Cats have never heard – nor would they understand – the idiom “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” In fact, it might seem like biting your hand is one of your cat’s favorite things to do. Despite the fact that this animal behavior is completely normal, it’s not pleasant for those on the receiving end, and you might be wondering how to get a cat to stop biting.
Many cat parents want to know the best way to calm a cat and prevent or at least reduce all kinds of biting, including play biting and love bites. Let’s look at why cats bite, how to react when your cat does this, and the best ways to keep your cat calm and mitigate this behavior.
The Most Common Reasons for Cat Bites
Understanding the reason why a cat bites is an important starting point for stopping this behavior. Here are some things to know about what motivates a cat to bite your hand:
- Kittens bite for different reasons than adult cats
- Adult cats might bite to assert dominance
- A stressed cat may bite to stop an activity they’re displeased with, like brushing or nail trimming
- Some cat bites are for attention
Kittens May Not Realize That Biting Hurts
Kittens learn a lot of important social behavior from their mothers and other adult cats. This is why it’s so important not to take a kitten away from its mother until it’s really ready, which is around eight weeks old at the earliest. Kittens require more patience than adult cats, especially if they haven’t had a chance to learn appropriate social behaviors from their mother or another cat.
A kitten doesn’t know that biting hurts until it learns that from another cat. It’s also important to remember that kittens – not unlike human babies – use their mouths to discover the world and learn about things. Plus, kittens often bite or chew because they are cutting new teeth.
So the cat nips, play bites, and love bites of a kitten or young cat are far more acceptable than those of an adult cat. Kittens are often biting for different reasons than adult cats, and some of that explorative biting needs to be accepted.
Biting Is a Dominance Move in Adult Cats
One reason an adult cat might bite you is to assert dominance. Especially if a cat has had the experience in the past of a human “surrendering” when they bite, they may learn that this is how to assert themselves in the hierarchy of the household. Cats who bite for this reason can be especially problematic in houses that have multiple animals.
Cat Bites Might Be the Result of a Stressful Situation
Cats undergo stress in their daily lives, and biting might be a way for them to try and end that stress or cope with it. Often, humans will stop whatever they are doing when their cat starts biting their hand. This teaches the cat that biting is an effective way to cease an unpleasant activity, such as nail clipping, bath time, or being put in the cat carrier for a trip to the vet.
Play Biting and Love Bites Can Be a Cry for Attention
While some cats meow sweetly and rub against you for attention, other cats might bite to communicate with you that they want to play or be stroked. If the bite comes out of nowhere, attention might be the motivating factor. A cat who bites for attention also might bite you and then follow up with rubbing their head on you or bringing you a toy to play with.
How to React When Your Cat Bites
Here are some tips for how to stop a cat from biting:
- Everyone who interacts with the cat should be consistent in their reaction to biting
- Never use your hands as toys
- Push towards the bite, don’t pull away
- Provide plenty of toys and offer them when your cat starts biting
- Praise your cat when they use a soft mouth
Consistency Is Key With Any Kind of Cat Training
Regardless of what you’re teaching your cat to do or not do, all the humans who interact with the cat need to present a unified front. If you react one way when your cat bites and your teenager reacts differently, your cat will be confused and it’s very unlikely they’ll learn not to bite.
Once you’ve decided how you’re going to react to your cat biting, make sure everyone is on the same page and willing to implement the training program. If you have visitors who want to play or interact with the cat, let them know your cat can be prone to biting and inform them of what to do when your cat bites.
Cats Bite Toys, so Your Hand Should Never Be Used as a Toy
It can be tempting to play with your cat using only your hands, swiping them across the carpet, and watching your furry friends give chase. But this teaches your cat that your hands are a toy that they can pounce upon, bite, and scratch freely. Using your hands as toys encourages biting behavior in cats.
Never use your hands or clothing as a plaything while engaging with your cat. Your body parts and clothes should be off limits for play. Always use toys.
Resist the Urge to Pull Away from a Cat Bite
Of course, when your cat sinks their teeth into your hand, your first instinct will be to jerk your hand away. Those cat bites hurt! But this pulling motion inspires a deep instinct in your cat to hold on and keep biting, as they would to prey that was wiggling and trying to escape.
Instead, when your cat bites, push into their mouth with whatever body part or piece of clothing they’ve latched onto. This is not what they expect and will surprise them into releasing their bite so you can get on with other redirective behavior.
Cat Toys Will Discourage Biting Behavior
It’s very important to have a diverse selection of interactive cat toys for your feline friend. Cats need a lot of mental stimulation as well as physical play, so having a good range of different kinds of toys will keep them engaged and ensure that your hands stay bite-free.
