Wondering why your cat bites you out of nowhere, or bites you gently when you pet them? Find out what to do when your cat bites you and how you can stop this painful behaviour
A bite from a cat can be painful, but they usually have a good reason for being aggressive or biting you gently. Even if they seem to bite you randomly out of nowhere, there will often be signs you may have missed. If you know what to look out for, you should be able to work out what your cat is trying to tell you and avoid getting hurt.
Reasons why your cat might bite you
- They’re scared or stressed
When a cat is scared or stressed, they usually prefer to run away and hide rather than get aggressive and bite or scratch. However, if they feel trapped and unable to escape, they may become aggressive as a last resort. Before they do this, there will usually be several clues to indicate that they are scared or stressed, such as hissing, crouching low to the ground, flat ears, wide eyes, an arched back, tense tail, whiskers pointing forwards, and puffed-up fur. If you notice these signs, leave the cat alone and give them the opportunity to run away and hide somewhere they feel safe. If this aggression and biting is a new behaviour, speak to your vet as it may be a sign that your cat is in pain. Other potential causes for your cat’s stress could be another cat in the home they’re not getting on with, or a neighbourhood cat invading their territory. Even if you’re not the cause of the stress, they could still redirect their aggression on to you. Find out more about cat body language.
- They’re overstimulated
If your cat bites you while playing or when you pet them, it could be that they are overexcited and have misdirected some of their hunting behaviour onto you. Cats are natural hunters and enjoy stalking and catching things, but if they don’t have appropriate prey to hunt, such as cat toys, they may pounce on you instead. This can sometimes be the result of kittens being encouraged to play with fingers and toes during their impressionable ‘socialisation period’ of two to seven weeks of age. If they learn to see human digits as toys, they’ll continue to attack them when they’re older and have much sharper teeth and claws. This type of biting is usually relatively gentle but can still be painful and leave a wound. Find out more about cats and play.
Why does my cat hug my arm and bite me?
Hugging your arm or leg and biting you is a classic cat hunting move. When cats catch large prey, they will often grasp it with their front legs and then bite it while ‘bunny kicking’ with their back legs. If your cat is doing this to you, they are misdirecting their hunting behaviour onto you. Try playing with them using appropriate cat toys instead, such as a kicker toy they can direct their bunny kicking onto.
Why does my cat bite me and lick me?
If your cat licks you then bites you, or bites you then licks you, this is likely a sign that they are overstimulated. Licking humans or other cats is usually a bonding exercise for cats that helps them share their scent and feel good. However, if it’s accompanied by biting, they are probably overexcited or feeling playful. Try directing their excitement onto appropriate cat toys, or if the biting continues, leave them alone for a while to calm down. Find out more about why your cat licks you.
Why does my cat bite me and not my partner?
This will depend on the reason behind the biting. If the biting is a response to being scared, it could be that the cat is fearful of that person in particular, perhaps because they are new in the home or have done something to frighten them. If they’re scared but don’t have the opportunity to get away, the cat may bite that person as a last resort but will usually give body language clues beforehand to signify they want to be left alone.
If the biting is a result of overstimulation, then it could be because that person is around more and interacting with the cat more regularly; because they have previously encouraged the cat to play with their fingers and toes; or because they react more when the cat does bite, as moving around can just excite the cat more. If one person is particularly fidgety, moving their fingers and toes around a lot, this may provoke the cat to attack more than someone who is sitting still and calm.
What should I do when my cat bites me?
- Stay as still and calm as possible. Sudden movements and loud noises will make the cat even more scared, stressed or overexcited and likely to bite you again
- Safely remove yourself from the situation. Give your cat the space and time they need to calm down, allowing them to run away and hide if they want to
- Clean the wound. If your cat’s teeth have punctured your skin, clean the wound with soap and warm water, then gently pat it dry and cover it with a clean dressing. If the wound becomes infected or does not heal, seek medical assistance. Find NHS advice on animal bites
- Understand the reason for the biting. Try to work out why your cat may have bitten you. Were they showing body language clues that they were scared or stressed? Were they overexcited by play or petting? Understanding the cause might help you avoid getting bitten in the future
- Speak to your vet or a qualified cat behaviourist. If biting is an unusual behaviour for your cat, your vet will be able to investigate if the biting might be a reaction to your cat being in pain. If your cat is otherwise healthy then try to work out what else might be causing the biting and try to resolve it using our tips below. You could also speak to a qualified cat behaviourist from the Animal Behaviour and Training Council for tailored advice
How can I stop my cat biting me?
If your cat is scared or stressed...
- Give them places to hide
Hiding away helps cats to feel safe, so make sure they have plenty of quiet, private places to escape to, including places that are off the ground and give them a good view of their surroundings so they can watch out for danger. Carboard boxes, empty drawers, the tops of wardrobes and under the bed are all good hiding spots.
- Leave them alone
While it’s natural to want to comfort your cat when they’re unhappy, most cats would prefer to be left alone when they’re scared or stressed. Give them some space and they will come to you if they want some fuss or attention.
- Create a calming environment
Make sure your cat has easy access to everything they need, such as food, water, litter tray, scratching post and hiding places, and that they don’t have to share these with any other cats. Try to avoid any loud noises and disruption that could cause stress to your cat and perhaps try using a FELIWAY® plug-in diffuser to emit calming feline pheromones into the home. Find out more about FELIWAY®.
- Find the cause
If you think your cat is scared or stressed, speak to your vet so they can work out if there might be a medical cause. If your cat is healthy, then investigate what else might be making them unhappy and try to resolve it if possible. If you need help, you can contact a qualified cat behaviourist from the Animal Behaviour and Training Council for tailored advice.
If your cat is overstimulated...
- Give them appropriate cat toys
To avoid hunting behaviour being misdirected onto you, make sure your cat has plenty of appropriate toys to play with, such as fishing rod toys, kicker toys, catnip toys and ping pong balls. You can also give them puzzle feeders so they can hunt for their food and make mealtimes fun. Find out how to play with your cat.
- Keep play and petting sessions short
Most cats will be happy with regular but short periods of play and petting throughout the day, perhaps lasting just a couple of minutes at a time. Learn what your cat is comfortable with and step away when they start to become overexcited.
- Pet them appropriately
Most cats don’t like having their belly rubbed (even if they roll over and show it to you!) and some may prefer being fussed while you’re down at their level or they’re off the ground, so you’re not leaning over them. Start with some gentle strokes, head scratched and chin rubs and see what your cat responds to.