You’re sitting on the couch, watching your favorite Netflix show, and your cat jumps up to join you. You pet her, and then she jumps on your lap. She’s so cute and snuggly, you think to yourself, then you get back to your show. Just when you’re entranced in the plot, your cat starts licking your arm. Weird, but she does this sometimes. Then, out of nowhere, she takes a bite out of your arm. Ouch! What in the world?
Cats are notorious for licking and biting their owners, sometimes gently, sometimes not. But why? These bites may seem to come out of nowhere, for no reason, but if we explore this topic a bit, we will see that there’s always a reason, and your cat knows what it is. We just have to figure them out. Some common reasons why your cat may bite you are their age, genetics, environmental changes, fear, insecurity, and your emotions and behavior.
Why Do Cats Bite Their Owners?
Cats may bite their owners for many reasons, but here are some common ones:
Age and Genetics
Young kittens often bite and scratch more when they are learning how to play, and this is totally normal. When a kitten reaches four months or so, their play biting and scratching usually subsides. In addition, some personality traits in cats, like aggression, are hereditary.
Cats are sensitive to their owner’s emotions and often mimic them, hence the phrase “copy-cat.” A study published by NPR shows that cats will appear sad when their owners are sad and appear happy when their owners are happy. If owners show aggressive behavior, their cats may mimic this behavior through biting and scratching.
A move, a new baby, a new pet, visitors in the home: all of these examples are changes to your cat’s routine that can add stress. Cats are creatures of habit. They tend to sleep in the same places, play in the same areas, and eat at certain times. If there is a disruption to their schedule, cats may feel overstimulated and confused, and they may resort to biting.
Fear and Insecurity
Cats may bite out of fear. If there is a human or animal in the home that they are afraid of, they will likely bite, which is why cats may bite small children who want to “play” with them. Instead of play, the cat sees a toddler’s advances as a threat. Likewise, if you bring a new pet home, your cat may start to feel insecure and jealous. Cats are super sensitive, and they need to know they are loved.
Basic Needs Not Being Met
Cats need food, water, shelter, and attention to survive. They thrive off a schedule, so if your cat expects to eat at 6 PM, and there is no food, she may bite to let you know she needs her dinner. Cats will also bite their owners to get attention. This is one of the most “out of the blue” bites and may leave you confused, but just pet your cat and give her some attention.
Cats are typically playful; however, when playing with your cat, use toys instead of your hands. Cats love to pounce on and bite toys, so use laser pointers, stuffed mice, or other cat toys. If you use your hands, your cat may bite your hands, thinking they are toys.
You may be thinking that you don’t think any of these reasons fit why your cat bites you because he bites you gently and doesn’t pierce your skin. In this case, your cat may be showing you affection. This would be a playful, “love bite,” and it is a sign of your cat’s admiration for you.
How Common Are Cat Bites?
Cat bites are common; there are an estimated 400,000 cat bites each year, but the number is much higher since these are the ones that are reported. While it may be funny when your cat bites you, it can pose a serious risk. In fact, according to Medical Daily, one in three cat bites will become infected. If an infected cat bite is left untreated, it can develop into cat scratch fever, a bacterial infection that causes flu-like symptoms and can cause long-term problems like encephalopathy or vision loss.
How Do I Stop My Cat From Biting?
To get your cat to stop biting, first, you need to determine why he is biting. The reason may or may not be obvious, but it is something you can probably figure out. For example, if you recently had company over, and there was a human sitting in your cat’s spot on the couch, your cat may have resorted to biting. Cats are territorial, after all.
Make sure you do not yell at your cat. If she climbs up on the kitchen table or hides your favorite pair of socks, there is no point in yelling at your cat. In addition, try to watch your own emotions around your cat, whether it is stress, sadness, or anger. If possible, be happy and friendly, and your cat will follow suit.
