nips at you if you are engrossed with watching TV? That is her way to catch your attention just as humans would poke at each other. 

5. To soothe themselves during the teething process

Kittens also tend to nip and playfully nibble at your hand during the teething period. They like to chew and bite on soft materials to find relief from their sore gums and it could include your finger, toe or the back of your hand during your interactions.

How do I get my cat to stop nipping at me?

Here are ways to get your cat to stop nipping at you:

  • If your cat nips at you, do not quickly pull your hand away. Avoid any movement of your hand and only do so once she stops nipping or biting. Cats are visual predators and the more you move your hand the more they bite out of sheer instinct. 
  • Do not swat or yell at your cat as it will just create negative associations. Use a reward system like treats if she behaves appropriately. 
  • If your cat tends to nip at you, avoid playing with her using your bare hands. Use interactive toys like feather wand or teaser toys so you can still bond and play together without the fear of nipping or biting.

 Why does my cat bite me while purring?

Your cat could be biting at you while purring because she is extremely frightened or angry and as a means to defend herself. The purring could be her means of calming herself down.  According to Dr. Lorraine Kassarjian, a veterinarian from South Florida, cats do not only purr when they are content or happy but also when they are anxious, scared or in great pain. She also states that cats sometimes purr to calm themselves just as people take deep breaths to gather their composure. 

Some owners may mistakenly think that their cats are enjoying the petting because she is purring. However, cats could be doing that because they are in pain or stressed and not because they like to be petted. As a result, cats tend to bite while purring as you may have touched a sore or injured spot. 


Cats enjoy playtime and petting but sometimes too much of a good thing may lead to nipping. Your cat can also nip you unexpectedly during playtime as an expression of her instincts or simply just to catch your attention and even to express her affection. 

Image: istockphoto.com / Iuliia Alekseeva