My girl kitty Annabelle is the sweetest cat I’ve ever known. Normally, she can’t get enough of my lovin’, but if I try to pet her immediately upon waking, she will nip me. Not break-the-skin bites, but a clear signal for me to stop. I don’t know why she hates being touched only at that time, but I joke that “she’s just not a morning cat.” If people can be anti-morning, why not cats? Thankfully, it’s the only time she bites, and as long as I resist the urge to pet her upon awakening, it’s not a problem.
Others aren’t so lucky. According to feline behaviorists, biting is the second most common problem for cat owners (peeing outside the box is the first). This issue needs to be corrected, because cat bites are not only painful when they occur but they can cause serious infections. I’ll discuss three of the most common reasons why cats bite, and what you can do to reduce or eliminate this problem behavior.
Petting Induced Aggression
Scenario: You’re sitting there petting your cat who is purring away and seemingly enjoying the attention when all of a sudden she whirls and sinks her teeth into your hand. What just happened?
First of all, let’s be clear. In most cases, your cat’s transformation from friendly Dr. Jekyll to psychotic Mr. Hyde was not instantaneous. Your cat’s body language was telling you it was time to stop petting; you just missed the signals or misinterpreted them.
These signals include tail lashing or thumping, ears flattened or twitching, shifting body positions, eyes focused on your hand. She stops purring and may even meow or growl. If you don’t heed your cat’s warning(s) that she’s had enough, she goes to Plan B – the bite – and voila, petting stops.
Some reasons your cat wants the petting session to end:
2. Not in the mood – sometimes what your cat wanted was to play, not to be petted. They may tolerate your petting for a little while because they love you, but then they just want it to stop.
3. Sensitivity – some areas of a cat’s body may be more sensitive than others, and being touched there is uncomfortable. Individual cats may also have specific areas of the body where they like being petted and others where they don’t. It’s up to you to figure out which is which, by paying attention to their body language.
Learning the sometimes subtle “stop it” cues your cat gives before they have to resort to biting you, will enable you both to enjoy the petting session and have it end on a positive note.
Many people unwittingly encourage their cat to develop a habit of biting them during play, by engaging in roughhousing and offering their hands, fingers and toes as “toys.” Sure, it seems really cute and innocent when they’re a tiny kitten, but this type of play has Cat Bite written all over it. Your cat isn’t able to discern how rough is too rough. If you want your cat to stop biting you while playing, never use your body parts as toys. That means no tickling them, no moving your finger for them to chase, no tapping your toes as an invitation to pounce. And pass up products like gloves with balls on the end that encourages your cat to see your hand as a toy – they simply can’t understand that it’s only OK to attack when the gloves are on. Be sure that every family member follows this strict rule, or biting during play will continue, and one day it may go too far.
Cats are natural born hunters, and need to engage in “stalk and pounce” play for mental satisfaction. If your kitty likes to lie in wait and bite your ankles when you walk by, try carrying a small catnip mouse, fuzzy ball or other cat toy that you can toss away from you to redirect their attention. It’s also a good idea to provide plenty of interactive playtime with the appropriate toys (remember – no fingers!).
Sometimes an agitated cat will lash out at a person or another cat in the household that had nothing to do with the reason the cat got upset. This is called redirected aggression. It can occur when your inside cat sees a cat outside – trespassing on “his” territory. It can also occur when you take one cat to the vet and he comes home smelling like “that place.” There are many other reasons that can cause a cat to take out his frustration on you instead of the person or thing that upset him.
Your best strategy is to try to figure out what the stressor is and take steps to remove it. For example, if a trespassing cat has your kitty in an uproar, find a way to either discourage the cat from coming around (such as installing motion activated sprinklers) or keep the curtains closed. It can take some fine detective work to figure out what’s causing the redirected aggression, but don’t give up. Also, don’t try to interact with your cat when he’s highly agitated, as this will almost certainly result in being bitten.
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