There may be several reasons behind a bite given by a cat to its human. Let’s understand why by looking at the context: on what occasions did the cat bite? What was happening when he bit?

Before bringing some examples, it is important to clarify that a cat does not bite without a reason and that there is no cat that is born aggressive; there is always a cause behind every behavior, and biting does not necessarily represent a cat’s tendency to aggression.

That being said, let's look at some situations where you can find yourself getting a nice bite from your beloved cat:

  • I'm stroking my cat and he suddenly bites me

The cat's hair is equipped with very sensitive tactile sensors. Physical contact for a cat is a rather intimate event and petting, however pleasant, can be annoying if it happens for too long. It often happens that the human, while having the best intentions, does not realize the irritation signals sent by the cat and continues to pet it despite them; in this case, a bite is the last resource left to the cat to make you understand to stop touching it. Each cat has its own personal threshold of endurance of physical contact, there are those who do not tolerate even ten seconds and those who could be pampered for a whole two hours. It is important to firstly learn the limit of our cat and respect it completely. The best way to pet a cat is to gently pause for a few moments so that he may make us understand whether it still wants it or not. (Read more Why does the cat bite me while I caress it?)

  • I'm walking around at home and my cat bites my ankles

A cat has the natural need to express his hunting instinct, every day and several times a day. This means that if the cat leads a life indoors, the human must provide the appropriate stimuli to satisfy this basic need. If a cat does not have the chance to express regularly the predatory sequence, he will begin to prey on everything that moves, including the human's ankles. The ideal way to help a cat satisfy its hunting needs is providing objects that simulate prey and use them every day several times a day. Boredom is very often the main cause of so many difficulties in the coexistence between cat and man. We must remember that cats are not born to live in an apartment. Their natural wild style of life would provide large territories and endless daily stimuli, so we cannot expect that leaving some small balls on the floor is enough to satisfy cat's need for stimulation and activity.

  • He lies down on his back to ask for cuddles and when I touch him, he bites my hand

A cat that is laying on the ground belly up, with dilated pupils and a swinging tail, it's not asking for cuddles at all, it's inviting us to play! And our hand that touches its belly becomes the perfect prey to kill. When the cat assumes that position it can be a good idea to bring out an object with which to play together.

  • When we play, he bites me

This situation is in most cases due to a wrong way of playing on the human side. The initial mistake that is commonly made is to let our cat play with our hands when he is a kitten. It’s fun and it does not cause us pain, but in doing so we are teaching the kitten that our body, and especially our hand, is a gym on which to be able to use his energy. As the kitten grows into an adult cat, he will continue to see our hand as a fictitious prey to play with, so it is strongly recommended not to use our hands as objects of play. It is always better to use an object and avoid very physical games such as play fights.

An important aspect to never forget is the physical health of the cat: a cat can also bite because it’s in pain or it's ill, so it is essential to always carry out an accurate veterinary visit to rule out any physical conditions.

In conclusion, the physicality of cats and their psychological needs must be respected, and to do so we must get to know the basic characteristics of the species at least to be able to understand what their needs are and how they communicate them.


FISAP CAB Roberta Roscini
ICAN Feline Behaviourist (Consultant)

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