Why Don't You Love Me? Why Your Cat Is Giving You 'Love' Bites


This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Jacqui Victor BVSc MANZCVS (Medicine of Cats)

We've all been there; one minute you're having a nice moment patting your cat and then next - the love bite.

Try to keep in mind that when your cat bites you it's nothing personal! Most of the time this is just your cat's (not so polite) way of saying they would like a break, and it is best that we respect their wishes.

How Can I Avoid This?

Read the signs! Cats will generally give you warning signs before they attack, and learning to read your cat's body language is so important to ensure interactions between you and your cat are positive and safe.

Warning signs include:

  • Purring stops
  • Flattened ears that are rotated backwards
  • Dilated (widened) pupils
  • Twitching tail
  • Tense body
  • Hissing or growling

As soon as you see the first warning sign, stop stroking immediately! Your cat is telling you they have had enough, so it's best to give them their space by quietly removing yourself from the situation. Alternatively, you can distract them using toys to redirect their attention elsewhere. After this, let your cat be the one to re-approach you, which they will as soon as they are ready!

Keep petting sessions short and pause frequently to make sure your cat has the control over this interaction. As a general rule, when patting your cat it is always best to concentrate on the 'safe areas' like the forehead and cheeks, and avoid the 'danger zones' such as the belly.

Common Reasons for Love Bites

1. Overstimulation

When a cat reaches its threshold its survival instincts kick in. When cats feel too relaxed and comfortable, they get into a battle with themselves between enjoyment and potential danger which results in suddenly lashing out to escape the situation.

Each individual cat will have their own threshold, with some cats tolerating more petting than others. Understanding your cat's limits and preference of petting locations will help you avoid being an unfortunate target!

2. Play Aggression

As they grow up kittens will play fight, which may involve some enthusiastic rough wrestling, but is always interrupted if they become too violent. This is important in teaching kittens to test their boundaries so they learn how to play appropriately.

Play aggression is more commonly seen in kittens or young adults that are the only cat in the household who have not learnt to inhibit their biting when playing with their siblings, and so we as their owners become their unwilling victims!

Although it can be very tempting to play with your kitten with your fingers and hands, as they grow up this can become very dangerous! Wand toys are a great alternative to teach your kitten an acceptable way to play whilst keeping your fingers and hands safe! Reinforce these positive play sessions using your cat's favourite treats as a reward.

It is also important to provide adult cats with toys they can play with to allow them to express their natural hunting instinct, without causing you any bodily harm!

3. Redirected Aggression

In some instances, we as owners may sadly become the objects of redirected aggression - a perfect example of this is when an indoor cat suddenly attacks their owner when they see another cat through the window. As your cat cannot respond directly to the inciting cause (the cat outside), they unfortunately take this out on the closest target. Although our instinct may be to try to calm our cat down, it is best not to approach your cat during this time.

The best way to prevent this type of aggression is to remove or avoid the stimulus, however as this is not always possible, we can at least control what our cat sees (or doesn't see). An example includes keeping the curtains closed or the door shut into a room that looks out to where the neighbourhood cats like to hang out. Eliminating the scent of these visiting cats can also be helpful.

4. Fear-Induced Aggression

Fear-induced aggression is utilized as a survival mechanism when a cat feels threatened. This may be associated with an unfamiliar stimuli (such as a new person or animal in the house, noise or even a new experience such as a trip to the vet!). The "fight or flight" response of their sympathetic nervous system kicks in and if there's nowhere to run (flight) then their only other option is to fight. Again, it is best to calmly remove yourself in this situation and give your cat plenty of time to cool off.

Ensuring your cat has plenty of safe spaces to retreat when they feel the need, and making your home cat-friendly will help to reduce your cat's anxiety levels. The addition of Feliway, a calming pheromone, into your home is also a great way to help manage fear-induced aggression. Learn more about reducing anxiety in our feline friends by reading our helpful article - How To Reduce Anxiety in Cats

Unfortunately, in some cases aggression in cats may be due to illness or pain (particularly so if your cat has a sudden behavioural change), and these cases require a veterinary examination. For some felines, referral to a behavioural specialist may be required.

I Need a Doctor!

Usually cat bites are minor and don't puncture the skin. However, if your skin has been punctured then this may lead to an infection as cats' mouths harbor nasty bacteria. Young, old and immunocompromised people are particularly susceptible to cat bite infections. Always seek medical attention if you experience any swelling, redness, pain, fever or headaches after being bitten by a cat.

Although cats have their little quirks, remember we wouldn't have them any other way. By learning to read your cat's body language, respecting their limits and responding appropriately you are helping to foster the bond between you and your cat to be stronger than ever whilst keeping everyone safe.

Further reading

Keeping Indoor Cats Happy

Reducing Stress in Multi-Cat Households

Your Guide to Using Feliway

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