What Do Those Love Bites from My Cat Mean?

Updated on August 20, 2023

Many cat owners have asked themselves, “Why is my cat biting me?” after petting their cat and experiencing an unexpected nip. These “cat love bites” rarely result in serious injuries, but they can leave you wondering what triggered your cat’s sudden change in temperament.

“One of the most common behavioural problems of cats is biting owners during petting,” says Dr. Kelly Ballantyne, a board-certified veterinary behaviourist at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Chicago.

Expert veterinarians discuss the nature of “cat love bites,” the motivations behind it, and the best ways for pet owners to respond when their furry family member becomes aggressive.

What Cat Love Bites Are and Aren’t

Cats will occasionally bite when petted, but this is different from the more aggressive biting that can occur out of fear, defensiveness, or territoriality.

Usually, a cat’s love bite won’t cause any serious damage. “It begins with licking, and the grooming behaviour becomes more intense, and you may feel little teeth on you,” says Dr. Wailani Sung, a staff veterinarian with the San Francisco SPCA.

Dr. Liz Stelow, Chief of Service of Clinical Behavior Service at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital of the University of California, Davis, says that the absence of other signs of aggression, such as hissing, growling, and clawing, is another indicator that your cat is engaging in love biting.

Dr. Stelow notes that while cats typically exhibit calm body language, they may show signs of heightened tension just before they bite.

Why Your Cat Bites You During Petting Sessions

Dr. Stelow says that most of what is known about the causes of love biting in cats comes from conjecture rather than research.

One could argue that the term “love bite” is misleading. When a cat bites, it’s not a sign of affection; rather, it’s a sign that the cat is done interacting. “A cat may resort to biting if petting continues after it has made clear it is done,” says Dr. Ballantyne. Overstimulation can certainly lead to a love bite in a cat.

It’s possible that your cat is grooming itself when it gives you a love bite. They might “lick for this long, and then scrape with their incisors to get this spot.” Dr. Sung says your cat may rub against your hand, face, or head as a form of grooming.

As an additional note, not all cats welcome being petted. It’s possible that some lap cats don’t enjoy being petted, despite the fact that they enjoy sitting in their owners’ laps or on their laps. Dr. Ballantyne adds that it’s also possible that the pet parent is petting the cat in places that it finds unpleasant, like its belly or close to or even its tail.

How to Appropriately Respond to Cat Love Bites

If you want to know how to respond correctly and avoid similar situations in the future, studying your cat’s body language is a great place to start. According to Dr. Ballantyne, you should stop petting your pet if you notice any signs of discomfort, such as the animal turning its ears away from you or twitching its tail.

Dr. Terri Bright, director of behaviour services at MSPCA-Angell in Boston, advises cat owners to pay attention to whether or not their feline friend stops biting as a result of increased or decreased petting. The cat’s owner must act quickly to prevent a bite. If a cat usually bites after five strokes of petting, the owner knows to stop after four. They can even train the cat to associate the phrase “All done!” with the delivery of the feline’s preferred plaything.

Dr. Ballantyne suggests pausing frequently during petting sessions to determine if the cat is still interested. Instead of disturbing a sleeping or resting cat, I advise people to always invite their cat over for interaction. Pet your cat where they like to be petted, like behind the ears or under the chin; avoid their bellies and the area around their tails.

Never get angry at a cat for biting. According to Dr. Bright, “the owner should never scruff, shake, spray, or frighten the cat,” as doing so can provoke a true and dangerous aggressive response from the cat.

If you get bitten by a cat and the bite causes bleeding, wash the wound right away. Take note of any signs of spreading redness, pain, or swelling. These are all signs that it’s time to visit the doctor or an urgent care centre.

Understanding your cat’s body language, learning to redirect unwanted behaviours, and respecting her tolerance for contact are all effective ways to curb the love biting that so many cat owners experience.








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