Make sure you give your cat the attention and play time he needs. Lately, I have been shining the flashlight on my phone around my cat when it is dark, and she loves chasing it around. In fact, she could chase the light for hours!
If your cat bites you, don’t punish him, just stop engaging with him. Move your hand away, and this will signal to your cat that biting is not appropriate. You can say a firm, “No,” but don’t yell, or that may make the situation worse.
If your cat is like most cats, their biting is both cute and annoying. Sometimes it may be painful and break your skin. Wash your wound with soap and water and apply a band-aid. If your bite becomes infected with redness and swelling, call your doctor to get it checked out.
We had a couple of pairs of burmese cats at different times. We stopped them biting us (in kitten times) by making it uncomfortable to bite. During biting I would push my finger gently down towards the back of the throat giving them a choking sensation. This made biting an unpleasant experience. Bites were also less fierce when training as they couldn’t bite hard. It didn’t change other biting games.
Another behaviour we stopped was jumping up on you to climb up, with claws extended to hold on to you. I continually tapped on top of their front paws when they started jumping. This led to them keeping their claws in when jumping. As they jumped a lot this meant that you had to catch them as they jumped up to your chest or they would fall back and probably revert to claws. You were obliged to catch them even when carrying a cup of coffee.
Not directly relevant, when you bent down and said “What a lovely cat” they would jump up on their hind legs and box your face, but with claws in so no discomfort. Wonderful pets.
Thanks for your stories about your Burmese cats, David. They are a stunning breed. Good idea about the claw tapping. They must’ve been quite intelligent and sounds like fun to have such jumpers!
cat jumps on bed repeatedly claws extended then starts to bite. this occurs after spending the night cuddle next me
Hi Susan, thanks for your comment. Kitty is probably saying it’s time for you to go somewhere else so they can sleep now… 😉
I love my cat. It has toys, great food and water. Why does it bite till I bleed?
Hi Mary, difficult question to answer for sure, but some common things are over-stimulation, not having learned boundaries through time, and their human friends also recognizing their own boundaries and while playing or expectations they have around physical play or affection. Again, impossible to diagnose from afar, but those are some common elements of what may be happening with your cat.
Our 4 month old kitten has started to bite our 15 year old daughter when she is lying in bed after coming home from school. She plays with him as soon as she gets home and gives him food. Is the biting a sign he was over stimulated or just the opposite, that he wanted to play more and felt she was ignoring him by looking at her phone? I suggested she have one of his toys nearby to distract him when he tries to bite. Is there anything else you would suggest?
Thank you for your question, Julie. Congrats on the kitten, they are such a bundle of joy! And, you’re also seeing the side where some training is likely needed here to make sure they know what is appropriate behavior and play. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly is going on, but it sounds like a perfect time to teach some boundaries to help train kitten to become a happy cat. I would recommend these suggestions from The Humane Society and also this article is a useful one, too.
I adopted a kitten approximately 6-7 wks old. He only weighed a couple of pounds. His is now 8 yrs old and weighs 11 lbs. Beautiful tabby with white feet and neck. He definitely has a buck head. He has started sneaking up on me and biting me. Even in bed at night. Just runs in , jumps on the bed and take bite on my hand. I’m 72 living on my own basically healthy. But when he bites he brings blood. I have thin blood so I wash the wound with alcohol so I don’t bleed on the sheets. My family is really upset and want me to get rid of him. I make sure he has food, water and always fresh. Keep his box cleaned daily. Can you give me any advice?
I live in an apartment on the first floor. The patio door is glass panes. So he sees quite a few stray cats daily. One little female will play with him thru the glass and window pane. I DON’T feed any of them.
Hi Jacquelyne, thank you for your message and sorry to hear about this frustrating experience you are having. There can be a number of reasons why this is happening and hard to diagnose easily. Here’s an article that we think is well put together that you hopefully get some good out of here: https://www.petmd.com/cat/training/evr_ct_how-to-stop-cat-from-biting All the best and we hope the problem resolves for you