Petting-Related Biting

Many cats enjoy being stroked– they purr, knead their paws, and lean into your hand. Sometimes it seems they quickly change their minds and bite out of the blue. Other cats only briefly tolerate petting and show no indication of actually liking it. Why do otherwise friendly cats bite when pet? The answer – we aren’t sure. Repeated stroking might stimulate the nerves to a point that it becomes uncomfortable for the cat. Some cats may have been handled roughly as kittens and formed a negative association with petting. Regardless, there are steps you can take to increase the amount of petting your cat will accept.

Almost all cats who have petting-related aggression give a warning before they bite, though the warning may be subtle or quick. Common signs include tensing the body, becoming still, wagging the tail, rippling the muscles, and flattening the ears. A more exaggerated sign is quickly turning the head toward the area that is being touched. You need to know how long it takes to get to this point or if there are certain places on the cat’s body that will elicit these reactions, as this is where training will start.

Let’s say that your cat is content when you pet her five times but on the sixth her tail wags and she will bite after eight or nine strokes. Pet your cat five times and then give her a treat. Wait a few minutes and then repeat. Do this every time you pet your cat for the next several days, then do six strokes and give a treat. Gradually increase the number of times you pet her before you give a treat.

Make sure that all handling is gentle. Do no pat your cat or stroke her in the opposite direction of fur growth. Never hit or yell at your cat for biting. This will only reinforce in her mind that hands cause pain and she will become even less tolerant of handling. She could also become afraid of you. If your cat does bite, simply stop touching her and ignore her for 5 or 10 minutes. If she is on your lap and remains agitated, don’t try to pick her up. Stand up and she will jump to the floor.

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