OW! Why Some Cats Bite When You Pet Them

April 27, 2010
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Cats, like us, have limitations as to how much they want to be touched. Each cat you meet or own will have their own limit of how long they want to be petted, carried, snuggled, hugged, or tormented. Well, ok, we shouldn’t torment our cats. But sometimes it’s fun to tease them a little.

Some cats will jump on your lap any chance they get while others will come over now and then and walk away when they’ve had enough or want to go sit somewhere else.

What about when your cat turns and swats and bites your hand? What does it mean?

If your cat shows some aggression after being pet for a few minutes that often means it is a social cat who likes affection, but the tolerance level and stimulation of it is overwhelming. While the swat and bite might seem to come out of nowhere it is your cat’s way of saying, “STOP! TOO MUCH!” There are subtle language cues that lead up to this but it’s not always noticed by us.

Cats do not have body language that is as easy to read or watch as dogs. Some of their emotions are transmitted via scent glands that we cannot smell. But you may notice the ears flatten and a little tail twitching. Your cat might even fidget a little and turn its head to look at your hand a few times. But it may also keep purring and look like it is enjoying the attention, and it is but it’s just getting to be too much.

Imagine if someone kept rubbing one spot on your arm over and over again, you may also start to feel irritated there. So it’s best to pet your cat in a calm manner, don’t pat, and try to vary a little.

Kittens who are socialized very well may not exhibit this behavior as adults because they will be used to human touch. You can read about how to pet a cat.

Kittens and cats who are not very social may not tolerate affection for long periods of time even if they do like you and rub against your leg, sit on your lap, and follow you around.

Things to never do:

Do not yell or punish the cat.
Do not push the cat off your lap.
Do not make your cat’s communication with you become something that is unwanted. 

Your cat may become less social with your over time if you punish him or her for trying to let you know they don’t like the way you are petting them. If your cat swats, give it a few minutes and let them readjust.

If your cat wants to be pet again or seems to want affection, try something else like scratching the back of the head near the neck or under the chin and alternate that with a few strokes down the back. Some cats who love to be pet will become so relaxed that they will close their eyes, purr, and let their tongue sip out a little.

Respect your cat’s boundaries and if petting never becomes a way to share affection, then your cat to share affection in other ways like playing with toys, lounging on the couch next to you, sleeping on the bed, and knowing that your cat just likes to be near you.


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