If your cat bites, redirect them to a toy they can play with. This indicates that the toy is okay for their sharp teeth, but your hand is not.
Encourage and Reward Soft Mouthing Behavior
As a replacement for biting, your cat might place a soft mouth on your hand in an effort to play. This animal behavior should be rewarded and praised because your cat has found their own alternative to biting.
When you notice your cat placing their mouth on you without any pressure, speak softly to them, smile, and use positive reinforcement to show them that this is acceptable behavior. This will encourage them to use this gentle move instead of hard biting.
How to Treat a Cat Bite
If your cat bites you, a family member, or another pet and the bite breaks the skin or draws blood, you need to act quickly. Here’s how to treat a cat bite:
- Flush out the wound
- Wash with water and soap
- Go to the doctor or veterinarian
- Watch for signs of infection
Immediately After a Cat Bite, Press Around the Wound to Flush Out Bacteria
The major risk with a cat bite is infection. Cats’ mouths carry a number of bacteria, and about three quarters of cat bites end up infected.
When a cat has bitten a person or animal and broken the skin, the first thing you should do is flush that wound by pressing on the edges of it. This will make it bleed more, and it might hurt, but by pushing out fresh blood you may be removing some of the bacteria that came from the bite.
Gently Wash the Cat Bite with Water and Soap
Being mindful of the fact that the wound is probably painful, clean it with cool running water and mild soap. It doesn’t necessarily need to be antimicrobial or antibacterial soap – just whatever non-irritating soap you have on hand. Use a clean cloth (preferably not a paper towel, which may stick to the wound) to dry off the cat bite.
If the Bite Appears Serious or Deep, See a Doctor
If the cat bite is large or deep, you may need to visit a doctor or take the pet that was bitten to the veterinarian. They might prescribe antibiotics or stitch up the wound. If you aren’t sure whether you should visit a medical professional, it’s always best to err on the side of caution.
Monitor the Cat Bite for Signs of Infection
Some of the bacteria that might enter a person or animal’s bloodstream from a cat bite include staph, strep, and pasteurella. You can also get cat scratch fever from a cat bite. It’s very important that you keep an eye on the bite after you’ve cared for it, and even after a doctor has attended to it.
While it’s normal for a serious cat bite to be uncomfortable for several days, it should not be red or inflamed, oozing, or hot to the touch. If the pain around the wound increases dramatically or the bitten individual develops a fever, consult a doctor or veterinarian immediately.
How to Calm a Cat and Stop Biting Behavior
One of the best ways to stop biting behavior is to ensure your cat has a steady, predictable environment so they can remain calm and composed. Here are tips for how to calm a cat and reduce stress-related biting behaviors:
- Establish a predictable daily routine for your cat
- Support them with calming wellness tools
- Ensure they are getting enough sleep, play, and proper nutrition
Routines Can Improve Your Cat’s Calm Maintenance
One of the best ways to calm a cat is by providing them with a predictable daily routine. Cats are habitual creatures, and they like to be prepared. Your cat should know their environment well, and changes to their schedule should generally be avoided when possible. Meal times play times, and nap times should remain relatively consistent so your cat feels safe and confident and knows what to expect.
Wellness Tools Can Support a Cat’s Calm Demeanor
If your cat needs a little extra support in remaining chill, you can try to incorporate additional relaxing ingredients into their daily diet. Some cats benefit from the sleep-promoting qualities of melatonin. Another option is CBD oil for cats, which might also help your feline friend feel physically comfortable and prepared to handle various stress triggers. Talk to your veterinarian about supplements and wellness tools that can help your cat stay calm throughout the day so they can enjoy themselves and be less prone to biting.
Food, Play, and Sleep Are Crucial for a Relaxed and Happy Cat
If you’re noticing your cat is biting often from stress or seems especially irritable, it might be because they aren’t getting proper nutrition, enough sleep, or enough mental and physical stimulation. Your cat needs a well-balanced diet that’s appropriate for felines, and cats also need to sleep a lot.
A cat who is having their nap schedule or sleep schedule interrupted may be grouchy, tired, and more likely to bite. Likewise, a cat who is not burning enough energy during the day may be bored and restless, which could cause them to bite for attention. Keeping your cat properly fed, exercised, and rested will reduce negative biting behavior.
Make Cat Bites a Thing of the Past
Now you know how to get a cat to stop biting and improve the safety and happiness of yourself, your human family members, and other pets. With proper training, scheduling, and some calming tools, you can help keep kitty relaxed and confident so they don’t feel the need to bite – for attention or otherwise.