Cats are mysterious creatures. They exhibit a range of behaviors that seem to confuse us at times.
And one of the most confusing ones is when they casually bite and lick us, even when we’re showing them affection.
At first thought, you might think to yourself that your cat is angry at you. However, biting then licking does not always result from aggression.
Here’s a deeper look at this peculiar behavior and what it means:
Reasons why cats bite then lick
Bites from a cat are something that no owner enjoys. Even if they do not cause any physical harm, a nip from your feline friend can be alarming for a second. In rare cases, a bite can also pierce your skin or draw blood, but there is usually a message behind such instances as well.
Nevertheless, it’s important to realize that cats only bite their owners for two reasons; communication or as a signal to stop. The bite can also occur while you’re petting your cat or they’re slowly licking you. Here are some common reasons why cats bite their owners while licking:
1. They’re biting you as part of their grooming routine
We all know how cats groom themselves by licking their fur. However, when some hardened dirt or filth gets stuck in their coat, they will loosen it by biting, then pull it out with their tongue.
This grooming routine is a part of your cat’s nature and will be implemented on whomever they groom. Unfortunately, that can also mean you. You will usually notice this type of bite when your cat is relaxing in your lap and gently licking your hand or arm.
In reality, they are trying to groom you as they would groom any other kitten. When they bite, you will feel a nip at hand that could potentially hurt as their teeth are sharp. You might even suddenly pull your hand away, but the bite will never penetrate the skin or cause any serious harm.
You will notice that your cat remains calm after such biting incidents, even if you jump up a bit from the couch. This is a good sign as it shows that your pet nipped you out of affection and love.
2. They’re biting you out of excitement
If you’ve ever seen kittens play, you will recognize that it’s quite physical and involves a lot of biting and pouncing. This is a natural part of their training for the wild, where the littermates will practice defending themselves and learn how to catch their prey.
When it comes to humans, cats play in the same fashion and use both their paws and mouth. Even though they control their attack to avoid harming their owners, their teeth and claws sometimes get in the way.
Fortunately, these bites also rarely do any serious damage and would only leave some marks or a light scratch at best. But if the nipping happens repeatedly or cuts your skin, some training would be in order.
Another situation is where the cat would bite to signal that it wants to play. You would feel these bites when your cat is sitting idle but suddenly takes a nip and jumps up excitedly.
You can test your cat’s mood by throwing a toy at them. If they seem thrilled and follow-through by playing with the toy, chances are they wanted to communicate that they’re in the mood for some activity. If they don’t seem very pleased, they’re likely biting for the reason stated below.
3. They’re biting to stop the activity
It’s a well-known fact that cats are moody pets and prefer their own space compared to dogs. So as a cat owner, you shouldn’t expect anything different either. When a cat bites you out of nowhere, you should consider the possibility that it just wants you to stop whatever you’re doing and give it some time alone.
Such events will play out when your cat is relaxing in your lap or bed, and you’ve been stroking them for a long time. The cat might even lick you a bit, but if they bite, you should probably assess their body language before smothering them with kisses again.
A cat that has had enough attention will not be eager to get stroked again and could even growl or hiss at you when you try to touch them. Try to analyze their body language too; if their ears are pulled back and their pupils are dilated, it’s best to give the cat space and reapproach them after some time.
It’s worth noting that most cats will not adopt an aggressive body language or seriously injure their owners, even if they’ve been overstimulated. But a recently adopted or abused cat can become frightened or aggressive if you try to invade their personal space.
How to train cats to stop biting
If you’ve understood why cats bite people, you would likely want to know how to curb this behavior. Luckily, cats are intelligent pets and can easily be trained with patience and consistency. With the below tips, you too can train your cat to stop biting you or any other person:
1. Don’t use bare hands or feet during playtime
Most people are guilty of using their bare hands and feet to play with their cats. And unfortunately, these two body parts also receive the most bites and scratches. That’s because an excited cat with an instinct to bite will take a nip at whatever they find closest to them.
