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. Whatever the reason may be, there are steps that can be taken to help ease your cat’s petting-related biting. 

Health Check:  Before anything else, it is important to consult your veterinarian to rule out any potential medical issues that may be contributing to your cat’s petting-related biting. 

Signs of petting-related aggression:

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.

If your cat is reacting aggressively to only a specific area being pet and this is a new response, stop petting there and consult your veterinarian to rule out any possible medical issue. If your cat has always reacted negatively to being pet there the simplest solution is to refrain from petting your cat there. For instance, most cats don’t like having their bellies pet and it is easy enough to avoid doing so. If, however, you are adamant about petting your cat in this spot you can increase the cat’s tolerance but lightly touching that spot and then giving a treat or moving to pet an area that your cat adores. Do this about one dozen times (not necessarily all in one sitting) and then hold your finger on the spot for a second or two before reinforcing. Proceed to doing one short stroke with your finger and treating once the cat has been repeatedly comfortable with slightly prolonged touches. Gradually increase the number of times you pet the cat in that spot, perhaps interspersed with petting in the cat’s preferred spots. 

If your cat becomes restless and bites you no matter what area you are petting, take note on how long it takes exactly for them to get agitated. 

After identifying how many pets it takes, start feeding her tasty treats right before she becomes agitated. For example, if 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.
Repeat this process each time you pet your cat for the next several days, then add in another stroke and give a treat. Gradually increase the number of times you pet her before you give a treat.

Always handle your cat, and any other animal, gently and carefully. Do not pat your cat or stroke her in the opposite direction of her fur growth. 

Never hit or yell at your cat for biting. This will only reinforce in her mind that hands cause pain or that petting isn’t enjoyable 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.

If you would like information from an Anti-Cruelty Society Behavior Specialist regarding this behavior topic, please call 312-645-8253 or email help@anticruelty.org.

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