Cats make great companions, but they can be a little temperamental. Any cat owner will have experienced a change in mood from their feline. One minute they will be playing happily; the next minute they are biting or scratching you.
It’s important to know when your cat has had enough. We will look at the signs that your cat does not want any further attention, and learning these signs will enhance your bond with your cat. If you can understand feline non-verbal cues, you’ll be able to avoid the bites that lead to infection.
Why Does My Cat Bite When I Pet It?
Cats turning from purring affectionately to biting aggressively, seemingly without warning, is a common occurrence. Vet Street explains that the behavior is known as petting-induced aggression.
As cats cannot verbally explain their actions, nobody can say with certainty what causes this action. The three possible explanations include:
- Cats have instinctive status aggression, and want to show that they are masters of a situation. While they may be receiving pleasure from being petted, this can make a cat feel vulnerable. Cats like to be alert at all times, so dropping your guard is potentially dangerous.
- Cats have a unique neurological response to pleasure. Being petted and played with for too long stops being enjoyable – and could even become painful. Naturally, a cat that is in discomfort will lash out physically. What’s more, cat bodies are delicate. Petting against fur growth, for example, can be quite uncomfortable. You may also realize that your cat is in discomfort when you stroke its back.
- Cats have subtle body language cues that other felines understand. Humans, however, cannot detect these tiny changes in mind. It may be that your cat has been trying to tell you to stop for a while. One example of how they will do this is thrashing their tail. You have not picked up on these cues, however, and continued petting them. This will lead to the cat becoming extremely frustrated, and biting as a determined action.
Not all cat biting is a form of aggression, though. After all, some people refer to this action as ‘love biting.’ You will be able to tell if your cat is playful or aggressive, though. The force and power of the bites will be entirely different.
Why Does My Cat Gently Bite Me?
‘Love biting’ takes the form of gentle nips from your cat while you pet them. This is a playful behavior learned during the kitten years.
Like all animals, young cats play through biting. It’s essential to socialize kittens, so they quickly learn how hard it is acceptable to bite. Also, a female cat that has given birth will gentle nibble and lick her litter. This, again, is a sign of affection from the adult to the kitten. Some cats may learn this behavior, and assume that it translates to all species.
There will be many differences between love biting and aggression. If your cat is biting affectionately, it will be more of a nibble. They will not sink their teeth into your skin, and should certainly not draw blood. Their claws will remain sheathed, and they will not hiss. Also, an affection bite will usually be accompanied or followed by a lick. This is your cat saying that they are enjoying the attention, and inviting you to continue.
Not all gentle bites are borne of love, however. If you have a particularly placid cat, they may nip gently to send a warning. Learn your cat’s body language, and how they react to a particular stimulus. If your cat nips and licks while purring contentedly, assume this is a sign of affection.
If they gently nip and start fidgeting or thumping their tail, they are sending a message. In your cat’s mind, continuing to pet them after this is ignoring their wishes. Their instincts will then kick in, and they will attack as a form of self-defense.
My Cat Viciously Attacked Me
If a cat is suddenly aggressive towards its owner, something is amiss. While cats are undeniably territorial and potentially aggressive, they usually at least tolerate their owners. If they start to act out of sorts and become violent, something may be amiss.
As the ASPCA explains, cat aggression is a common concern and takes many forms. In the event of a seemingly unprovoked attack, run through the preceding events in your mind. Cats are not humans. What we consider to be wholly innocuous behavior, they may deem to be challenging or aggressive.
Some of the actions that could lead to a cat attacking include:
- Petting and stroking to the point that the cat considers excessive.
- Touching vulnerable areas of the cat’s anatomy, such as the tummy, without invitation.
- Startling a sleeping cat.
- Ignoring physical and verbal cues to stay away.
- Play that spikes a cat’s predatory instincts. Remember, even the most domesticated housecat is a lethal hunter. They cannot turn these instinctive characteristics on and off.
Of course, your cat may be feeling sick. A feline that feels under the weather will be aggressive and grumpy.
Some of the possible illnesses that lead to aggression include:
- Toxoplasmosis. A parasitic infection found in feces that can cause blindness in humans.
- Arthritis, or another form of musculoskeletal pain or injury.
- Dental problems, such as a toothache or gum disease.
- Cognitive decline in older cats, such as yowling. This can lead to feline dementia.
