Behaviour

Stop your cat from biting you

Cat biting man's arm

Providing plenty of distractions may help stop your cat from biting you and will redirect an aggressive cat’s energy.

Playing roughly with your cat encourages him/her to use her teeth and claws on people, a difficult habit to break. Cat scratches and bites are prone to infection, so discourage kittens and cats from engaging in rough play with human companions.

Before we get into some details, lets first learn why cats bite in the first place.

Why do cats bite?

Various reasons could behind why a cat bites during playtime, or why your cat exhibits aggressive behavior. The most common are:

Biting without backing away

If your cat bites and doesn’t stop or back away, it could be because they perceive you as a threat, or they’re doing it to assert dominance.

Trying to stop an action

You cat could be biting you to prevent you or another pet from performing a certain action. For example, if you once sat in their place and the cat bit you, they may have learned that this is the most effective way of getting you to stop or move away.

Seeking attention

Another reason why your cat might bite you is to grab your attention or as a way of communicating. Instead of waiting or meowing, your cat might bite you instead. If this happens and your cat is seeming as if he or she is trying to show you something or lead you somewhere in a non-aggressive way, this could be the case.

Redirected aggression

Redirected aggression is a possibility. Having experienced this first hand, when my cat gets angry as squirrels crossing her territory, she would immediately attack me after I shouted at her to prevent her from going after the squirrels. As she was already infuriated with the squirrels, it was easy for her to come and attack me.

We’ll get onto how to stop cats from biting you. However, the way I stopped her from attacking me was by giving her space, not chasing after her and not trying to grab her. By shouting her name loudly, I distract her from a squirrel, kneel down and then speaking in a soothing tone that she’s used to hearing when being given food or during playtime.

How to stop your cat biting during playtime

If your cat bites you during playtime, it’s possible that the rough play can be redirected onto toys. Distracting a cat with an interactive toy can stop some playful attacks. Providing your cat with plenty of toys helps keep her occupied and reduces her motivation to attack you.

If distractions don’t work when trying to stop biting, try making a sudden loud noise. Don’t hit, slap or kick your cat. Such physical punishment is inhumane and often makes the problem worse.

You must learn to distinguish rough play from true aggression, where the cat’s motivation is to do harm. Aggression can be caused by illness, pain, fear or territoriality; your cat may also redirect aggression aimed at another animal toward you. Aggression is a serious problem. Consult your veterinarian before referring the situation to a certified behavior specialist.

The first step in addressing cats that bite is to recognize the pattern. If your cat has been doing this from kittenhood, it’s likely that they’ve learned this behavior and are now used to rough play. This is a common situation in cats that are hand-reared, orphaned early in life or exposed to rough play with humans at an early age.

It’s vital to identify triggers associated with the biting. Things that may trigger aggression in cats include continued petting and disturbing the cat when it is asleep. The cats are not the initiators in any of these situations, nor do they control the situations, so be mindful of this.

Cat biting person's hand

Using a behavior specialist

If you choose to contact a behavior specialist regarding your cats aggression, we highly recommend:

  1. Start keeping a diary, logging your cat’s attacks and other behavior issues. This will help the behaviorist assess the situation. Such behavior requires much detective work to identify what triggers the aggression and how to deal with it.
  2. If the aggression is towards another cat (or cats), separate them when they are not being strictly and specifically observed.
  3. Get your cat or cats thoroughly checked out by your veterinarian, including routine laboratory tests to identify any abnormalities that may be contributing factors to the problem. Sometimes there is a physical/medical reason for animal aggression.
  4. Controlled, slow introductions using food as a distracter or reward and a feline pheromone diffuser or spray may help the situation. Always stop the introduction at the first sign of aggression. A desensitization program will take a long time (months to a year) so do not try to rush the reintroduction of two cats. During this period, anxiolytic medications may help.

You can also read Hill’s article about aggression in cats and how to calm them down.

A story about an aggressive cat and how it was fixed

It’s not uncommon for cats to terrify human companions to the point of chasing them around the house, hissing and biting leg.

The above-mentioned situation is real.

The cat, Roscoe, was rescued from a neighbor who abandoned him. At that time he was a scrawny kitten. Two years later, he was robust and a somewhat tough cat. Roscoe’s aggression was never a problem before. If he became too rough, the owner distracted him with toys or sharply said, “No,” and clapped her hands.

As much as Roscoe’s owner was an ailurophile (a cat lover), the owner’s sister was somewhat of an ailurophobe (someone who fears cats). Roscoe’s dynamic demeanor frightened her, plus she had a physical problem that added to her discomfort.

The sister moved in several months before our meeting and needed to stay for an extended period until her health improved. Roscoe’s owner loved her sister but she also loved Roscoe, and she wanted to do what was best for both.

It was hard for the sibling to avoid Roscoe in the three-room apartment. It was explained to her that Roscoe picked up on her fear, which triggered his aggressive behavior. Her body language provoked him. “But this hasn’t happened with other cats,” she said.

“Perhaps, but you live with Roscoe,” Roscoe’s owner replied.

A young, single cat, Roscoe didn’t have an outlet for his highly aggressive energy. His abandonment as a kitten probably added to his anxiety.

The fear he sensed turned his play into aggression. She became his tension target.

It was recommended that another cat be adopted so Roscoe could channel his energy into healthy play. This would relieve his single cat syndrome.

The new cat had to be young, neutered or spayed and one preferring cats to people. Such a cat would bond immediately with the resident cat and relieve his frustrations which were previously expressed as biting during playtime.

The sibling wouldn’t have to worry about yet another enemy because Roscoe would capture the newcomer’s interest. Consequently, she could relax more as the cat directed his attention to his new companion.

They were told to keep the new cat in a large comfortable carrier so the two cats could view each other and interact without physical contact, as per our how to introduce two cats guide.

Although the owner thought that this was the ideal solution, her sibling doubted the advice.

A few weeks later, a new cat, Scarlett moved in with Roscoe, and the advice was followed.

The next progress report clearly described a victory. Scarlett was out of the carrier most of the time and Roscoe spent much of his time with her. The sibling was still wary of Roscoe but more relaxed, while Roscoe’s owner was confident that Scarlett would be open to her affection in time.

For now it wasn’t a priority. Roscoe had a playmate and the sibling no longer felt like his scape-person.

Have a story about your experience with an aggressive cat, or one that bites during playtime? Let us know in the comments!

About the author

Kacper Jednorowicz

Hi, I'm Kacper! I have a four-year-old female Bengal cat, called Coco. She's an active and friendly indoor cat that lives with us in the UK, but also enjoys several hours a day in the garden. Just like any responsible and loving cat owner, I want to ensure that she's a happy and healthy cat! My articles cover guides and reviews based on professional vet advice, our own experiences with Coco and plenty of research!

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