Ask Ms. Kitty: Cats that bite – love nips or not?
By Carole Galloway
Dear Miss Kitty,
My one-year-old cat, Thor, is biting me all the time. He can be super sweet and then, out of nowhere, he will bite when I’m walking by him or even just sitting on the sofa.
Bitten in Burlington
Cats bite for many different reasons. Some of the most common are boredom, lack of training, and overstimulation. So, we need to understand why he is biting to solve this behavior.
Your first step is to make sure Thor isn’t biting because he’s in pain. Cats can hide their illnesses, so please see your vet to rule this out.
Thor is lunging and biting as you walk by him because he is bored. Anything that moves becomes a target for playtime!
Young, indoor cats need several vigorous play sessions throughout the day. Figure out what time of day these attacks occur most often and then start the play session 20 to 30 minutes earlier.
Use an interactive wand toy to entice him to play and get him to chase it vigorously for 10 minutes or more.
For lots of ideas on how to play, what toys to buy, and enriching your cat’s environment, we suggest these other Ask Ms Kitty articles:
Play with Your Cat: http://bit.ly/playwithcat
Enrich Your Kitty’s Environment: http://bit.ly/enrichcat
Lack of Training
Sometimes owners make the mistake of allowing their kitten to play with their hands and “play bite”. At first, this can seem like fun, harmless play, but when the kitten grows up the little nips become painful bites. Your cat won’t understand why suddenly your hands are off limits.
If this is the case with Thor, you will have to re-train him not to bite hands or any part of you. The most important rule is that everyone in the household will have to consistently follow the training process and always use positive reinforcement.
When Thor is biting during playtime, say “ow”, stand up and put yourself in time out. Have a designated room, go in, and shut the door for 2 or 3 minutes.
This technique is effective because what Thor really wants is attention and playtime with you. When he bites and you stop playtime, he isn’t getting what he wants.
Return to play and praise him when he is not biting. You have to be very quick and catch him doing the right behavior, which is playing and not biting.
From this point forward, reward him with more play when he doesn’t bite. You can even give a small treat a couple of times during the play session to further encourage no biting.
If Thor bites, immediately say “ow” and put yourself in time out again.
Remember, the key to re-training is always being consistent and using positive reinforcement so he learns which behavior is good and gets rewarded.
The most common scenario of a cat feeling overstimulated is petting induced aggression.
Each cat is different but a certain percentage get overstimulated easily and will strike out, usually with a bite, when they are pet past their level of comfort.
It can seem like the cat is striking out with no warning. However, he has probably given you a sign but not one that you understood. He may have dilated his pupils, whipped his tail a few times, or tilted his ears back.
To a cat these are all clear signs that you need to stop. Since you didn’t stop, his biting is the only way left that he knows how to tell you.
To prevent this type of biting, pet two or three times and then stop. Over a period of several days, increase by one or two pets if your cat is relaxed and indicating that he is enjoying more attention. If he never wants more than two or three pets, then accept this as his limit.
These are some basic reasons that cats bite their guardians, but there are more complex ones as well. If these measures don’t work, please consider contacting a behavior consultant for your kitty.
Ask Ms Kitty is a free helpline offered by Happy Cats Haven, managed by Colorado CATS, and originally sponsored by Maddie’s Fund. If you need help with your cat’s behavior, go to HappyCatsHaven.org/helpline/.
Carole Galloway is the owner of Colorado CATS, a luxury cat only boarding facility in Colorado Springs that opened in 1995. Carole has cared for thousands of cats over the years and has worked as a professional Cat Behavior Consultant for the past 15 years.