Does your cat ever grace you with a gentle nibble while you're petting them? You're not alone in this experience. Today our Rancho Palos Verdes veterinarians weigh in on why cats engage in this behavior, and how their owners should interpret their feline friend's chomps.
Cat Love Bites
You're gently petting your purring cat when all of a sudden they nip your hand! These somewhat gentle "cat love bites" don’t typically draw blood, but they can happen suddenly and leave you wondering what caused the change in your cat’s behavior.
Also known as petting-induced aggression, cat love bites shouldn't be confused with the truly aggressive behavior that happens when a cat feels threatened. When cats are being defensive or feel territorial, biting may be accompanied by hissing, growling, or clawing. Typically, these behaviors are not present when a cat nips during petting.
Why Your Cat Bites You During Petting Sessions
There is not a lot of research on why cats engage in nipping while petting but the most agreed upon reason by veterinarians is simply that your cat is telling you they are done with being pet.
They might be overstimulated, not in the mood to be pet (even if they're sitting on your lap), or you may be petting them in an area they find unpleasant, such as their stomach or near their tail. Cat love bites can sometimes also be unintentional. Cats will often engage in the process of "grooming" their owner and can sometimes use their incisors (front teeth) as part of the process.
How to Respond to Your Cat Biting You
One of the best things you can do is to learn your cat's body language to avoid bites in the first place. If you notice your pet's body tensing up while you're petting them, or other signs of discomfort such as ears to the side or a twitching tail, stop petting them.
If your cat frequently reacts to being pet by biting, try keeping the petting session brief, and pause frequently to gauge their continued interest. It's also a good idea to let your cat begin the interaction. Try not to approach a cat when they are resting or sleeping and begin petting them.
And most importantly, don't react negatively! You should never hit, shake, spray, or frighten your cat in any way. It can cause further behavioral problems, or cause them to react with true aggression.
If your cat broke the skin when they bit you, be sure to wash the area immediately with soap and water and keep an eye out for any pain, swelling, or redness that doesn't seem to be getting better after a day or two.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.