When we think of pets that chew, we usually think of dogs. But chewing is a common cat behavior, too.
One theory as to why cats chew is that it mimics eating prey. When they had to hunt down their own dinner, the things they dined on required a lot of chewing. They had to get through fur, skin and bones and cartilage to get to the good stuff.
What triggers a cat's need to chew on us ranges from a genetic predisposition for the behavior to having been weaned too early. A cat might also chew on your hand out of boredom, to relieve stress or because she wants to play. Here are some reasons why your cat might be chewing on your hand.
Kittens play rough with each other and biting is a big part of it. They're honing skills that can be used later for hunting prey. Even though our sweet and cuddly domestic cats don't need to hunt, they're hardwired for tracking and killing prey, which, of course, involves biting.
When they nip at our hand, especially when we're petting them, it could be an invitation to play. If your cat bites you in an attempt to start a game, her body will be relaxed and she may flop down next to you after she bites.
The Anti-cruelty Society suggests only using toys to play with your cat as a way to discourage this behavior. You could also take the opposite approach and wear a thick glove when your cat wants to wrestle with your hand. She may surprise you and start bringing the glove to you when she wants to play instead of nipping your hand. Let the games begin!
If your cat seems obsessed with prolonged chewing on your hand or any other object she could be trying to relieve stress. Cats can have emotional issues similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder in humans. Some breeds, like Siamese, are more high-strung than others and may be more prone to chewing as a way to deal with anxiety.
Chewing on your hand, particularly the softer parts like the skin between your fingers could mean that your cat was weaned too early. Early weaning occurs when a kitten is permanently separated from her mother before the time it would take for the separation to happen naturally. When kittens are prematurely cut off from nursing they often develop compulsive oral behaviors. Too-early weaning can actually cause neurobiological changes that can't be corrected.
If you think your cat was weaned too early, the kindest thing you can do for her is to just let her suckle. Trying to stop her from doing it will just make her more neurotic. You might try substituting a toy for your hand. Make sure it's something soft and pliable. A soft teddy bear that's mushy and larger than your cat (to imitate a mommy cat) may work.
If it doesn't, and you can't bring yourself to lend your kitty a hand, talk to your vet. In severe cases, a vet may prescribe a human antidepressant medication like Prozac. Not because your cat is depressed, but because the drug's anti-obsessive and mood stabilizing qualities can help break the obsessive-compulsive cycle.
Another reason your cat may nip at your hand is that she may be overstimulated. This usually occurs when you're petting her. Cats have individual levels of tolerance for petting but when they've had enough, it's not uncommon for them to use a "love bite" to let you know they're done.
Indicators that can precede and help you avoid being bitten are a twitching tail, rippling skin, ears flicking back and forth or ears flattened against her head. If your cat does any of these things while you're petting her, stop.
Let your cat decide what she'd like to do next. She may take off for some alone time. She may want to keep hanging out with you but not be touched for a while. If she stays nearby, respect her boundaries and leave her be.
She's showing you affection
Cats have excellent communication skills but how they talk to us can be subtle. Rubbing up against us, purring when we stroke them, and maintaining prolonged eye contact with us are just a few of the ways cats tell us they love and trust us. A gentle nibble can mean love too.
You know your cat best — watch, observe, remember. You'll soon be able to decipher why your cat wants to use you as a chew toy and find creative ways to deal with her behavior. Cats are very good at communicating how they're feeling. It's our job to notice.
Whatever you do, never, ever hit your cat for biting you or for any other reason. Physical punishment is rarely effective with cats and it can ruin your relationship with yours. It will make her fear and avoid you. You can stop the bad behavior by simply not engaging with your cat. Just get up and walk away.
- Catster.com: Cat Love Bites — What Do They Mean and Why Do They Happen?
- PetMD: Why Do Cat Chew On Things?
- Purina.com: Why is My Cat Licking and Chewing?
- Sonoma Humane Society: Overstimulation in Cats
- U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health: Early weaning increases aggression and stereotypic behaviour in cats
- VCAHospitals.com: Preventing and Punishing Undesirable Behavior in Cats
- The Anti-Cruelty Society: Dealing with Play Biting