You’re petting your friend and having a nice time bonding when all of a sudden, you feel a sharp pain in your finger. Your cat just bit you, but you know you did nothing wrong, and your cat seemed to enjoy it. Why did they bite your hand when you were giving them affection?
Cats bite when you pet them because they are overstimulated. They might also bite as a sign of affection, or they are enforcing their boundaries. When your cat bites you, don’t take it personally. Learn from it and watch for signs they might bite.
Biting is a cat’s natural response when they don’t feel in control. To learn more about how to respond, let’s keep going.
They Can Be Overstimulated
As with humans, cats can get overstimulated and reach their boundaries when they want to stop being touched. But they have no way to tell you unless they bite.
Many times, cats will give a short and light nibble to let you know they’ve had enough. If you back off, they won’t bite you again. But if you continue petting them, they might bite you harder until you get the message.
Another reason they might get irritated or overstimulated by petting is that static electricity can build up and irritate their skin, especially if it is dry in your home. They will then associate your petting with pain or irritation and not want you to touch them.
It could also be due to petting-induced aggression, which experts claim comes because of over petting your cat.
You Might Have Touched a Sensitive Spot
Cats sometimes have sore spots on their bodies, and if you touch that area, they will bite you to let you know it hurts. Since they don’t communicate in human language, biting is their way of communicating with you.
If, for example, you touch around their mouth and your cat reacts aggressively, back off and schedule an appointment with your vet. They might have an infection.
Or your cat may have arthritis, as with the case with older cats, and you accidentally irritate that spot. Your cat will let you know immediately by either biting you or yowling.
Do Cats Bite as a Sign of Affection?
Kittens are more prone to love bites when showing affection than older cats because they are still learning what acceptable behavior with humans is. When they play with each other, kittens bite each other as a form of play. They show affection through nibbles and pawing.
At other times, your cat may just be grooming you. They start by licking your hand, and then they bite when they find a particularly troublesome spot, just as they would when grooming themselves.
They Are Enforcing Boundaries
Not all cats like being petted in the same areas. While most cats enjoy being pet around their heads and upper bodies, not many cats enjoy being touched on their underbelly or tail area.
If you happen to pet an area where they don’t want to be touched, they will let you know by biting you. They are enforcing boundaries, that if you don’t back off immediately, they will let you know a bit more forcefully.
Cats are not shy about letting you know that you’ve invaded and violated their boundaries. Biting is one way of being sure you know that you need to back off.
How to Respond When Your Cat Bites You
A cat owner’s first response when their cat bites them is to punish their cat and get upset with it. But if the cat is only trying to communicate their feelings and you punish them, what will they learn the next time they feel uncomfortable?
When your cat bites you when you are petting her, there are ways to deal with it to show your cat that you understand their needs and communication.
Don’t Take It Personally
The first thing to do when your cat bites you when you are petting her is not to take it personally. They communicate their needs and feelings with you rather than being aggressive, so it’s a wise idea not to be aggressive back to them.
Communication doesn’t always look like your expectations, and if you don’t have a lot of experience with cats, you might miss how they communicate with you. But biting is a sign of being uncomfortable and needing space, so act accordingly.
Don’t Punish Your Cat
Going along the line of not taking a bite personally, you should not punish your cat for biting you. Would you punish a child for expressing their discomfort through crying? The same principle applies to your cat. Your cat needs a little understanding when they bite because they tell you that they’ve had enough petting or are uncomfortable.
Instead, give them space and love, mixed with a little understanding. If your cat is biting you more often or in an aggressive manner, then there might be something wrong with them. You may want to schedule an appointment with your vet for a checkup. If something is truly wrong with your cat, the vet can ascertain this and treat them.
However, if the biting is a behavioral issue, then that is something that needs time and patience.
Pet Your Cat in Their Favorite Areas
Cats have areas where they like being touched with affection, just as humans do. A cat will head bump your hand as a way to get you to pet their heads and scratch under their chins—most cats like being pet on their heads and between their ears. However, very few cats enjoy being petted on their bellies or their tails.
Some cats enjoy having their entire bodies pet on their back. One cat likes to have her human hold her hand out while she walks underneath the hand, and she is petted from her head back to her tail. While her human holds her hand out more, the cat will then walk back and forth under the hand until she’s had enough love.
Cats only want to be petted in their favorite areas. So, if you know these areas, it might be best to stay within those areas to keep your cat from biting you.
Give Your Cat Some Space
Sometimes, no matter what you do, cats just don’t want any affection at the moment. If you try to pet your cat and they bite you, walk away and let them have some space. Many cats need alone time to regenerate and recharge. A lot of humans have that same need.
If your cat is biting or hissing at you when you try to pet her, that is a sign that your cat needs their space and needs a time out. Cats get overstimulated like humans do and need to get away from everything and everyone to rest.
Cats are affectionate creatures when it’s on their terms. They need to have control over when and where they are touched. As a cat parent, you need to understand some of the signs or body language your cat gives before they bite you.
Cats may show the following behaviors when they have reached their petting limit:
- Your cat might thump or lash her tail.
- They have flattened ears.
- Their pupils are dilated like they are ready to pounce.
- They are shifting their body often, and their skin twitches.
If you can tell the signs of an overstimulated cat ready to bite, you can avoid the unpleasant feeling of a cat bite.
- Wisconsin Pet Care: Why Do Some Cats Suddenly Bite While Being Pet?
- Modkat: Why Does My Cat Bite Me When I Pet Her?
- Pet MD: Cat Love Bites: What Do They Mean?
- Feline Engineering: Why Does My Cat Bite Me When I Pet Him?
- Cole and Marmalade: Why Does My Cat Bite Me When I Pet Him?
- VetStreet: Why Does My Cat…Bite Me When I Pet Her?
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.