10 min read

Why Does My Cat Bite Me?

Make it stop!

why does my cat bite me

You absolutely adore your cat — you just don’t adore how she sinks her teeth into you sometimes.

You love your cat so much and treat her so well that you might feel clueless as to why she’s biting you.

The Dodo spoke with Dr. Vanessa Spano, a veterinarian at Behavior Vets in New York City, to find out just why cats bite, and how to put a stop to this problem cat behavior.

Why your cat is biting you

Your cat could be biting you for a bunch of different reasons, like:

Fear or anxiety

If your cat is biting you out of fear or anxiety, that’s because something (or someone) has triggered her or even made her feel like she’s in danger.

The most reinforcing and effective thing a cat can do to get someone or something that they are afraid of away from them is to bite them,” Dr. Spano told The Dodo.

Wanting attention

When it comes to getting your attention, your cat might’ve realized that biting you is actually a pretty simple way to get it — it just might not end up being the attention she wanted.

“Cats, like dogs, may learn over time that in order to get attention (whether positive or negative), they can nip or bite you,” Dr. Spano explained. “Chances are, that bite won’t be ignored because it can hurt!”

Playing

There’s also a chance your cat picked up a play-biting habit when she was a kitten, especially if the two of you loved playing peek-a-boo with your fingers.

“[Biting] can be reinforced playing behavior from kittenhood, particularly if they were accidentally taught (by the human) to play and bite with hands, feet and limbs,” Dr. Spano said.

Aggressive cat bites vs. attention-seeking cat bites

Since there are a bunch of reasons why your cat might bite you, you actually have to identify and treat the underlying issue if you want to get her to stop. (After all, your cat isn’t just biting you randomly.)

That’s why it’s important to be able to tell whether your cat’s biting habit is aggressive (often due to fear or anxiety) or attention-seeking, since those issues will require different approaches to treatment.

The best way to tell the difference between an aggressive cat bite and a cry for attention is context.

“Aggressive biting secondary to fear usually, although not always, is associated with warning signs beforehand,” Dr. Spano said.

Those warning signs can include:

  • Hissing
  • Pinned-back ears
  • Slanted eyes
  • Dilated pupils
  • Cowering
  • Backing away
  • Hiding
  • Swatting

Meanwhile, if your cat is just looking for attention or wants to play, she probably won’t be showing any of those signs.

Instead, she might nip at you during playtime (because that’s part of how she learned to play), mealtime (since she wants your attention because she’s hungry) or quiet time (because she’s bored).

How to stop a cat from biting

There are a few steps you can take to get your cat to stop biting you.

“[The] first step is to acknowledge WHY the biting is occurring — what is triggering it,” Dr. Spano said. “Upon discerning the trigger, the second step is to AVOID, AVOID, AVOID.”

If your cat is biting you because she’s afraid or anxious, you should remove whatever she’s afraid of (if you can).

For play biting, you can’t exactly remove your fingers. But what you can do is play with toys that don’t require your fingers to be within biting distance of her little fangs.

Like this wand toy from Chewy for $3.99

Or these mouse chaser toys from Chewy for $2.98

Or even this track toy from Amazon for $10.98

Removing a trigger from an attention-seeking cat is a bit trickier, since the trigger isn’t a tangible thing.

But since the trigger is boredom or lack of enrichment, try setting your cat up with an automated toy she can play with if you’re busy with other stuff.

Like this electronic motion toy from Amazon for $10.99

Or this robotic laser toy from Amazon for $25

After you’ve removed whatever is triggering your cat to bite you, pay close attention to her body language.

If she wants to run off and hide, let her. It’s important to allow her that time to decompress.

And if you can’t seem to solve your cat’s biting problem on your own, you’re going to want to reach out to your vet, who can put you in touch with a behaviorist or a trainer to help treat the underlying issues behind your cat’s biting.

“If [she’s biting] due to fear, you will together come up with a plan on how to very slowly desensitize your kitty to that [of] which she is fearful, and instead develop positive associations,” Dr. Spano said.

But it’s important to remember that if your cat struggles with anxiety, that biting habit might never fully go away.

“If your kitty has escalated to biting due to underlying fear, anxiety and stress, you will never be able to ‘stop’ biting or guarantee that biting will never happen again,” Dr. Spano explained. “Biting can be a manifestation of fear and anxiety. And fear and anxiety, for both humans and cats, can never be ‘stopped.’”

But that’s OK! A little nip here and there isn’t a big deal if it means you get to spend years loving your cat.

Your vet might also recommend supplements that could help with your cat’s anxiety.

Like these Pet Naturals of Vermont calming chews from Amazon for $5

Or these VetriScience calming chews from Amazon for $7.75

Just make sure you get your vet’s go-ahead first!

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