From the outgoing to the introverted, cats' personalities vary as much as their coat colors. Some are cuddle bugs who love attention while others crave alone time and prefer minimal interaction with their human owners. But no matter their demeanor, all cats can bite on occasion as a way of communicating, and this can catch a pet owner off guard.
Was that a love bite, a playful nibble or a warning that you're pushing it? Figuring out just what your kitty is trying to communicate can be the hard part. Here are four common reasons why your cat may be biting:
Is this a situation you've encountered? You're sitting on the sofa relaxing after a long day at work and your cat saunters up to you and spreads out across your lap -- prime petting position. You stroke your cat's coat for a few minutes as you catch the evening news or your favorite sitcom, then BAM! Your cat delivers an unexpected bite before running off.
Because they can't speak up for themselves, sometimes cats will use their teeth to do the talking. Had you been paying attention, you may have noticed the tail starting to twitch or the ears laying back slightly -- both signs of petting-induced aggression.
It could be that your cat simply reached the maximum amount of affection and had enough or perhaps your mindless petting was taking place in the exact same spot. This repetitive motion can not only be irritating and potentially painful, but it can cause static electricity.
Avoid bites from overstimulation by being mindful of your cat's petting preferences. It only takes a few times of attentive affection to figure out what what kind of petting they appreciate and for how long.
Mama cats lick and nibble kittens to not only clean their coats, but to also show affection. A pet who gives you a light nibble may simply be showing you love. The best way to determine this is to note the situation and your pet's body language. Is she relaxed? Are her ears upright? Those are non-aggressive features.
If you'd like to deter this type of tough love, don't react by yelling or hitting. Say a simple, firm "no" and then remove yourself from the situation. If you're consistent, this can be enough to change the behavior over time.
Many kittens are removed from their mothers too soon, and this can affect a variety of behaviors in their adulthood. Some cats who were weaned too soon as kittens self-soothe when they get stressed by suckling and nibbling. If your cat is suckling (usually on a piece of clothing, blanket or pillow), this is likely the reason. If you're bothered by it, introduce other distractions like cat toys or a treat. Calming herbs like catnip, chamomile and valerian can also help reduce anxiety.
It's always possible that a quick bite from your kitty is his attempt at playing with you! This starts early in their youth when they wrestle and nibble as kittens. As they grow up, they learn not to get too rough thanks to the squeals of their playmates, but those kittens who are removed from their families early may not have learned those boundary lessons.
If the bites are soft and manageable, they may not be worth reprimanding, but if you'd like to deter your cat from using his teeth, take note. You want to punish bad behavior (biting), and reward good behavior. Ignoring a bite and leaving the scene can be enough to "punish," along with a stern "No!" Whatever you do, don't pick and choose, allowing biting sometimes and getting angry at other times. Cat behavior won't change without consistency.
By Tara Hall
About the Author
Tara Hall is an animal-loving writer and editor based in Austin, Texas. Her portfolio runs the gamut from small business marketing content to travel writing, fashion editorial and national music coverage.