In order to control this habit, you must restrict your cat’s access to vulnerable body parts completely. And the first ones to protect are your hands and feet. Doing so will not only reduce the risk of sustaining deep wounds but will also help you while training your cat. Otherwise, they’ll think that biting humans is okay.
Wand toys and kicking toys are an excellent alternative to use instead of your hands. Their rapid movement imitates live prey and is highly appealing to cats. Your cat can also chew or scratch these toys as much as they want without harming anybody.
2. Use negative reinforcement to stop biting
Not using your hands to avoid bites is only half of the game. You also need to train your cat so they can control this instinct when interacting with humans. And for that, negative reinforcement works like a charm.
All you have to do is walk away from your cat every single time it bites you. This can be complemented with a firm “No” to remind your pet that biting is not okay. Whenever you repeat this phrase and remove yourself from the area, it will reinforce the concept that biting brings a halt in playtime. Eventually, your cat will associate nipping with a negative experience and learn to control their instinct naturally.
You can also use negative reinforcement if your cat has a habit of excessively pouncing at people. But we suggest you to experiment with reward training, as mentioned below.
3. Try rewards for not pouncing
A cat wanting attention or play will pounce at their owners, often following it with a bite or two. This can happen while you’re cooking, working on your laptop, or even as you’re entering your room.
In this scenario, a simple “No” in a firm voice, followed by a walkout will do just fine. However, we recommend using treats to train your cat not to pounce or bite. Just enter the room with your cat and wait for them to lunge at you. If they do, use a firm “No” and re-enter the room till they don’t pounce at you anymore.
When they stop, give them a treat and some verbal praises so they can associate staying put with a reward. This way, your cat will slowly learn not to pounce at you during important tasks.
4. Never pull your hand away if your cat bites
Whenever a cat chomps on our finger, our natural instinct is to pull away. But while we’re trying to move away from the pain, cats register this as an attempt to escape. As a result, they lock their jaws even harder and can potentially puncture your skin.
Fortunately, there’s a weird trick you can try that will force your cat to let go. Instead of pulling your finger out, gently push it further down their mouth. Since this is not like how a prey would respond, it will confuse your cat and cause them to open their jaw.
5. Avoid physical abuse completely
While training or disciplining your cat, never physically abuse them in any way. That’s because pets cannot feel regret and will view hitting as a form of aggression. With time, your cat will become stressed and bitter towards you. They will also engage in more biting and scratching to defend themselves.
What’s even more dangerous is that an abused cat will lash out at anybody, whether it’s an adult or a child. They will become more physical and cause frequent puncture wounds, which is counterintuitive to your original goal.
6. Make sure that everyone knows the training rules
A common mistake that cat owners make while training is not being on the same page. You could be executing positive reinforcement perfectly, but if other members of your households are not following the same rules, your cat will receive mixed signals and get confused.
Make sure that every family member reduces access to exposed body parts and responds the same way when your cat accidentally nips them. This way, your cat will learn quicker and be more consistent with their reaction.
Are cat bites dangerous?
While playful bites by cats are rarely dangerous, a deep one that penetrates the skin should be treated immediately to prevent infections. If you see blood, put pressure on the bite and wash it with soap and water to draw out bacteria. It is also crucial to visit a doctor afterward so they can properly clean your wound and administer a tetanus booster if yours is out of date.
At what age do cats stop biting?
A kitten that is going through teething will stop biting when they become 12 months old. However, there’s no guarantee that they won’t nip you out of affection or to convey a message.
Do cats feel regret?
No, cats cannot feel regret or remorse for their bad behavior. However, they do sense anger and happiness by the tone of your voice. That’s why we recommend using verbal praises or warnings to teach your cat the difference between right and wrong.
Should you use spray bottles to train your cat?
No, spraying your cat with water is non-effective and only teaches them to fear their owners. When you’re not around, the cat will engage in the same behavior as it associates the punishment with your presence. Instead, use positive reinforcement like treats or verbal praises to teach your cat not to bite people gradually.