Why Is My Cat Biting Me?

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, explains that cats can get overstimulated and respond aggressively.

By Marilyn Krieger | Posted: Jan. 23, 2009, 3 a.m. EST

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Q: My wife and I have a 13-month-old male cat named Willy. He was neutered when we got him in June. He is extremely affectionate, zooms around the house getting into anything he can find to make into a toy, he sleeps with us at night, etc. 

The big problem we have with Willy is the following: When we pet him he purrs and purrs and just loves us to death, and then all of a sudden he will use his rear legs to try to move our hand(s) away from him, while simultaneously biting our hands, at times hard enough to draw blood.
Please, what is wrong? And how can we correct his biting?

A: Based on your description of the problem, it sounds like you are petting Willy on his stomach and that after a while, Willy is responding with what we call petting-induced aggression. Petting-induced aggression occurs when the petting becomes too much for a cat. He might have sensitive areas or the strokes are too repetitive or perhaps while falling asleep, he is startled awake by the petting and then responds instinctually by biting.

Stomachs are vulnerable areas on cats and should either not be stroked or stroked with caution since they are well-protected by both teeth and claws. There are some trusting and self-confident cats who enjoy being petted on the stomach and Willy may be one of these cats until he becomes overstimulated by petting. I recommend that you play it safe. Instead of petting Willy on his stomach, pet him on his sides, head, neck and back.

Cats usually give warnings before biting. It’s up to us to learn to recognize the body-language cues that are given before the bite. Some of the cues to look for include: rippling of the fur and skin, tenseness, tail thumping, ears laid back, head turning toward the hand, whiskers flattened against the face, vocalizing and pushing the hand away with the back feet. An exception is when cats are startled awake. Startled  cats typically don’t give warnings before biting.

If you see any warning signals from Willy while you are petting him, stop petting him immediately and take your hands off of him. Wait until he calms down before starting to pet him again. Don’t pet him for very long and vary the strokes and the areas you are petting. Always stop at the first sign of his being uncomfortable with the stroking.

When Willy does bite, instead of pulling your hand away, try gently pushing in toward his mouth. He will let go, thus minimizing the seriousness of the bite. At first, pushing in toward the mouth is difficult to do, since we are hard-wired to pull away when bitten. A cat is instinctually driven to bite down and increase the bite hold when an animal is trying to escape, thus increasing the odds of a meal. Though you are not prey, instincts take over and can result in a serious bite.

Naturally, the best course of action is to avoid being bitten. If Willy is responding to his stomach being petted, then consider not touching and stroking that sensitive area.


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Reader Comments

Cheryl    Meriden, CT

6/22/2014 1:32:20 PM

My cat will be 12 yrs old August 16th & he was diagnosed diabetic 2 weeks ago. He was seen in March for a UTI & in the 3 months had drasctically lost 8 lbs. His blood sugar came back 600. He was a self fed cat, now he's getting fed every 12 hrs, then 1/2 after he's finished eating he's getting 4 units of insulin. He's become very clingy the whole 12 hrs following me from room to room. He's always been a snuggler & cuddler, but know when I'm lying on the bed on my laptop he sits by my head & will nudge my face with his head then nip me on the chin or even try to bite at the lenses of my glasses. He knows a firm "NO" & pointing the finger at him is wrong in the past 12 years, but he's not listening now. I know there are behavior changes in diabetic humans because I'm an RN, but is this normal for a cat to go through behavior changes also? How do I get him to stop from biting? I read that once his blood sugar normalizes his behavior should return to normal, but this has been pretty constant for 2 weeks now.

CatChannelEditor    Irvine, CA

3/23/2012 7:26:41 AM

Vanessa -- Your cat could do this for a number of reasons. See our Aggression topiclist for articles on helping to determine this cause and find a solution: LINK Also, you can contact our cat behavior expert Marilyn Krieger by clicking the email link on her homepage. Be sure to provide all the details of your situation. LINK

Vanessa    Ponder, TX

3/22/2012 9:55:17 PM

My cat is a very energetic kitty. He zooms all over the house and is very sweet. Just recently he has started biting and scratching. I tell him no and he backs off just long enough for me to say it then attacks again. I have scratches and bites all over me. I have told him no and removed him from where I am sitting or relaxing at. What can I do to get him to stop? He's not quite a year old.

Mario    Glendale, AZ

4/9/2011 10:11:19 PM

I think the article is very informative. I have found with my cat that she will bite softly, almost in a playful manner, sometimes when I pet her. I just tell her softly "No bities" & then she instantly stops & instead licks my hand. We have learned to label that type of bite as a 'love bite'. She doesn't do it to be aggressive. I think it's just a way for her to interact with us. I know she trusts me because I'm the only one that she allows to pet her stomach. If she does get too aggressive with the bite, then she's telling me that she wants to play. That's when I amuse her with some of her toys.

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