You have just brought home the most adorable cat or kitten that is cuddly and sweet. You play together, hang out together and probably sleep together. You are still getting used to each other's routines and personalities. You might soon find out that your cat sometimes will attempt to bite or nip you. What is going on?
Biting is a form of communication. Your cat is trying to tell you something. It is up to you to figure out what that is. Below are some reasons why your cat might bite you.
Reasons That a Cat Might Bite
- Medical issue
- Not receiving enough and/or proper play time
- Hypersensitivity to touch
If a cat isn't feeling well or is in pain, s/he might bite when touched or held. If this is a new behavior, it is advised that your cat be examined by a Veterinarian. If it is a medical issue, your Veterinarian can help to determine the illness or possible injury, and work with you on the best course of treatment.
Some cats become overstimulated and react negatively which could include biting. I have seen cats become overstimulated during playtime. They become so hyper or frenzied, that they bite if touched or if you move past them. I have also seen cats become overstimulated while watching prey, ie birds or mice. They become so focused on the prey, that if you stand too close or touch them, they think it's the prey animal and become reactive. Same if cats are playing together or fighting. If you intervene, they might think it is the other cat and react defensively by biting.
Knowing HOW to play with your cat is important. First of all, it is very important to never play rough with your cat. When a cat rolls onto its back and shows its belly, it usually does not mean to be an invitation to be touched or rough-housed with. Now, that being said, some cats do enjoy a gentle belly rub. If you are still in the stages of learning what your cat likes, I highly recommend that you do not touch the belly. Also, wiggling fingers, hands, feet or toes are out of the question. Cats love to pounce on them if given the opportunity. You are inviting them to behave inappropriately. What might seem cute while they are a kitten, isn't so adorable when they start to bite harder.
Use toys to play with your cat. Wand style toys are excellent ways to have fun with your cat, provide playtime and exercise, and strengthen your bond with them. Wand toys are wonderful in that you can dangle and move the toy attached to the end of the wand away from you. The cat will focus on the toy (prey) and not you.
When using a wand toy, it's important that it is used correctly. The best way to use it, is to move the attached toy away from the cat (and you), move it around in the air, up and down furniture, in and out of a tunnel or box, etc... Make the toy act like it is a mouse or snake for the cat to hunt. When it is near the time to stop playing, do not just suddenly stop. Move the wand toy around slower and slower until it no longer moves. Allow your cat to catch the toy throughout playtime so she or he does not become frustrated or loses interest. Once the toy has stopped moving, provide a treat or a meal to your cat. The idea is to mimic hunting prey, catching it, then eating it. Afterwards, your cat should feel quite satisfied.
Some cats will bite just to get your attention. I have one of those cats! Mufasa only has 2 teeth, so he doesn't cause any harm, and luckily, he doesn't bite down hard. However, if he feels he is being ignored when he wants attention, he "bites" my arm. Every cat is different in how you might need to deal with this kind of behavior. The best way to deal with it, is to recognize the pattern and then figure out how to prevent it from happening. In Mufasa's case, if I play with him, he won't bite. I realized that there was a "look" Mufasa gets and at that point, I toss one of his favorite mice for him to chase after, and it works. Redirection is a wonderful tool!
Hyper-sensitivity to Touch
There are some cats that love to be pet or brushed all day long. There are some cats, that even though they might enjoy it, become overstimulated to the point where they bite. This is very confusing behavior because it appears that the cat is enjoying the attention.
Watching their body for signals is key to knowing when to stop providing attention. Signs to watch for include, but are not limited to: tail twitching or swaying, ears flattened, fur rippling down their back, rubbing their face against you in a frenzied manner. Once you learn their signal, you will know when attention time is over.
Reward Good Behavior
Always remember to reward your cat's good behavior. Never punish them, as that can create fear or anxiety towards you. You want to create or continue to have a special bond with your cat.
It is easy to forget to reward a cat when they are behaving, and that could include when he or she is just sitting on the couch or even sleeping!
If your cat bites, and you have figured out how to prevent more bites from happening, be sure to reward them. Provide a tasty treat, have a fun play session, extra cuddles, etc... As long as you give them something they highly enjoy, they will remember and it will help you both to have a safe and positive relationship.
Ask for Help
If you are experiencing aggression with your cat, and medical issues have already been ruled out, please reach out for a behavior consultation. I would be happy to help!
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