Rocklin Ranch Veterinary Hospital’s Blog
From Meow to Ow! Examining Why Cats Bite
Have you ever enjoyed a blissful, relaxing snuggle session with your cat only to have it end abruptly with a bite? This scenario is not uncommon, and it may seem unwarranted at times. However, there are numerous reasons why cats bite.
There’s no conclusive evidence as to why cats bite while being petted – it could mean your cat loves you or it could signal that he or she has had enough petting. Many cats offer “love bites,” but these aren’t exclusively doled out during snuggle time. If you’ve ever had your ankles bitten by a cat lying in wait, you already know what this is all about. It’s called redirected aggression and is carried out as a reflex of your cat.
As a group, kittens and cats are fairly aggressive during play. They stalk, jump, swat, pounce, and – you guessed it – bite. When this aggression is directed at you, it’s not uncommon to experience a scratch or bite. But it’s all in good fun, right? While you certainly don’t want to encourage this behavior, scolding or punishing will not solve the problem (and could even make things worse).
If you’re the owner of a young cat or kitten, get him or her used to gentle touches and handling. Early exposure to other people and pets can also help establish proper behavior and build confidence.
When to Question
The line between playful behavior and aggression can be downright fuzzy. In fact, your cat can probably flip quickly between the two extremes. While he or she could just be playing, it’s important to stop aggressive behaviors before they become a habit. Observe your cat’s body language and back off if you ever notice:
- Flattened or pinned back ears
- Trashing tail
- Fur standing up
- Growling or hissing
- Direct stare with dilated pupils
Cats bite for a number of reasons, including:
- Defending territory
- When injured or in pain
- To protect offspring
- Guarding against an attack from a predator
The more threatened your cat feels, the more likely it is that he or she will bite.
What to do When Cats Bite
National dog bite prevention week draws considerable interest and attention, but cat bite awareness pales in comparison. If you or someone you know is bitten by a cat, a medical professional should examine the bite. Antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent infection. If you live with a child, make sure your feline is never in a situation that could result in a cat bite or scratch.
Some cats bite as a result of toxoplasmosis, dental disease, rabies, trauma, arthritis, or as a result of age-related cognitive impairment. Your veterinarian may also perform a physical examination to help determine why your cat tends to bite.