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Is your cat biting when you pet them? This is what they’re trying to tell you

Cats have lightning-fast reflexes, which you’ve probably witnessed if a cat has ever suddenly grabbed you and bitten you while you were patting them. This behavior can be surprising and startling, and if you don’t understand what’s causing the behavior, you might be upset and frustrated. Your cat biting your hand or arm seemingly randomly doesn’t mean that they don’t love you, and it also doesn’t mean that they’re doing this behavior just because. Instead, there are important messages behind your cat’s behavior. If you’re wondering, “Why does my cat bite me when I pet her,” there are a few potential causes that you need to understand.

Grey cat biting a person's hand

Why does my cat grab my hand and bite me?

If your cat bites you when you’re patting them, you’re witnessing something called petting-induced aggression. These bites are generally gentle and don’t draw blood, but they can still be painful and upsetting. Your cat might lick at your hand first before using their teeth, and you shouldn’t see signs of aggression like growing or hissing. (If you do see these signs of aggression, your cat is telling you in no uncertain terms to back off and give them some space.)

In the case of petting-induced aggression, scientists are still trying to understand the exact cause. This biting is generally your cat’s way of telling you that they’re done with having you pat them and that you need to move away. Your cat might not enjoy being petted, or they may have reached the point where they’re overstimulated and need the session to end.

How should I respond when my cat bites me?

If your cat bites you, you should never react negatively. Don’t frighten your cat or scruff them. Remember, biting is your cat’s way of communicating with you.

Instead, respect your cat’s wishes and move away from them. Don’t attempt to keep patting them, and give your cat some space.

An orange cat biting a person's hand

How do I get my cat to stop biting when petting?

According to the Humane Society of Hudson Valley, getting your cat to stop biting you is a matter of modifying how you pet them and learning to watch for signs that they’re becoming overstimulated.

Make an appointment with the vet

To start, it’s a good idea to take your cat to the vet for an examination to make sure that your cat isn’t experiencing pain anywhere that’s prompting them to bite.

Look for telltale warning signs

Next, learn to watch for your cat’s warning signs that they’re getting uncomfortable. They might pull their ears back or start to twitch their skin or tail. You might notice that your cat’s pupils dilate, and their body may get stiff all over. Some cats may growl and start to expose their claws. If you notice any of these signs, it’s important to honor your cat’s wishes and stop patting them. If they’re on your lap, move them off of your lap and give them some space.

Try patting your cat a different way

You may also need to modify how you pat your cat. Some cats like short strokes as opposed to long, drawn-out strokes, and some cats like you to only pat certain areas of their bodies, like under the chin. Experiment with using different strokes, and instead of using your whole hand, see if your cat better tolerates it if you use just a finger or two. If your cat doesn’t bite you during a patting session, consider rewarding them with a treat to reinforce this positive behavior.

Keep track of your cat’s behavior

Once you’ve learned the warning signs that your cat gives off, you can watch to see when these signs appear. Keep track of how long you’re able to pat your cat before they give you a warning. Some cats can only take so much patting, so if you’re able to determine that your cat can tolerate a certain amount of patting, you can keep this in mind so you can stop patting them before he gets uncomfortable.

Understand your cat might just not like to be touched

Finally, realize that cats can be particular. Some cats can be very social, but they just don’t appreciate being patted. If you try all of the above strategies with no improvement, then it’s probably time to honor your cat’s wishes and not pat them. You can show your cat affection in other ways, such as by playing with them or just spending time nearby.

If your cat keeps biting you when you pat them, they’re trying to tell you something. By taking the time to listen and try to figure out the cause of this behavior, you’ll be doing right by your cat and helping to ensure that they’re able to be comfortable in their home.

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