Reasons Cats Bite and How to Prevent Your Cat From Biting
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Megan is a cat owner and writer who enjoys researching and writing on a variety of topics.
Why Does My Cat Randomly Bite Me?
Cat bites can be dangerous if not taken care of properly. Cats have sharp teeth that are able to make deep punctures, and cats’ mouths harbor a lot of bacteria that can potentially cause infection. If left untreated or not given proper first aid care, cat bites can lead to infection, cat scratch fever, or in rare cases, rabies. If the puncture wound is deep and dirt or outside debris get into the wound, tetanus can also be of concern.
One in three cat bites will become infected, compared to the much lower likelihood of infection from dog bites. If an infected cat bite is left untreated, it can develop into cat scratch fever, which is a bacterial infection that causes flu-like symptoms and can cause serious complications such as encephalopathy or vision loss. Although more attention is often given to dog bites and the danger of rabies, statistics show that there are 300% more rabid cats in the US than rabid dogs.
Six Reasons Your Cat Bites You
- Age: Young kittens may bite more often when learning how to play.
- It's in Their Genes: Some personality traits in cats are hereditary.
- Owner Behavior: Cats are sensitive to their owners' emotions.
- Changes at Home: A move, a new baby, a new pet—any change at home can cause changes in your cat's behavior.
- Fear or Provocation: A cat may bite if they feel threatened.
- Basic Needs Not Being Met: If you don't maintain your cat's routines and meet their basic needs, they may bite you.
What Factors Affect a Cat’s Tendency to Bite?
Cats may bite for many reasons. Below are some of the primary causes that will make a cat more prone to bite:
Young kittens will bite or scratch each other or their owners as part of play, and this is normal. Usually by about four months of age, play biting and scratching should subside. If a kitten spends time around other kittens or their mother, these behaviors may subside faster, as they learn more quickly by first-hand experience from their furry family members that biting and scratching hurt.
2. It’s in Their Genes
Just like in humans, some personality traits in cats may be hereditary. Certain cats may be predisposed to aggressive behavior, thanks to their parents. The results from one study suggest that the paternal cat’s personality in particular is a good indicator of how friendly his kittens will turn out. Even when separated immediately after birth from their parents, kittens with friendly fathers have a pretty high likelihood of being friendly themselves, and vice versa.
3. Owner Behavior
Cats are sensitive to their owners' emotions. True to the saying “copy-cat,” cats tend to mimic their owners' moods. Another study showed cats acting sad when their owners appeared sad and happy when their owners appeared happy. It is no surprise, then, that cats may display more aggressive behavior if that kind of behavior is what they observe from their owner. Likewise, frequently yelling at your cat as a means of discipline can cause them to become defensive and more likely to bite.
4. Changes at Home
New baby at home? Decided to get a dog? Have family from out of town staying for a little while? These are all examples of changes to your cat’s routine that can put extra stress on them and lead them to resort to biting.
Cats are creatures of habit. They tend to sleep in the same place at the same time each day, want to cuddle with you at the same time each day, and so on. If events outside of their control cause their routine to change, they may feel threatened or jealous. Many cats display happy, friendly personalities for years until a new baby comes along. Just like a jealous older sibling, they may feel suddenly less valued and loved when they receive less attention than they are used to.
5. Fear or Provocation
If a cat feels threatened because a human or other animal is continually bothering them, they may lash out by biting as a warning to leave them alone. Many cat bites in children occur this way—a toddler may think it’s funny to continually poke the family cat with their feather toy, but kitty probably does not feel the same way. In general, cats like for things to be their idea. They want to play when they want to play, they want to cuddle when they want to cuddle, etc. If someone tries to make them participate in something they don’t want to do, they may bite in attempt to be left alone.
6. Basic Needs Not Being Met
Just like the rest of us, cats need food, water, shelter, and some attention to thrive. If a cat expects his food bowl to be replenished every day at 5 pm when you get home from work, and by 5:30 pm there is still no food, your cat may resort to biting to let you know they need something from you. Cats can’t talk to let us know what they want. Biting, in addition to meowing and other vocal sounds, is one way they can get your attention.
How Common Are Cat Bites?
Each year, over 400,000 cat bites occur, compared to over 4 million dog bites. Almost 20% of cat bites end up needing medical care. Cat bites usually come from a cat that you know, but stray or outdoor cats also pose a risk.
Five Ways to Stop Your Cat From Biting
If you are trying to figure out how to stop your cat from biting, taking these steps may be helpful in finding a solution.
