Why Cats Bite

Picture of a angry cat

We all know that cats are mysterious creatures. If you look online, there are a multitude of questions about why cats do various things. In many cases, owners are honestly perplexed by the behavior of their feline friends. After all, by most estimates, cats haven’t been domesticated nearly as long as dogs. While dog domestication goes back 17,000 years or more (over 30,000 years by some guesses), cats have only been tagging along with us a mere 10,000 years or so. According to many cat owners, cats are not all that domesticated even today.

Why do cats bite?

Have you ever been petting your cat only for your cat to suddenly turn around and bite your hand? Maybe sweet nibbles have turned to a sharp bite? Or, perhaps your cat likes to wait around corners to playfully ambush you, leaving bite marks on your leg?

It turns out that there are different reasons for a cat to bite, depending on the situation.

“Love bites”?

If your cat is happily purring one minute while you pet her, only to turn on you and bite, this could be something called “petting-induced aggression.”

According to some feline behaviorists, petting-induced aggression occurs when a cat seeks out your attention then, perhaps feeling that the petting has gone on too long or for some other reason, turns on the person doing the petting – you. There seems to be a total change in personality in these cases.

Behaviorists offer different explanations for this behavior.

  • It could be an aggression over status. In other words, your cat wants to control the situation.
  • Your cat could have a negative neurological response to being petted for a long time that doesn’t occur with all cats.
  • These cats may give very subtle hints when they’re unhappy that you’re missing so the quick change from enjoying petting to not enjoying may be missed.

At this point, these explanations are only theories and this behavior hasn’t been satisfactorily explained.

In most cases you can learn to recognize the clues that your cat is offering that show she’s had enough petting before she gives you a bite. Your cat’s body may become tense, her tail may twitch, she can start to seem restless. If she is purring, the purring may cease. Watch for clues that your cat no longer wants to be petted.

“Love bites” from a cat are actually something different. Little nibble-bites from a cat are a kind of communication. They are usually gentle and a cat reserves them for someone with whom they have a strong bond.


If you’ve had a cat for very long, especially a younger cat, then you’ve probably been the victim of a cat ambush. In a cat ambush, the owner is usually walking through the home, not suspecting a thing, while the cat is hiding in wait, ready to leap out and attack. Biting is often involved. This is usually a cat’s idea of fun and games, though in some cases the human involved can be injured.

Bites from a cat ambush are usually incidental to the play. Your cat isn’t usually trying to bite you but it can happy during the “attack.”

You can avoid these bites by being prepared for your cat’s sneak attacks though that’s not always easy.

If you don’t like cat ambushes, try to make time to play with your cat with some of his favorite cat toys like feather teasers and yarn balls.

Rough housing

If you like to tickle and play in the floor with your cat, you should be prepared for bites, scratches, and rough housing. This kind of play can lead to some real bites, even if your cat isn’t trying to hurt you. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing but cats can get very revved up with this kind of play. You might want to play gently but your cat’s play can quickly escalate to something very wild. Your sweet little kitty can become very aggressive with this kind of play. This can become play aggression and it’s the most common reason for cats to bite people, especially with younger cats and kittens.

We often forget that cats are animals. They need to play and exercise to release their energy and feelings. It’s normal for a cat to want to use his hunting skills. Cats usually play roughly with each other to work on their social interactions and physical abilities. Today, many cats are solitary in the home so they have to do some of these things with people. Unfortunately, this can lead to some play that’s too rough for us. Your cat has dense fur to protect him when he plays with another cat but your human skin doesn’t have that kind of protection.

If you’re getting bitten and scratched up from your cat’s play aggression, there are some things you can do to control the problem.

  • Set regular times to play with your cat;
  • Use your cat’s toys when your play (instead of your toes or fingers);
  • Keep a cat toy with you and distract your cat with it (especially helpful with cat attacks);
  • If your cat attacks too roughly during play time, walk away and don’t engage;
  • Keep your cat’s environment interesting.

Keeping your cat’s environment interesting is a good way to provide other things around your cat so he isn’t always watching your hands or feet, looking for a chance to jump on them.

Aggressive biting

If your cat is behaving aggressively, it’s often out of fear. In this case a cat can truly inflict damage on someone when they bite. A bite can bleed, become infected, and leave a scar. These bites are often aimed at other cats over territory, even in the home. A cat can sometimes use this kind of biting when playing too roughly but in these cases it’s often done unintentionally.


Cats can bite for many reasons. If your cat is biting, try to find out why he’s biting. Which kind of biting seems to fit his behavior? Is he a young, playful cat? If he being aggressive over territory? Knowing why your cat is biting can help you figure out how to handle the problem.



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