Why Does My Cat Give Me Love Bites? The Curious Reason Behind This Quirky Behavior

Cats Use Biting and Licking to Communicate

Cats often use biting and licking to communicate with their owners. The bite is meant to get the human’s attention, while the lick is an affectionate gesture. Cats have scent glands in their mouths, so licking is a way for them to bond and mark their territory. It’s thought that when a cat gently bites you and then licks the area, they are claiming you as “theirs.”

According to pet behavior specialists, the bite-lick behavior is a cat’s way of conveying a social message. Cooper and Gracie explain that the bite is to get the human’s focus, while the lick says “I love you.” So in a sense, the cat is trying to start a communication sequence – first grabbing your attention, then showing affection.

Licking in particular allows cats to bond by mixing their scents. So a bite followed by a lick can be your cat’s unique way of showing you social attachment. It’s one of the unusual ways cats try to strike up a “conversation” with their human companions.

Biting May Be a Form of Play

Kittens and young cats often bite while playing. For cats, biting is a natural part of their play and allows them to practice hunting techniques. It also helps them learn to control the strength of their bite. As the ASPCA notes, “For a cat, the definition of “playing” frequently involves ambushing, pouncing, leaping, swatting, kicking, biting, and gnawing.”

Biting during play is how kittens learn limits. If one kitten bites too hard, the other kitten will react and stop playing. This teaches them boundaries. The bite inhibition they learn as kittens stays with them into adulthood.

So when your cat gently mouths you while playing, it likely means they are excited and engaged. It’s important not to punish them for these playful bites, as that can damage the human-cat bond. As Purina states, “Cats often bite during play because they are expressing their natural hunting instinct.”

To curb painful bites, redirect your cat’s energy into other play. Provide appropriate toys they can bite and kick, like toy mice or balls. This will satisfy their need to “hunt” while protecting your hands and feet.

Biting Could Mean Overstimulation

Petting a cat too long can cause overstimulation and biting. Cats have sensitive skin and can only handle a certain amount of petting before becoming aggravated. What may seem like a pleasant experience for the owner can quickly become overbearing for the cat. This is called petting induced or overstimulation aggression. It’s a common behavior in many cats, and is something that can be both frustrating and frightening for owners.

Knowing when to stop petting prevents bites. Look for signs of overstimulation like skin twitching, tail swishing, ears folding back, turning or moving away, or exaggerated licking. If the cat is tense, it’s best to stop petting altogether. Give the cat some space and let it relax before attempting to pet it again. Start with short petting sessions of just a few minutes at a time. That allows the cat to enjoy the affection without becoming overwhelmed. Pay close attention to the cat’s body language, and stop petting at the very first sign of irritation.

With patience and care, overstimulation bites can often be avoided. It’s important for owners to learn their cat’s signals and limits when it comes to physical affection. Respect those boundaries, and biting should become much less frequent. A relaxing brushing or play session can be a good alternative to petting for cats prone to overstimulation aggression.

Biting Due to Petting Aggression

Some cats develop petting aggression and bite from too much petting. This behaviour, also called “petting-induced aggression,” is an instinctive reaction to something the cat finds unpleasant or overstimulating, even if it initially seemed to enjoy being petted (SPCA 2022). Cats have sensitive skin, and stroking repeatedly in the same area can cause discomfort, provoking bites or scratches as a warning to stop (VCA Hospitals 2022).

This form of aggression can be managed by limiting petting duration and watching for early signs of overstimulation, like tail twitching, ear flicking back, dilated pupils, or sudden skin rippling. End the petting session before it reaches that point. It also helps to focus on scratching the cat’s head and chin area rather than stroking down the back, which many cats dislike. Cats with petting aggression issues should be handled gently and never forced into extended cuddling or petting.

Redirected Aggression

Redirected aggression occurs when a cat becomes agitated or aroused by something but cannot direct aggression toward the source. For example, seeing an outdoor cat through a window can trigger a strong reaction in an indoor cat, but since the indoor cat cannot reach the outdoor cat, it may attack a nearby person or animal instead. This bite would not be intended for the owner, but a result of the cat’s redirected aggression after being startled or agitated.

According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, “When a cat is excited by a stimulus but cannot respond directly, the cat may redirect his aggression toward a human or another cat”[1]. The VCA Hospitals website similarly states that “Redirected aggression occurs when a cat is aroused by another animal, person or event, but is unable to direct aggression toward the stimulus”[2].