There is also a slim chance that your cat smells something on you that they do not like. This may be another neighborhood pet, or some prey. Cats rarely attack in such a scenario, though. They usually prefer to rub themselves against you to ‘reclaim ownership’ through their scent.
If your cat is acting out of sorts, consult a vet. There is nothing to gain with a wait and see approach. Your pet may need some urgent attention. Remember, no matter how independent they may be, domestic cats still rely on humans for food. They would never burn their bridges with the provider of their meals without good reason.
Body Language Cues That a Cat May Attack
A cat that is uncomfortable or afraid will usually hiss to announce how they feel. Some cats are a little subtler though, and rely on body language to make their point. It is important that you learn the body language cues that a cat is uncomfortable. These include:
- Crouching with the head and tail tucked inward.
- Eats flat against the back or side of the head.
- Wide, unblinking eyes are watching every move.
- Raised hackles.
If you spot even of these actions, stop what you are doing. If you are petting your cat, cease immediately. Perhaps most importantly, get your hands are arms out of reach of your cat’s mouth.
What Should I Do if My Cat Bites Me?
If your cat does bite you, try not to react in front of them. Even if the attack takes you by surprise, stay calm and remove yourself from the situation.
Check the site of the bite, and wash it thoroughly. If the cat has broken the skin, bandage the wound. If it has been more than ten years since your last tetanus shot, consult a doctor. Cats could have bacteria in their mouth, and you do not want to end up with an infection.
Do not punish your cat, physically or verbally. Cats are dominant by their nature. They will respond to a negative approach with further negativity of their own. As they cannot verbally explain their displeasure, it will just result in more physical aggression.
Give your cat some space after the attack, and let them approach you. If they do so, act as though nothing happened. Pet them if that’s what they want. While cats can flare up quickly, they calm down just as fast. As far as your pet is concerned, nothing happened, and they are ready to make friends.
Why are Cats So Moody?
By and large, cats are independent animals. Unlike dogs, who seek human companionship at all times, cats need some time to themselves. Also unlike dogs, who show their affection in a multitude of ways, cats are much more subtle.
If your cat relaxes in your home, they love you. It’s a fallacy that cats will live anywhere that somebody feeds them. If your house is loud and action-packed, they stick around through affection for your family. They would rather be somewhere quiet.
The key to a contented cat is to allow them to dictate their pace of life. Cats will want to choose if and when they interact. If they have many elevated places to observe their empire, they will be happy. Allow your cat to decide when they jump into your lap for petting.
If you don’t force cats into anything, they won’t see you as a threat. Your bond will grow stronger and less likely to bite and scratch.
How to Avoid Being Bitten and Scratched by a Cat
As profiled, the easiest method is to allow your cat to dictate their actions. The harsh truth is that you will not win a power struggle with a cat. In addition to leaving your feline to their own devices, however, consider some of these actions:
- Get your cat spayed or neutered. A cat that is in season will often become more aggressive. If you don’t plan to breed your cat, there seems little point in leaving them intact.
- Get your cat on a strict schedule. If your cat is accustomed to being fed at certain times, they will not take kindly to waiting.
- Take your cat for regular health check-ups. It’s true that no cat enjoys a trip to the vet. A professional, however, is used to being bitten and scratched. If your cat is checked out annually, you can stay on top of any health concerns.
- Learn your cat’s body language and visual cues. They will be telling you so much without you even realizing. The moment they appear to be uncomfortable, leave them alone.
- Never startle your cat while they are sleeping. Cats may be predators, but they are also prey to larger animals. This means they will always defend themselves if shocked.
- Don’t touch a delicate or vulnerable part of a cat’s anatomy, such as the belly or paw pads. If a cat shows these body parts, they are demonstrating trust. Touching them violates this trust, and will result in a bite or scratch.
Cats are not aggressive or volatile animals by their nature. They are just fiercely independent, and always on alert for danger. Next time you feel that your cat has attacked you for no reason, think carefully. You will probably find that there was a reason. You may consider it an overreaction from a human perspective, but your cat will disagree.
The good news is that it’s highly possible to have a calm, loving, and non-confrontational relationship with your cat. Just let them dictate the nature of this relationship – accepting and reciprocating affection when it’s provided. You’ll avoid physical retaliation, and all human and feline members of your family will be content.