People and the Cats that Bite Them

Behavior learned in kittenhood may explain these cats' biting habits.

By Karen L. Overall, MA, VMD, Ph.D.

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People and the Cats that Bite ThemQ. My cat just turned 2 and when I pet him or pick him up when he's asleep, he grabs my hand and nips at me. What should I do?

Q. My 1 1⁄2-year-old female tabby has been very moody ever since last summer when she spent a week at my sisters house. When I try to pet her she bites my hand. She also growls and hisses. I try to teach her not to do it by pulling my hand away, but she still tries to get it. How can I teach her not to do these things?

Q. Our 2-year-old female Burmese is very sweet. However, on several occasions she has turned and bitten our hands while being petted. She seems to do this most when on her climbing tree or in bed. We pet her a lot at these times. Are we over stimulating her? How can we fix this problem?

A. The first step in addressing cats that bite is to recognize the pattern. The cats described in these letters are 1 1⁄2 to 2 years of age and bite when being pet. We don't know if the cats did this from kittenhood. If so, the cats probably learned to play too roughly. This is a common situation in cats that are hand-reared, orphaned early in life or exposed to rough play with humans at an early age.

Each letter identifies triggers associated with the biting. The triggers include continued petting and disturbing the cat when it is asleep. The cats are not the initiators in any of these situations, nor do they control the situations.

Finally, notice that in at least one case, the cat begins to hiss and growl as the behavior progresses. Enhanced arousal, especially when control over the stimuli or freedom to avoid it are absent, becomes upsetting and makes the cat more reactive.

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Reader Comments

wendy    Arizona, AZ

7/4/2013 8:00:33 AM

My maine coon( I think) bites the tops of my feet, when he doesn't get his way! He likes the front door open, when I try to close it he will try to box me in and will bite the tops of my feet! Usually he just nips, but several times he has actually bit me hard!

G    San Deigo, CA

6/13/2013 5:41:36 PM

My cat has the same problem and he is 1 (years old) and this article has helped me to understand why. Thank you for the advice!

PUCHUCA    TAMPA, FL

2/20/2013 7:15:48 PM

I THINK THIS IS A GOOD ARTICLE AND IS A WAY TO EDUCATE PEOPLE. I HAD TO SURRENDER MY CAT FOR HEALTH ISSUES TO A SHELTER AND BECAUSE OF HER AGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR TOWARDS THEM SHE WAS PUT DOWN.

terri taylor    oceanside, CA

1/4/2013 4:42:35 PM

good questions but I can see no good answers or what we can do to help stop this type of behavior. I have a 9 month old neutered male. he was taken from his mom at 4 wks. my husband played rough with him against my wishes and lectures to him about this type of play. this fell on deaf ears. now he is aggressive especially towards my older cat. and when in the mood will bite us. me not as much as my husband. now i dont know how to break him of this bad habit

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