Medical Causes of Biting

Cats may bite their owners due to underlying medical conditions that are causing them pain or discomfort. Dental disease, such as tooth resorption, fractured teeth, and gingivitis, can lead to oral pain and cause a cat to bite when petted or handled around the face and neck (https://bettervet.com). Arthritis, bone cancer, and joint inflammation are other health issues that may elicit bites when touched near sore joints or paws. In addition, cats with neurological disorders, skin allergies, ear infections, and gastrointestinal issues are more prone to biting due to discomfort. Checking with a veterinarian can help identify any medical causes for biting behavior through a full physical exam, dental exam, x-rays, and lab tests. Treatment options like tooth extractions, pain medication, supplements, and allergy therapy can help address the underlying cause and reduce painful biting episodes. With the right diagnosis and care, many medical conditions leading to cat bites can be properly managed.

Stopping Bites During Petting

Cats often give warnings before resorting to biting during petting. Pay attention to your cat’s body language and cease petting before overstimulation occurs. Signs your cat may bite include:

  • The tail begins swishing back and forth
  • The ears go back or flatten against the head
  • The skin near the tail ripples
  • Their pupils dilate
  • They start kneading with their front paws

If you notice any of these signs, stop petting immediately and let your cat calm down before attempting to interact again. It’s important not to pull away suddenly when stopping, as this can startle them. Instead, gently end the petting session and give them space.

You can also identify your cat’s petting tolerance threshold by counting the number of strokes or amount of time they can be petted before showing signs of overstimulation. Once you know their limit, be sure to stop before reaching it.

With time and positive reinforcement, you may be able to gradually increase your cat’s petting tolerance. But go at their pace and always end interactions on a positive note before the biting threshold is reached.

Managing Biting During Play

To manage play biting, it’s important to make sure your cat has enough appropriate opportunities to act out their natural hunting behaviors. Cats have an instinct to hunt, which doesn’t disappear just because they live indoors. Having designated interactive playtime will satisfy your cat’s needs for activity and simulation.

Be sure to use toys like wands, balls, and stuffed mice for playtime instead of your hands or feet. This teaches your cat that toys are for biting and hunting, while human body parts are not. Rotate different toys to keep your cat engaged and interested. Try fishing pole style toys and toys that mimic prey like mice to allow them to practice hunting behaviors like pouncing, chasing, and kicking. End play sessions by redirecting their energy into a toy instead of your hand.

Additionally, never play roughly with your hands or fingers, as this teaches your cat that hands are toys for biting. And if your cat starts to get too excited and bite too hard during play, immediately end the play session to teach them that rough biting ends fun time.

With patience and consistency, scheduling 15-30 minutes of interactive playtime 1-2 times a day will help satisfy your cat’s needs in a healthy way.

What to Do After a Bite

If your cat bites you, the first step is to wash the wound immediately with mild soap and water. Applying pressure with a clean towel can help stop any bleeding. It’s also important to disinfect the bite with an antiseptic solution. According to the Family Doctor website (https://familydoctor.org/cat-and-dog-bites/), you should contact your doctor if the bite is deep, you can’t stop the bleeding, or signs of infection develop.

While it’s understandable to feel frustrated or upset after being bitten, it’s important not to punish or yell at your cat. This will only make them more anxious or aggressive in the future. Instead, try redirecting their energy into positive playtime with an interactive toy. This will help satisfy their primal hunting instincts in a healthy way.

Biting during play is common with cats, especially kittens. Having regular play sessions with fishing rod toys or balls can allow them to work out their natural hunting behaviors. Just be sure to watch for signs of overstimulation, like dilated pupils, thrashing tail, or skin biting, and end the play session before it gets to that point.

When to Seek Help for Biting

In most cases, an occasional cat bite does not require professional help. However, if the biting becomes excessive or aggressive, consult a veterinarian or animal behaviorist.

A vet can rule out medical causes for the biting behavior, such as pain, illness or medication side effects. They can also check for signs of infection from bites and provide antibiotics if needed.

Meanwhile, a certified applied animal behaviorist can assess the environment and underlying motivation behind ongoing biting. They can recommend treatment plans to curb the behavior, like conditioning exercises, medication or environmental changes.

Seek prompt help from a professional if your cat is biting frequently, breaking skin often or acting overtly aggressive. Persistent biting issues typically require expertise to resolve safely and effectively.

With patience, conditioning and targeted treatment, professionals can help curb excessive cat biting. But do not attempt to solve difficult biting problems solo – consult the experts to better understand your cat’s needs and keep both of you safe.

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