1. Determine the Cause
The cause of your cat’s biting behavior may or may not be easily identifiable. If a known stressor is causing your cat to bite, try to do what you can to neutralize the situation again. If you recently got a new roommate who is sitting in your cat’s spot on the couch every night when they are used to claiming that territory as their own, do what you can to make that happen for your cat again. If you brought home a new baby recently and your cat is feeling a little unloved, make sure to spend some extra time with them when baby is asleep. If you can figure out what is causing your cat to bite, you can narrow down the possible solutions.
2. Adjust Your Behavior
Do you yell loudly at your cat when they climb on a piece of furniture that is off limits? Are you severely stressed out and wear those emotions on your sleeve? As discussed earlier, cats pick up on your behavior, both that toward them and otherwise. Stop yelling at your cat as a form of discipline, and try to have a happy, friendly demeanor and set the example.
Other simple adjustments to your mannerisms can prevent some biting. If your cat sneaks up on you and bites your leg, they could think it is a game and be play hunting. If this sounds like your cat, a good tactic is to always make eye contact with your cat before walking down a hallway or around a corner. If they know you see them coming, it’s no longer as fun. Also, avoid making sudden, jerky movements around your cat. It can startle them, causing them to bite.
3. Provide Consequences for Biting
If you have tried the above methods to stop your cat from biting, let your cat know that their behavior cannot continue without consequences. When they bite, remove them from the situation and give them a “time-out.” This can be some time in another room or locked in the basement. Just make sure their basic needs are still being met, and they have access to food, water, and a litter box. Every time your cat bites, provide the same consequence so that they associate it with the negative behavior. By the same token, use positive reinforcement by rewarding your cat when they have good behavior. Tuna, cat treats, or catnip are good options.
4. Give Them Some Extra Attention
A lot of the time with a cat bite, it may be because they are trying to get your attention. As long as they are willing, make sure to take some time every day to pay special attention to your cat. Let them sit in your lap, pet them when they rub against you, or spend some time playing with them. Some great toys to use to play with your cat are laser lights, feathers, and toy mice.
5. Get Them a Furry Friend
If a cat displays behavioral problems such as biting, it can often help to get them a companion. Cats may get bored or lonely, especially if left alone for long periods each day. Another pet, particularly a cat, could provide them the company they need. Also, if they play with their new friend and use their biting tactic toward them, the other animal is likely to fight back, and your cat will get the idea that biting hurts. Note that this is not a guaranteed solution, and sometimes cats respond negatively when another pet comes in to the home, but this method has worked for some.
I’ve Been Bitten by a Cat—What Should I Do?
If you’ve been bitten by a cat, always wash the area immediately with soap and water. Apply topical antibiotic cream, such as Neosporin, and cover it with a bandage. Let it bleed if possible, as this can wash out the bacteria introduced form the cat’s mouth.
Monitor the area closely. If it begins to swell, turn red, or becomes hot to the touch, or if you develop a fever, seek medical attention. These are signs that the bite has become infected, and you most likely will need antibiotics. Often, cat bites are treated with antibiotics before symptoms of infection develop due to the high probability of them becoming infected.
Check the vaccine records of the cat. If it has not had routine rabies vaccinations, it may need to be quarantined for a certain amount of time to make sure it does not have rabies, and that there is no risk of rabies to you. Make sure to keep your cat’s vaccines up to date. If the bite is from a stray cat or a cat whose immunization records are not known, it is best to err on the side of caution.
If rabies is suspected, you will need to get a series of four shots called Human Rabies Immune Globulin (HRIG). If you think there is any possibility of rabies in the cat who has bitten you, seek medical help right away.
If an untreated cat bite develops a red or brown bump over the affected area, coupled with swollen lymph nodes, this could be a sign of cat scratch fever. You should also seek medical attention in this case.
What If My Cat Continues to Bite?
With some patience and discipline, most cat behavior issues can be resolved. If none of the methods above are able to solve your cat’s biting problem, resources exist to offer support:
- Your local Humane Society usually offers animal behavior classes.
- A visit to your vet can rule out underlying medical problems.
Have you received medical treatment for a cat bite?
Questions & Answers
Question: Why does my cat sometimes bite me when I am petting it?
Answer: Yes, unfortunately this can be the case. Sometimes cats don't let us know their limits of being touched until it's too late, and then they bite to let us know to back off.
Question: Why does my cat bite me when he wants me to hold him?
