Some cats will bite us out of aggression and irritation, but if you’re worried that their nibbling is becoming a bit of a habit then read on to learn how to stop a cat from biting and why they’re doing it in the first place.
Why do kittens bite?
Biting is normal behaviour for a kitten, as they’re born predators and start developing hunting instincts after a few weeks of age. However, while biting is a kittens form of play, it’s important to teach them that biting human skin isn’t acceptable.
"People often make the mistake of letting their kitten bite their fingers and toes," says clinical animal behaviourist Nicky Trevorrow, Behaviour Manager at Cats Protection. "A few months later the kitten has adult teeth and a stronger bite, and what was a fun game isn’t fun anymore."
It’s therefore important you set an example from the start and redirect biting behaviour onto appropriate toys instead.
Kittens are stimulated by movement and can learn three styles of hunting by interacting with their mother and siblings:
• Catching something moving along the floor like a mouse.
• Catching something fluttering like a moth.
• Clasping something between front paws and teeth while ‘bunny kicking’ it with hind legs like a rabbit.
Provide toys that offer all three types of play and hunting behaviours, such as a wind-up mouse, a fishing rod with feathers, and a catnip kick-bag. It is also important to pay attention that they do not go for your fingers and toes to establish the behaviour early on.
If your adult cat is biting the most common reason is that they are in pain.
"Cats are masters of masking when they’re sick or injured," says Nicky Trevorrow, "If your cat bites out of nowhere, take her to the vet to check for medical problems. Keep a diary of your cat’s biting behaviour and give the vet a full history."
It is common to mistake fearful or anxious behaviour in cats for anger. "While cats share some human emotions, including fear, anxiety and frustration, they don’t bear malice or experience jealousy as we do," explains Nicky.
Therefore, when a cat starts biting people when a new baby or partner arrives, it means that they are anxious about the change, not jealous of the new person.
Another myth is that cats bite to assert dominance. "Although cats in the wild might compete for resources, they don't battle for dominance," Nicky explains. "So, don’t think you need to be 'top dog' over your cat."
Your cat may be biting you because:
• They have redirected aggression towards another cat they could see outside, and their cortisol level could be raised for an hour or so. This may result in aggressive behaviour out of nowhere.
• If you are grooming your cat and they bite you it is because cats generally groom one another or themselves so a nip from your cat is their way of saying, ‘that’s enough.’
• Cats can occasionally bite for attention or if they need something. An attention-seeking bite is usually a painless mouthing, without the body language of flattened ears, thumping tail of an aggressive bite.
"Cats don’t understand right and wrong," says Nicky. "Never tell your cat off or punish her for biting. She won’t understand, and it can be detrimental to the cat-owner bond."
How to stop a cat from biting
It's best to give your cat coping mechanisms, so they are less likely to exhibit aggressive behaviour. As well as giving them toys for biting, it is important to provide safe places around the home where your cat can retreat undisturbed when worried.
Here are some techniques to use that will help teach your cat to stop biting humans.
1. Avoid using your hands or feet to wrestle with a cat that is being too forceful with its teeth
If you do this it encourages them to become aggressive. So do not use gloves with toys hanging from the fingers because it doesn't teach your cat not to bite your hands. Always use a toy between your hands and your cat's mouth during playtime.
Wand toys can control them from far away so your cat cannot reach you when playing. You can move the toy to make it look like a cat's prey, which they love.
Throw toys to keep a distance between you and your pet.
Kick toys are useful to get the biting and kicking out of their system. Long toys like these cigars or these body pillows work well for this purpose.
Here are some options for a wand toy, throw toy and kick toy.
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2. Use withdrawal techniques
If your cat bites you when playing, firmly say 'no' and stop the game. That way every time your cat's teeth touch human skin and playtime ends your cat will learn to stop biting.
3. Never yell or hit your cat for play biting
This will cause your cat to stress, which may result in them becoming fearful. If stressed cats can urinate outside of the litter box or begin to show sincere aggression toward you and others.
4. Be aware of your hands
Kittens or adult cats find our hand movements tempting if we are writing, typing on a keyboard, or doing other things that bring attention to our fingers, which can cause them to pounce.
If your cat pounces on your hands when busy, firmly say "no," remove your hands, and throw an appropriate toy away from yourself. Praise your pet when he runs after and plays with the toy.
5. Don't pull away too abruptly if a cat bites your hands or feet
Although this may seem against the point, try not to pull your hand or foot away when your cat bites as they will react similarly to when prey is trying to get away. This can trigger your cat to chase and attach even harder.
The best thing to do is, try to push into your cat gently, which is not how prey acts. This should confuse your cat a bit and will get them to let go.
Tips for training your cat
Cats are quite trainable if you keep a few things in mind. It is important to always have patience and show kindness to your cat. Remember that you are asking your cat to do something that doesn't come instinctively to them.
Praise your cat when it does what you want them to do with treats and positive gestures.
If you only reprimand bad behaviour without showing your cat what to do instead, your training won't get very far.