How To Deal With Cat "love Bites"?

Oct 18, 2016 · Updated Oct 30, 2016 · ·
  1. Anne
    You and your cat are enjoying some fun one-on-one interaction. You're petting her and she purrs in return and maybe head butts against your hand. At some point, while still purring, she grabs your hand with her teeth. She seems to hardly apply any pressure, holding your hand with her teeth, while still purring away contently. Congratulations! You have received a "love bite" from your kitty!

    What does a "love bite" from a cat mean?

    A very gentle bite is a sign of intimacy in the feline world. As cats groom each other, they will often turn a lick into a gentle holding bite too. As long as your cat is relaxed, her tail isn't twitching and above all, the bite isn't forceful, she's probably telling you that she's enjoying the interaction. Very often, a cat will be licking your hand before and right after the love bite.

    How to tell love bites apart from aggressive biting?

    It's easy to confuse benign love biting with real aggressive biting. If you get bitten while petting Kitty, it's not necessarily an expression of affection.

    These may not be real "love bites" but actual aggression-derived bites or possibly playtime aggression. Even if your cat doesn't break the skin while biting, she may still be telling you to back off and stop petting her. Instead of a sign of intimacy, biting in this case falls under the category "petting-induced aggression".

    Kittens often turn a petting session into aggressive play, trying to grab your fingers and hands, claw at you and bite. They may also gnaw on your hand as a way to relieve teething discomfort. You should not confuse these behaviors with love bites. While they are just "kittens being kittens", it's important to gently teach your kitten that they are not allowed.

    For inexperienced cat owners, it can be difficult to tell the types of bites apart. Generally speaking, love bites are gentle and the cat tends to stop within a few seconds and get back to licking your hand. Aggressive biting (whether playtime-induced or petting-induced) tends to be more fierce and preceded by several warning signs, such as tail lashing and dilated pupils.

    Can you tell which type of biting is shown in this image?

    Experienced cat owners should be able to read the signs even from a still picture like this one. If you look at the cat's expression, you can see that the ears are flattened, the pupils are dilated and the cat is grabbing onto the hand with both teeth and claws. So, if you guessed this is aggressive biting, you were right. It doesn't matter whether or not it was initiated during petting or from rough play with the cat - at this point, it's aggressive biting.

    Never encourage a kitten or a cat to "rough play" with your hands. Sure, a tiny 5-week-old kitten looks cute when he tries to struggle with a human hand, but eventually those teeth and claws will become much stronger and it won't be as much fun. Even if you're willing to suffer through bites and scratches, this is stressful for your cat and is best avoided.

    Learning to read your cat's body language is key in determining what kind of biting you're dealing with. You can read more about petting-induced aggression - and how to avoid it - in our article about feline aggression toward people.

    Should you stop your cat from giving you "love bites"?

    If you're sure that these are love bites and they never escalate into actual aggression, then there's no harm in them. As far as your cat is concerned, these gentle bites are part of your mutual grooming ritual. Consider yourself very lucky! Not many cat owners reach this level of intimacy with their cat.

    However, if the bites are - or become - aggressive, or even if the cat becomes tense and seems uncomfortable, then you should no longer consider them "love bites". Aggression is never a positive thing in a relationship and for a cat to be properly bonded with her owner, it's best for all concerned if aggression is taken out of the equation.

    In order to wean your cat from biting your hands, you'll have to learn to read her body language and try to assess when she might be ready to bite. When you feel that your hand may be grabbed by those teeth, simply stop petting your cat and move your hand away.

    If you managed to stop in time and there was no teeth-to-skin contact, you can reward your cat with verbal praise and/or a treat. If you missed the exact moment, and ended up with a bite, just wait for your cat to let go of your hand, and move away.

    Never punish your cat or scold her. Click here to read more about why you should never punish a cat (and what can be done instead). As with any behavioral modification, consistency and patience are imperative, so stick to your decision and give your cat some time to figure out the new rules.

    Tell us about your cat's love bites in a comment! Need help telling love bites apart from aggression or help with dealing with any behavior issues? Post your question in the cat behavior forum.

    Share This Article

    1 person purraised this.

Comments

To make a comment simply sign up and become a member!
  1. catkin56
    Albert has gotten into the habit of nipping me from time to time and has broken the skin several times. I'm careful not to pet him in a way that might cause this, like reach over him or pet his hindquarters, but once he was on the bed and just ran up to me, bit me on the arm and ran away. I think he wanted to be fed.

    He is a very affectionate cat generally, likes to lie on my chest with his head near mine and sleeps in the crook of my knees or curled up next to my head, but the latter is now making me wary because once he bit me on the eyebrow.

    I have been looking for a house with my boyfriend. Albert stops us from sleeping when both of us are on the bed (he jumps around), and is going to have his own sleeping room with plenty of perches, kitty furniture etc. I hope he will adjust; he gets lots of attention and playtime, but I travel pretty regularly and am worried about him biting my bf. I just texted the cat-sitter after getting home from the trip and asked if he'd nipped her. She said unfortunately quite a lot and she had to use the water-squirter I left for her.

    I adopted Albert from Houston. His history said he was first found as a stray kitten on the streets. His previous mommy gave him up because he could not live with other cats, peed outside of the box in protest. Also he had been declawed when I dopted him.

    I know this post is kind of all over the place but I'm worried about this move. Maybe I should board him when I'm out of town, the vet has a nice setup. One last thing, the vet told me Alert could stand to gain a pound, and since I've upped his food he's been nippier.
  2. snuffy's mom
    My Snuff wakes me up at 5a.m.!!! with little bites on the end of my nose, she is 17 now and has been doing this since she was kitten..
  3. rickr
    Archie just licks; he never bites.  But Lucy give love bites all the time. Sometimes she will pull a finger into her mouth and gently nibble (probably because I weaned her from the bottle too early).  I find the behavior endearing.  It's one of her most precious traits.
  4. foxxycat
    My Honeybee gives love bites..she often licks our hands then nips then licks again but sometimes she does bite to say enough. The tail starts swishing before and her ears turn backwards but not flat. I can see her expression that she is annoyed. Normally she growls before the bite comes. Sometimes it's necessary for me to keep her on my lap despite her growling when it's time for her medicine. Normally I just gently pet her and put her red velvet blanket under her so she will start making biscuits and then I can give her puffs. But when the puffs are done she will let you know she is done by springing out of my arms as fast as she can.
  5. tarasgirl06
    Yes, an interesting article, and thank you for it.  Everyone's different, but for my part, I cherish those love nips.
  6. mservant
    Really interesting article.  Think I'm safe in saying Mouse has never given me a 'love bite', for him the biting has always been about attention when wanting to play.  Thankfully he learned quickly as a kitten that it was not OK to do this, and has never so much as hinted at biting anyone other than me.  I can imagine getting a little kitty 'love bite' could give someone a real fright if they are just getting to know their cat so great to have an article about this.
      dustydiamond1 purraised this.
  7. grooverite
    My cat Bugsy gives me a nibble when I over stimulate him with petting. Sometimes he'll give me a 'quick' bite with more pressure when I pet him too fast, too much. All my fault of course. Prolonged, gentle stimulation will eventually elicit a bite from him but now thanks to this article, I'm wondering if he's just giving me a love bite or a warning?! I'll have to pay closer attention next time!