Answer: He's trying to get your attention. Try to make eye contact with him and pick him up before it gets to this point. If you are busy and don't have time to hold him, still make eye contact with him and tell him "no."
Cynthia on August 16, 2020:
My senior mom just adopted a 3 year old male cat. He is a sweetheart and follows her around but for no apparent reason has bit her on the back of the leg when she was walking and on the arm when she was reaching for something. He bites hard and draws blood. We contacted the adoption place and they said to give him time to adjust and that his hormone balance may be off because he just got neutered. My mom is afraid of him but wants to give him a chance. I’m afraid because she is 78 and I don’t want her to get hurt or too attached to him if it isn’t going to work out. What should I do?
Lois on July 10, 2020:
we have 2 male cats..the older is a feral cat..younger one we adopted...99% of the time they get along great..sometimes the older will groom the other one by licking and then out of nowhere, he will bite the younger cat on the neck, removing all the hair , right down to the bone...the younger one just lays there and does nothing..i apply meds as soon as I see it...we are not looking at them 24 hours a day, so sometimes this happens during the night or when we are out..very difficult to keep them apart,,,any anwers
JC Scull from Gainesville, Florida on July 03, 2020:
Excellent article. My cat get over-stimulated when I pet him too much and he bites.
Angela Medeiros on February 04, 2020:
I think its a great to go to the doctor if you get a bite from your cat
put Neosporin on your finger
Megan Machucho (author) from Milwaukee, WI on January 01, 2020:
Donna, it may be hard to determine what sets him off. I would try to determine the pattern that triggers those warning sings (hissing and ears going back). Does he only get like that when you are doing something specific? If it happens when you are putting a trash back in or picking up a blanket, he may be triggered by those sudden movements. He may be going into predatory mode, or he may think he is just playing. I have found that when doing chores like that where my cat is likely to bite, if I make clear eye contact with him before the sudden movements, he is less likely to try to sneak up on me and bite.
Donna Lee Perkins on December 30, 2019:
I have a Blue Persian and his name is Liam. He bites me hard for no reason. It starts when he hisses and his ears go back and then he attacks me. If I yell he continues and sometimes it is worse. What sets him off? I could be just putting something in a trash bag or picking up a blanket. It is never anything that would threaten him.
Donna Rayne from Sparks, Nevada on December 21, 2019:
Excellent article. Megan! Cats and kittens do bite and it is part of being a cat and there are many ways to prevent or help deter such behaviors!
Great article :)
Hammerheadhank on December 17, 2019:
I took in a stray back in Feb , and i am not a cat person but this cat acted more like a dog . Follow me everywhere, roll over and over when i pull up at home. Built him a home from a Yeti cooler , with heat and air conditioner. He have been great for the past 10 months . 2 weeks ago he started becoming very distant, comes and eats and takes off. Normally i would sit out with him for hours , stay with him during thunder and lightning , 2 days ago went to feed him , then he bit my hand hard enough to draw blood. Dont know what he was thinking or what his problem was. Took is heated home off the porch and threw hos last meal with bowl at him. Of course i missed bu a mile but i think he knew that behaviour is not acceptable. Now have not seen him in two days.
It sucks , i am going to miss the little guy , but i am not going to tolerate that type of behavior. He will quickly learn dinner is not waiting for him , he will have to learn to hunt nor with his new nest have bottled water and heat and air. Some of you may think i am heartless , maybe your right , i threw my wive out and divorced her because i am not tolerating B.S.
Kurt Brown on November 08, 2019:
This article is rediculous. Cats are moody, cats bite just cause they have attitude. Ive had close to 159 cats. 95 % are just fine, The last 5 % is plain attitude. I have a cat now that we found as a feral kitten, Two years later its still a biter. It doesnt understand time out
Theresa on October 18, 2019:
My family consists of my husband my son and my 3 cats and 1 dog.For some reason my husband keeps getting bit by our cat Oreo .We have always been very equal paying attention to all toys treats and playtime.Now for some reason Oreo has been biting my husband on his legs.We go to sleep and Oreo always sleeps by me and Cheddar sleeps by him,now the table has turned Cheddar me Oreo him.But my husband gets bit quite often not me ,what should we do????
Orval Lofthus on October 17, 2019:
my 1- year old kitten still bites me but i think it,s a sign to back off.so i will try that.
LOUIS on March 25, 2019:
my 3 year old male attacks and bites me drawing blood for no apparent reason that i can tell and it,s been going on for quite some time. what can i do? i love him and don,t want to get rid of him. please help me!
