Welcome to our “Untraining Your Pet” series, where we help you “untrain” your pet from those naughty or annoying bad habits and get them back to being the goodest boys and girls.
If you have a kitten, it’s almost guaranteed that they’re going to nibble (or chomp down) on you at some point. An adult cat biting you isn’t unheard of, either. Why do cats bite their pet parents if they love them? Are they playing, are they mad or is there another reason? We’ll look into why cats bite their humans and how to untrain your cat from using your hand as their personal pin cushion.
Biting Is a Natural Instinct for Cats
Cuddling with your sweet kitty on the couch can make it hard to remember that your cute snuggle buddy is actually a natural-born predator. Cats are naturally wired to stalk and attack moving objects (i.e., prey). That can include your ankles as you’re walking past them or your snake-like fingers that were innocently scratching their chin.
Channeling their hunting instincts isn’t the only reasons cats bite, though. It’s normal for adult cats to bite while playing with other cats, and one of the reasons kittens bite is to release some of their pent-up energy. Kittens also may bite because they’re teething and looking for something to chew on, or because they’re still adjusting to the world around them.
Kittens often bite and nip while they’re going through a developmental phase. Luckily this biting phase usually fades away by the time they’re one to two years of age. But this may seem like forever if their nibbles are a daily occurrence!
Does Kitty Actually Want to Play?
There are probably some days when a friend invites you to go out with them and you’d prefer to stay at home. It’s the same for your cat. They may not be in the mood for playtime, even if you are.
It’s important to read your cat’s body language to check whether they are in the mood for playing or if you should come back later. If your cat is scrunched down with a wiggling back-end, they’re ready to pounce and play. If they’re stretched out and lounging around, they’re relaxed. If their tail is straight up or has a little curl at the end and their fur is flat, life is gooood. These are all great signs that they’re probably ready for a game of chase the red spot.
Signs of a “I’m not in the mood for playing” cat are when they’re huddling low to the ground with big eyes and pinned-back ears. A really annoyed cat will whip their tail back and forth — and the faster the whipping, the more annoyed they are.
Petting your cat in the wrong place could also cause those sharp teeth to come out. Cats generally don’t appreciate their legs, paw, tail or belly being touched. Of course, every cat is different and maybe you know some of those areas are OK for your cat. The spots that cats usually welcome some scratches and strokes are on their back, around their cheeks and the base of their ears and under their chin.
Untrain Your Cat from Biting You
When cats are playing with their feline friends in a group, they like to growl and bite as part of their normal play behavior. When the rough and tumble gets too much for a cat, they will yelp or distance themselves from their trouble-causing companion.
You can adopt this distancing behavior to show your cat that their biting is not appreciated. If your cat bites you, walk away for a minute or so, ignoring them. Come back and start playing again and reward their good behavior. You can also redirect their attention away from your hand by offering them a toy and then reinforce their good behavior when they play with the toy (and don’t bite you).
Sometimes cats can get themselves wound up and overstimulated, which can lead to biting. If this happens, put them in a safe place to calm down for 5 to 10 minutes. When they’re calm, welcome them back with lots of love and affection.
Avoid using negative reinforcement or physical punishment when your cat bites you since this can lead to fear and aggression. You should avoid roughhousing (wrestling) with your cat since this can also encourage the bad biting behavior. Cats generally don’t like to play rough as much as dogs do anyway.
Stick with the “No Biting” Rule
When teaching your cat not to bite, make sure everyone in your household is consistently following the no biting policy. Your cat will become confused if they’re allowed to play-bite one person’s fingers but not another’s.
Kitten bites can be cute and probably don’t hurt much, but remember that those tiny teeth grow up into big sharp teeth, so it’s best not to allow your kitten to bite you. Use toys to play with your kitten instead of your hands.
When to Call in a Professional
Biting is a natural behavior for cats, but if your cat shows signs of aggression, consistently breaks skin, shows signs that they’re in pain, stiffens up and stares at you before biting, or gets aggressive around new people, it’s time to ask your veterinarian or a certified animal behaviorist for advice.
Don’t Get Feverish Over a Cat Bite
If your cat does break your skin by biting (or scratching) you, it’s important to clean the wound with soap and warm water immediately. Cat bites and scratches can introduce bacteria or other pathogens into your body, including the bacteria that causes cat scratch disease (CSD), better known as cat scratch fever. About 40 percent of cats are infected with the CSD-causing bacteria (Bartonella henselae) which is commonly passed to cats from infected fleas.
Most cats don’t show signs of illness if they are infected with Bartonella henselae and most cases of CSD in humans aren’t serious (e.g., headache, fever, swollen lymph nodes). However, people with a weakened immune system may experience more serious complications. By using year-round flea preventatives, you can help prevent your cat from becoming infected with Bartonella henselae and avoid cat scratch fever.
It is possible to untrain your cat from biting you. By showing them that it’s not an acceptable behavior and that a toy is much more fun to play with, hopefully over time, “Ouch” will be heard less and less during playtime with your cat.
RELATED POST: Debarking Pet Myths: Cats Are Untrainable