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Cat Love Bites: Reasons Why Do They Do It & How to Respond

Nicole Cosgrove

Nearly every cat owner has been there. You’re gently petting your cat when they suddenly nip you. Some cats will even “chew” on your hand. However, otherwise, the feline seems to be enjoying your attention.

Some pin this behavior to cats’ perceived fickleness. They want us to pet them one second and not the next. However, this behavior is also termed “love bites.” In other words, some people also think that these bites are a sign of affection.

Like many things, love bites are rarely simple. Plus, people generally have a hard time interpreting their cat’s behaviors, which can make deciphering your cat’s love bites difficult. In this article, we’ll take a look at all the potential meanings of “love bites,” including things that don’t make them love bites at all.

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4 Reasons Your Cat May “Love Bite”

1. Grooming

cat licking human fingers
Image Credit: Pixabay

When showing affection to each other, cats often participate in grooming. Usually, cats lick with their tongues. However, they also need to occasionally use their teeth, like to pull things out of the other’s fur or untangle mats.

When you pet your feline, your cat may begin grooming you. Typically, this may start as licking. However, your feline may also end up biting your hand as they “clean” you. These bites usually don’t break the skin, and your cat is usually quite relaxed while doing so. Your cat may tense right before the bite but will generally un-tense right afterward.

If your cat is licking and biting you, this likely is what’s likely going on.


2. Your Cat Doesn’t Enjoy the Petting

Many cats may enjoy lying near you or in your lap. However, they may not enjoy petting in general.  These cats may bite you gently as a nice way of telling you to stop. They may or may not exhibit other aggressive behaviors, like growling at your while they bite. Not all of these cats will leave your lap after the episode. Many will continue to lay in your lap because they enjoy it. They want you to stop petting them.

Even cats that enjoy being pet sometimes may not enjoy being pet at other times. For example, many cats don’t enjoy being pet when trying to sleep, as it disturbs them. Your cat may want to sleep in your lap but may not want you to pet them while they do so.

Typically, this behavior is pretty evident because your cat will tense while they bite. If you continue petting them, they may bite you again or leave. Their tail may also start wagging back and forth quickly, which signifies that they are annoyed. Your cat may or may not growl or hiss while they’re biting you.


3. You’ve Touched a Spot that is Uncomfortable or Painful

cat is biting a human's hand
Image Credit: Diana Taliun, Shutterstock

In many cases, your cat may not like being touched in certain places. Often, cats find petting on their belly and near their tail to be uncomfortable. If you touch these places, they may respond by biting you. Again, this is a polite way for them to tell you, “please stop.” Often, you may notice other signs that the spot is uncomfortable for your cat. For instance, your cat’s tail may twitch when you pet it, or they may purposefully position their tail away from you.

Some cats will pre-warn you with a growl. However, this isn’t always the case, especially if the cat is less vocal.

While some cats don’t like being pet in certain places, others may develop injuries that may make certain areas sore. These can be severe injuries, as well as minor ones. Your cat may pull a muscle and be sore in a particular spot for a few days. Your cat may have slept wrong, and now they have a sore neck.

Alternatively, the sore spot can indicate something a bit more serious. For instance, a hairline fracture may cause a cat’s leg to be sore. Old injuries can also remain sore. If your cat injured its tail at some point, it might remain sore even after it is healed.

If your cat shows any other odd behaviors or suddenly has a sore spot, you may want to contact your vet. Many cats can become outright aggressive when they become injured, but others are quite chill about it. Cats are excellent about hiding their injuries, so small signs are usually the only thing you get when your cat is injured.


4. Overstimulation

Cats can become overstimulated both mentally and physically. If you’ve petted your cat for a while, the petting may stop feeling good, or they may feel overwhelmed by the constant sensation. This can lead some cats to bite, especially if they’re somewhere comfortable and don’t want to leave.

A cats’ hair follicles can become overstimulated with too much rubbing. This can cause more rubbing to hurt. It’s similar to people. The first time someone rubs your arm, it isn’t going to hurt. However, if they keep rubbing your arm, it will start to get more uncomfortable. Cats are the same way. You may have petted your cat for too long.

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How to Respond to Love Bites

If your cat gently bites you, there are a few ways appropriate ways you can respond.

woman petting a cat
Image Credit: Christin Hume, Unsplash

1. Stop Petting Your Feline

In almost all cases, your cat biting you is a sign that they don’t want to be pet anymore. Therefore, your first response to love bites should be to stop petting your cat. This response also teaches your cat that love bites aren’t appropriate. You don’t want your feline thinking that biting gets them more attention.

Don’t jerk your hand away, however. Cats are visual predators, and this may encourage them to bite your hand more. Instead, stop moving your hand until the biting stops, and then remove your hand slowly.

If your cat asks you to pet them again after you withdraw your attention, you may continue petting them. Typically, if a cat didn’t want to be pet, they won’t ask to be pet after you stop.


2. Re-Direct to a Toy

Some cats react well to toys after love biting. If you have a toy nearby, grab it and play with your feline. Feather wands are a good option for cats that like to bite hands, as it puts lots of distance between the toy and your hand.

Not all cats will jump into a play session after love bites, though. So, don’t push it if your cat seems uninterested.


3. Visit the Vet

If your cat suddenly seems not to like being pet in certain places, you may want to consider taking them to the vet. This could be a sign that your feline is injured. Cats are notorious for not showing any symptoms when they are injured. Even extremely injured cats may not do much but lay there. This reality is especially true for physical injuries.

This behavior is mostly a survival mechanism. The cat doesn’t want to be taken advantage of by other cats or predators, so they continue to act normal. In reality, they need vet care. Typically, it is better to give cats the benefit of the doubt when it comes to taking them to the vet.

Vet looking for swelling in cat paws
Image Credit: Motortion Films, Shutterstock

Physical injures are the most common medical cause for gentle bites while you’re petting your cat. However, some internal problems can cause your feline to become sore, such as liver failure. Anything that causes an organ to hurt can cause your cat to become sore when touched.


4. Give Your Cat Some Space

If your cat is overstimulated, it is best to give them some space.  Sometimes, our cats can get overwhelmed by our constant presence. Just like people, some cats need some time alone. Constant petting and attention can overstimulate them. In these cases, it is best to give your feline some much-needed space.

Don’t take this as a sign that your feline doesn’t like you. Instead, your cat may be a bit more introverted than other felines.


5. Pay attention

Some cats will bite at specific times. For example, one particular cat may always bite after seven strokes, as they become overstimulated after that. Individual cats may not like being pet in certain places or during certain times. Some cats may like being pet when in their favorite relaxing spot. However, others may not.

You should pay attention to your cat’s particular behavior. If you can figure out exactly when and where your feline doesn’t like to be pet, you can adjust your behavior accordingly. Love bites are often communication attempts. Cat owners should listen to them.

 


Featured Image: Irzhanova Asel, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.