Kunal on January 24, 2019:
My cat is just 2 months old and started to bite really hard. It just starts biting randomly but really really hard. If i try to push her away she will try and bite my legs or toes.
How do i discipline her?
Bernadine Drew on November 27, 2018:
I have an 8 year old cat, he was a rescue animal. For the first time in his life he bit me. I now have been ignored for a week he wont come near me. I have tried treats, looking in his eyes and talking to him. Nothing is promoting him to be affectionate. Any suggestions?
Maddie on June 27, 2018:
I just rescued a cat from a near by shelter, my dog was sleeping minding his own business when the cat started hissing and attacking him. Both the dog and cat are male.
Megan Machucho (author) from Milwaukee, WI on May 12, 2018:
He is still young and probably just playing. For now, I would wear long pants, and also discourage the behavior. Don't encourage him to play like that. If you walk away and firmly tell him "no" he should catch on that you don't enjoy him doing this.
Jutta Delano jelkes on May 11, 2018:
I have a 6 month old Male cat he keeps attacking my legs and bite how can I make him stop cause lots of time it hurts
Alexis Chantel on January 03, 2017:
This article makes cats seem terrifying. At first when I thought bites my mind went to love bites, which can be much more gentle and usually don't pierce the skin. I have a cat that loves to give those. He's so gentle about it though that I never worry. I've also experienced another one where I wasn't prepared for a love bite from and jumped, and that accidentally caused it to bleed but was completely my fault. It is good to know the difference between a love bite and an actual bite. You do give good advice on what to do after receiving a cat bite (or scratch which can become infected as well.) Another thing to note though is to never push a hissing cat unless you know exactly what you're doing and the consequences, and never leave a child unsupervised with a cat unless they know to leave it alone when it hisses. I fear for anyone who tries to pick up a hissing, terrified cat to put them on 'time-out' only to be further scratched/bit.
Good read for those who have uneducated kittens/cats that aren't socalized.
Megan Machucho (author) from Milwaukee, WI on January 03, 2017:
My cat is a jealous one, he and my kids compete with each other for my attention. He used to bite quite a bit before I made some changes. As long as I dedicate some time each day to just him he's fine!
FlourishAnyway from USA on January 02, 2017:
One of my cats was not very socialized and used to chomp on me to get attention. But with steady and consistent work, he is now a kind and gentle soul and the only bites he gives are the softest of love bites you can barely even feel them. Consistency is key and no punishment.
Mouthing is one of the many gestures our cats use to communicate their feelings. If something is off, or if they’re feeling extra ornery, you might get bitten. Whether it’s done positively or negatively, there are ways you can avoid the biting.
If you have to channel that energy, but you aren’t sure how to—that’s why animal professionals are so helpful. Discuss the concerns with your vet so you can enjoy your cat without worrying about fangs sinking into your flesh.
Featured Image Credit: Irzhanova Asel, Shutterstock
Ashley Bates is a freelance dog writer and pet enthusiast who is currently studying the art of animal therapy. A mother to four human children— and 23 furry and feathery kids, too – Ashley volunteers at local shelters, advocates for animal well-being, and rescues every creature she finds. Her mission is to create awareness, education, and entertainment about pets to prevent homelessness. Her specialties are cats and dogs.
Why Your Cats Bite and How to Stop Them
Cats can be difficult little creatures. They’re practically unintelligible for non-cat people. But even for their owners, cats are still confusing sometimes.
Biting is a universal part of cat language with multiple meanings. Is it bad? Is it just playful? Honestly, it depends!
A dog that bites out of the blue – either unprovoked or while stressed – is a problem. But cat bite usually isn’t launching into a full-frontal attack. So, why do cats bite their owners for no reason? Let’s explore a few reasons and a few ways you can scale it back.
Your Hands are not Toys
One of the first rules for human companions is: don't teach your cat that hands are toys. This is a behavior that you must develop and correct when they are young kittens. If you ignore this advice, those tiny claws and teeth will soon grow into razor-sharp "meat hooks," and you'll bear the scars. Do not use your hands as toys and rough house with them as they will not likely hurt you when they are kittens, but once fully developed they will think they can still play this way despite having larger and stronger jaws and claws. Hands should only be used for petting and carrying. It should be established early that any "mouthing" is painful to you, even when it may not be painful. Once this is established, you will need to direct playful behavior onto other objects.