Why do cats bite? Anything from health problems to aggressive play can be at hand. Learn more about what is behind your cat’s bites here.
They may not speak our language, but cats are prolific communicators. They communicate through vocalization, purring, whistling, tail wagging, and many other non-verbal devices. When they want to make a bold statement, they bite. So why do cats bite?
“The reasons for biting are innumerable,” says cat behavior expert Dusty Rainbolt, who writes about feline health and behavior. Having rescued and relocated more than 1,500 cats since 1986 through breeding programs and other rescue programs, Dusty has lost count of the number of cat bites he has witnessed. She shares some of the responses to the question, “Why do cats bite?”
1. Health problems and pain
Whenever you notice a change in behavior in your cat , rule out a health problem first. “If you have a cat that has never bitten before and suddenly it starts to bite, you should go to the vet,” says Dusty.
So why do cats bite? Sometimes it is due to physical discomfort. “Cats can’t tell you, ‘it hurts,'” says Dusty. “Cats don’t do things because they are bad cats; they do things because it is the only way to get a message across.
Health conditions that could cause a cat to bite include dental problems , arthritis, constipation, and hyperesthesia syndrome, a skin condition that can make the cat feel pain when touched or made to feel like fleas. A cat experiencing arthritic joint pain may bite a child who squeezes it, “because they can’t say, ‘Leave me alone,'” says Dusty.
Declined cats tend to bite more, not only because they cannot defend themselves with their claws. A study, “Declared Pain and Adverse Behavior in Cats,” published in May 2017 in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, concluded that the risk of pain and unwanted behaviors increased in cats.
2. Aggressive play
Another answer to the question: “Why do cats bite?” Aggressive play. For kittens and cats, playing is training to hunt and fight. In the wild, cats have to forage for food and fight for self-defense. Kittens will play at biting their littermates and anything that moves, including human hands and feet. As adorable as this is when they are kittens, you don’t want to encourage this behavior because cat bites can puncture the skin and cause an infection. Instead, redirect the game by chewing on the cat toys.
“Aggressive play is what a cat has to do to survive,” says Dusty. Rather than preventing cats from doing so, she recommends satisfying the cat’s natural urge to bite and chase with toys that mimic prey. Try to make the toy act like prey by taking a few steps, then stop to move the toy and repeat these movements, making sure the cat can catch it to avoid frustrating it.
3. Defense and attack
Self-defense or dominance are more answers to the question, “Why do cats bite?” How do you know that your cats are really fighting and not playing? “There’s more howling and vocalizing in a real fight and a pre-attack stare,” says Dusty. “Usually the staring cat is the aggressive one. The cat that makes the noise or howls is on the defense. He who is on the offensive does not need to make noise.
If your cats are fighting, Dusty recommends making a noise that distracts them and separates them without touching them. Serious biting can cause an abscess, and that’s a trip to the vet, he says. Do not touch cats when they are in this aggravated state.
Sometimes cats bite out of fear. “If you see body language shutting up or trying to look big, the cat is scared,” says Dusty. A dog or other cat could be outside. Regardless of the reason, it is not a good time to pick up your cat, as cats experience something called redirected aggression. That means they eliminate their aggression against someone who is not the cause of the agitation. “When you see that your cat is agitated, leave him alone and let him calm down,” says Dusty.
Pay attention to your cat’s non-verbal cues to find out what it needs and to avoid being bitten.
4. Love bites and caresses
Why do cats bite you when you are petting them? Or why do cats bite you when they are licking you or looking happy? You may have heard of cat love bites, and it’s true that cats sometimes bite those they love. However, love bites generally do not penetrate the skin, unless you panic and remove your hand.
Reflecting how a mother cat cares for her kittens, love bites are gentle and are generally followed by licking. Cats often groom themselves by biting and licking. You could call it the feline scrub and rinse version.
Cats sometimes bite when they are overstimulated by petting them. Individual cats seem to have their own thresholds for how much stimulation they can tolerate. A cat that has received enough petting will look back at your hand.
Dusty recommends looking at the ears and tail. If the ears return and the tail begins to wag, stop petting the cat.
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