Some cats bite when we try to pet them and show them we love them.
This painful and frustrating behavior problem is no joke – almost a third of the cats at Denver Dumb Friends League who were given up for behavior issues were biters.
Cat bites are painful and are really risky for infection – I got a few minor cat bites when I worked at the shelter, and it wasn’t fun!
Petting-induced aggression (also called overstimulation in some circles) is common in cats with a few main things in common:
- Cats that don’t get enough physical and mental exercise.
- Owners who can’t read cat body language.
- Cats that are generally a bit stressed or “edgy.”
In short, your cat probably bites you because you’re petting for too long or petting in the wrong ways.
How to Stop Your Cat From Biting When You Pet Her
You don’t have to just live with the fact that your cat bites you. Your cat’s bites are communication – don’t brush them off or say that that’s just how cats are.
Instead, try to listen to your cat. Her bites are her only way of telling you something – what is it?
When we’re trying to solve a behavior problem, we need to think WTF.
What’s the function?
When your cat bites you while you pet her, what happens next? You stop petting her, right?
If she keeps biting when you pet her, that means that she wants you to stop – the function of her biting is to reduce your petting. Makes sense, right?
Here’s what to do about that.
1. Learn to Read Feline Body Language
This is harder than it sounds. Cats can be quite subtle with their body language. Here’s what to look out for:
- Dilated pupils. Big pupils are a bad sign – they mean the cat is aroused or excited. Get your hand out of there!
- Rippling skin. Sometimes, your cat’s skin will ripple or twitch behind your hand as you stroke her. This is a sign of irritation – stop petting now.
- Looking at your hand. If your cat keeps turning to look at your hand, she’s not relaxing into the petting. Give her a break.
- Flared whiskers. Cats can flare their whiskers or pop them forward. This is another sign of excitement or arousal. Again, not a good sign when you’re trying to have a relaxing petting session! Stop petting.
- Flicking tail. Cats don’t wag their tails when they’re happy. If the tip of your cat’s tail is twitching (or if the whole thing is flicking), your cat is probably irritated or about to pounce. Stop petting for now.
Every single one of these body language cues lets you know that your cat is ready to be done with petting. Pay attention. When you see them, stop petting your cat and give her a break.
If she keeps asking for more attention, play with her instead (see #3).
This can be hard at first – you want to pet your kitty, right? I get that. But you also want your cat to like being petted.
That means listening to her when she says she’s had enough.
If you keep ignoring your cat’s body language, two things will happen: you’ll get
2. Pet Your Cat Like a Pro
You can’t teach her to tolerate petting by petting her in a way that she doesn’t like!
That means it’s time to learn how to charm your kitty into loving your pets – and that means stepping up your petting game.
Let your cat dictate the pace. If she shows the body language above, give her a break. If she starts to groom herself or walk away, let her do that.
Forcing yourself on her is just rude!
Use the Three Second Rule for Cat Petting
Pet your cat for the count of three. Then pull your hand back a few inches and see what she does. If she comes back for more, great! Give another three seconds of petting.
But if she starts to groom or walks away (or just ignores you indifferently), that’s a signal to stop petting.
Stick to Face Pets
For many cats who display petting-induced aggression, a big problem is being petted in the wrong places.
Most cats do not like being petted on the belly.
Even if your cat is on her side or on her back, keep your hands away from her tummy! This is a very sensitive spot, and while SOME cats enjoy belly pets, it’s usually a no-go zone for cats who bite when being petted.
The long, tip-to-tail strokes that many humans enjoy giving can also be too much for some cats. It’s kind of like having someone rub your back constantly.
Sometimes, sure, it might be nice. But other times, you’d try to brush that person away – you’re doing other things!
Tip-to-tail petting might be OK, but it might not be. Pay attention to your cat’s body language to see what she tells you.
3. Give Your Cat More to Do Every Day
One of the other main reasons for cats to bite when they’re being petted is because they need more exercise.
Throw Out Your Kitty’s Food Dish Right Now
Seriously – get up and go do it (or better, donate it to a shelter).
Then replace it with a kitty puzzle toy.
This fix alone can help reduce petting-induced aggression. Your cat now gets a bit more physical and mental exercise every day, which helps calm her down and make her more relaxed. Plus, she’s got something to “hunt” other than your hands!
Stop Playing With Laser Toys. Use a Wand Toy Instead
Some cats love laser toys and that’s no problem. But other cats find laser toys captivating in a bad way – they obsess over the laser pointer.
They want to catch it so badly, yet it evades their claws. So they sink their claws and teeth into you instead.
If your cat bites when you pet her, don’t play with a laser. Give her something else to chase and bite instead.
I love the “Da Bird” cat toy. It flutters around in the air and is great fun for you and your cat!
Try to spend at least 20 minutes per day playing with your cat. This alone can dramatically reduce petting-induced aggression.
One last thing – if you’re still having problems with your kitty’s biting, schedule a call with me to sort it out. I’ll help you troubleshoot for an affordable price!
Kayla is from Ashland, Wisconsin but lives in Missoula Montana. She holds a degree in biology from Colorado College and has spent years working in zoos, animal shelters, and as a private dog trainer. When not working on Journey Dog Training, Kayla works at Working Dogs for Conservation. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant. She shares her life with her dog Barley.