As a responsible owner, it’s important to make sure that you understand what normal cat behaviour looks like so that you can recognise behavioural changes in your feline friend. There are many reasons why cats bite, but in order to understand what your cat is trying to communicate by doing so, you need to be able to tell the difference between playful and hostile attacks.
This handy guide has all the information you need to determine why your feline friend may be lashing out, what body language you should look out for and how to stop your cat from biting.
Why does my cat bite me?
Cats are natural predators, meaning that seemingly aggressive acts like biting, clawing and pouncing are a large part of their play. Most often if your cat bites you they are trying to tell you that they aren’t enjoying the contact that you’re giving them, whether it’s tickling their stomach or stroking their tail. Although it’s hard to tell when a cat has had enough of being petted, paying attention to your cat’s body language can warn you when a bite might be coming.
Body language is made up of postures, facial expressions and the position of body parts, such as the ears and tail. Typical offensive postures your cat may take before biting include stiff, straight legs and tail, a direct stare, growling or upright ears. Your cat may also show aggression by rolling onto their side or back in order to use both their teeth and claws. Understanding the circumstances that cause your cat to become aggressive will allow you to know when to back off and let them do their own thing, rather than pushing them to the point of biting.
Cats don’t just bite due to aggression - they often bite during play as they express their natural hunting instinct. Felines often practice pouncing, grabbing, clawing at and biting objects, pretending that they’re ‘prey’. Biting during play is typically easy to distinguish from aggressive behaviour, as bites shouldn’t cause much damage and don’t last long. While it can be good to appeal to your cat’s natural instincts and interact in primal play with your pet, you need to discourage biting and scratching if it becomes a concern.
How to stop your cat biting
It’s important to stop your cat biting out of aggression, particularly if they live in a multi-pet household or with young children who don’t understand boundaries. You’ll need to teach your cat that this behaviour isn’t acceptable and discourage them from using it as a way to express their anger or frustration. You can help suppress your feline’s natural instinct to bite during play by providing plenty of toys for them to chew on, as well as offering positive reinforcement by rewarding them with a tasty cat treat.
However, it can be difficult to dissuade your cat from aggressive biting. Aggressive bites are a sign that your cat is in a fighting mode, whether directed towards another animal or person, and it’s easy for pets to revert to their natural instinct when angry or scared. It’s often accompanied by hissing, spitting and a defensive posture. The best way to tackle aggressive biting is to avoid putting your cat in confrontational situations, such as advising visitors to avoid petting them, or limiting their contact with territorial cats.
Cats can start learning what behaviour is appropriate from a young age, so it’s best to start teaching them right from wrong as early as possible. Kittens go through a biting phase where they learn to pounce with their siblings, but they should be taught that it’s not okay to bite human fingers or toes while play-fighting. As they grow, they’ll learn to hold back their claws and teeth so as not to hurt others unintentionally.
If you find your cat’s behaviour difficult to live with, you may want to consider consulting a healthcare professional to see if there’s any way to calm them, such as neutering or spaying.
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