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Cats like to bite when they play, so occasional accidental bites are inevitable. However, if a pet parent is wondering, “Why is my cat biting everything,” there may be a larger problem. They may be experiencing aggression, which can put people and other animals in the home in danger.
Pet parents can stop or curb a cat’s biting with the proper training, though. Keep reading to learn about different types of aggression, how to make your cat stop biting, and the answer to, “Why is my cat biting me?”
Before pet parents begin training their cat not to bite, they need to understand why the cat is biting in the first place. Cats may bite due to various types of aggression, because they’re playing, in pain, or simply by accident. Play bites and accidental bites are usually not a problem, but aggressive bites can be or become dangerous. Here are a few answers to the question “why is my cat biting me” and how types of aggression differ.
Adult cats sometimes display extreme territorial aggression. Territorial cats are sensitive to changes in their environment and to other cats.
A cat may become territorial and aggressive to perceived intruders if:
They have been moved to a new environment
They’re introduced to new cats or pets
They feel insecure
They want to protect the space they see as “theirs.” This usually starts by growling or hissing at people who get too close, but it can escalate to biting, scratching, and swatting at people or cats if they feel threatened. Territorial cats may pursue someone and continue snapping or biting them until they have left “the cat’s space.”
In many cases, territorial aggression fades as a cat becomes more secure in their space or used to the new pet or people. However, some cats, especially adults who have had bad or traumatic experiences in the past, may remain territorial for their entire lives without training or environmental adjustments.
Like many animals, mother cats are protective of their babies. If a mother cat thinks someone or something is threatening her kittens, she may become aggressive to protect them. This is especially common in feral or stray adult cats who have had bad experiences with people.
Cats who experience maternal aggression will hiss and growl at people coming too close to their babies. They usually only bite or scratch if their warning signs are ignored, and if people try to get within arm’s reach of the kittens. Aggressive mother cats often won’t pursue people that run away because their primary goal is to scare perceived threats away, not to hunt or maim. Unless an individual has training or experience handling maternal feline aggression, it’s best to stay away from feral cats with kittens to avoid getting bitten.
If a cat isn’t territorial or caring for kittens, petting-induced aggression is the most likely reason for consistent adult cat bites. Cats can become overstimulated if they’re pet too much, especially in sensitive areas like above their tail or on their belly. If this happens, they may whirl around and bite at a person’s hand to get them to stop.
Petting-induced aggression is easy to identify. It only occurs while actively petting the cat. They will go from purring to biting seemingly out of nowhere. While these cat bites aren’t fun, the bite strength usually isn’t enough to injure a person, just to make the petting stop. When combined with untrimmed claws, however, it isn’t uncommon for bleeding to occur.
If a cat seems generally unwilling to be touched when they have previously not shown aggression, it may be a sign that the cat is experiencing some type of pain. Pet parents can usually monitor the cat’s mobility, appetite, or bathroom use to understand if something has changed. Cats with an undiagnosed injury, bite, or health issue may be more sensitive to the touch in the area of the pain. Pet parents should be patient in searching for and understanding if a cat may be biting due to unnoticed issues like an injury. When touched in a painful area, cats are more likely to bite as a defensive measure.
No matter what types of aggression are causing a cat to bite, it’s important to get them to stop. Cat bites can carry dangerous bacteria, so any wounds can get infected. Teaching the cat to stop biting and reducing aggression is necessary for humans’ safety and health as well as helping the cat become more well-adjusted for their long term health and behavior needs.
Biting is a natural feline behavior, but it’s usually their final line of defense. Cat owners can often reduce biting by making their cats more comfortable in their surroundings and rewarding good behavior.
For example, if the cat experiences maternal aggression, the pet parent can reward her for allowing a trusted person to get close to the kittens by giving her tasty treats each time they slowly move closer. As long as pet parents stay calm and don’t try to steal her kittens, this teaches her that people can be safe to allow nearby.
Similarly, pet parents can use positive reinforcement for territorial aggression. Give the cat their favorite food whenever new people or pets enter their space; over time, they’ll associate the new people or animals as a good thing. Be sure to maintain some safe, isolated spaces for cats to retreat to if they’re feeling overstimulated or overwhelmed.
Cats can sometimes become overly aggressive in their play if they don’t have any other outlets for their energy. A scratching post gives them something to scratch and bite without hurting the people or other animals in their home.
Scratching posts can also help territorial cats by giving them furniture just for them. Giving them a scratching post with a small hidey-hole where they can get away from other animals can help them feel safer. This helps them relax, leading to less fear, aggression, and cat bites.
Cat parents can also consider other ways to modify their cat’s negative behaviors. Some cats may not understand their bite strength, especially if they are only kittens or were not raised around other cats. People can teach their cats biting boundaries by stopping play or petting the moment they bite.
Make a high-pitched yelp, then move away. This is how kittens react when their siblings bite them too hard during play fights. If people do this in any bite interaction, the cat will learn that the fun stops if they bite. That can help them learn biting boundaries and control over their bite strength, making any accidental bites that happen less painful.
If that seems to excite the cat towards hunting behavior, pet parents may instead opt for quieter and more subtle attention-redirecting actions. Whenever a cat or kitten begins to get too aggressive in play or petting people can remove their hands from the cat and replace with a toy. This will require having cat toys on hand or nearby, but over time the cat will associate the biting and scratching behaviors with toys instead of human hands.
Finally, pet parents can pay attention to their cat’s body language. Cats tend to get tense and focused when they’re preparing to bite. If the cat is hissing, growling, or tensing up, back off and let them relax so they don’t feel the need or defensive compulsion to bite.
If a cat continues to bite even after they’ve gotten used to their space, after a pet parent has tried all of these training options, or if they continue to bite for no obvious reason, they may be experiencing true aggression. In that case, cat parents may need to talk to a licensed veterinary behaviorist about how to make your cat stop biting.
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