If you find your kitty gnawing on your fingers, it could be a playful gesture, a throwback to kittenhood or an act of aggression. Identifying what’s behind the finger chewing can help you take appropriate action to curb the unwanted behavior. If gnawing progresses to biting, a trip to a vet or cat behavioralist may be in order.
Young Kitten Behaviors
A young kitten’s gnawing could be a way to soothe sore gums irritated by teething. Your kitty may view you as a mother substitute and chew in the same way she used to nurse from her mother or play bite with her litter mates. Curtail the behaviors when they start, no matter how cute they may be, or you’ll have a tougher time down the line. When gnawing starts, give your kitty something more appropriate to chew, like a toy, and walk away and ignore her if she won’t be deterred.
Your cat may enjoy the play biting and finger gnawing because it means fun, interactive time with you. If you’ve encouraged the behavior in the past, or allowed it to go on and engaged in a positive way, you’ve reinforced the idea that it’s a good thing. Transition to other forms of interactive play with your cat, such as with a feather dancer or string. Keep your fingers away from her mouth when grooming or petting, and walk away when she starts to bite. Avoid toys that encourage playing with or biting at your fingers.
Cats can become stressed or develop obsessive-compulsive disorders, such as incessant gnawing or chewing. This typically occurs with changes in the household or stressors in the environment. Try to maintain a regular schedule for your cat to reduce the potential for this problem through regular mealtimes, a balanced diet and a clean litter box.
Your cat may be chewing your fingers because they smell or taste good. Always wash your hands thoroughly, particularly after preparing pungent-smelling foods. Use unscented hand creams and lotions to deter unwanted gnawing as well. If your cat bites at your fingers when you offer treats by hand, stop doing it and feed her only from her bowl.
When to Seek Help
Playful gnawing and nips can turn to biting if left unchecked. While it’s best to address early behaviors before they reach more aggressive levels, your cat can be retrained. Bring the gnawing activity to your vet’s attention so he can rule out any underlying medical or health issues that could be promoting the action. Consider consulting a pet behaviorist to help you get to the underlying cause of the problem.