Last Updated on: October 5, 2020
Cat owners the world over know that cats can be unpredictable creatures. One minute you’re having a nice cuddle on the sofa, and the next they lash out. It seems completely random, but cats seldom do things without reason- it’s just that it can be hard for us to work out exactly what’s going on.
Cats are quite highly-strung creatures. They evolved as hunters, but are small enough that they are also preyed upon by larger creatures. This means they’re anxious and uncomfortable in new situations, but highly intelligent and need lots of stimulation. Most feline behaviors can be explained by reference to their wild ancestors.
Why Does My Cat Bite Me?
Even though it seems to come out of the blue, your cat is likely giving you some sort of signs that they’re going to bite; you may just be missing them because cat signaling is so subtle. Determining what’s causing your cat to lash out is the first step to fixing it.
For many cats, aggression is rooted in fear and anxiety. These cats will give the strongest warnings before lashing out, but for some cats that can still be subtle enough to be missed. Cats that flatten their ears, growl, hiss, swish their tails or back away when being petted are showing signs of fear; some will bite, and others will lash out with their claws. Neither is nice!
However, it’s important to learn to look for these signs. Even cats that don’t usually lash out and appear to be “putting up with” being petted can learn that their polite requests for you to back off go ignored – and next time they might not ask so nicely.
Many cats that bite out of the blue are actually trying to play. Often, these cats have been inadvertently taught as kittens that hands or feet are fun play toys. This is because it’s quite sweet when a little kitten attacks your feet under the blanket or ‘catches’ and chews on your hands…but If this isn’t stopped, they may grow up thinking that a fast-moving hand or foot is perfect to practice their hunting skills on.
Some cats will bite as a form of communication; these cats usually want attention. They’ve learned that by biting, they get something they want. This might be to go outside or feeding; they might even just want some fuss. It can be very hard to predict when these cats will strike, but the important thing to do is to make sure that you don’t give in to them. In your cat’s mind, “I bite, then I get fed” is very closely linked.
In a study into feline biting in Brazil, it was found that around 50% of cats bite unpredictably. Most of these cats bit in the context of petting – they’d be purring, seemingly enjoying a cuddle and then – BAM! – they’d bite. The theory put forward by the researchers is that some cats can be over-stimulated by petting, and it puts them into a heightened emotional state. These cats love being cuddled…right up until they don’t anymore.
One major miscommunication between cats and owners is with regards to your cat’s tummy. It’s surprisingly common for owners to get bitten while stroking their cat’s belly, and every time they say “but he rolled over asking me to pet him!”. This is a major species miscommunication. To cats, rolling over and showing their belly is a sign of trust. They’re saying, “I love and trust you, so I show you the most vulnerable part of me.” Next thing they know, we’re sticking our great big hands all over them, betraying their trust. Although there are always exceptions to the rule, most cats really would rather you didn’t touch their bellies, and they show them to you only to indicate, from afar, how much they trust you.
6. Pain or Illness
If your previously loving cat suddenly starts biting, seemingly for no reason, and you don’t think any of the scenarios above apply, it’s possible that they are in pain, or are ill. Cats that are usually loving may lash out if they feel threatened. This can happen if they have arthritis or an injury, and they’re concerned that you touching it will be painful. It might also happen if they have heart disease or lung disease, and breathing becomes more of a priority – any extra weight on their chest, although it seems little to us, can cause them concern and they may lash out to defend themselves.
7. Old age
Sometimes, old cats get dementia-like symptoms. They may change sleeping patterns, yowl, and “lose” you within the house, crying until they find you. They may also change to being more aggressive. Most cats are diagnosed with hyperthyroidism or high blood pressure, and recover symptoms with medication. Some retain dementia-like symptoms, although a dietary change can help brain function.
How Can I Stop My Cat From Biting Me?
Once you’ve got to the bottom of the problem affecting your cat, it’s time to stop them biting. The first thing to do is to provide a physical barrier- thick, full-length clothing and shoes, even in the house, are ideal. You may even need to wear gloves when doing whatever it is that sets your cat off. You’ll then need to deal with the root of the problem. Biting can be difficult to deal with. Your vet may recommend that you contact a feline behaviorist – this may even be done remotely, over video consultation.
What Should I Do If My Cat Bites Me?
Cat bites are dangerous if they break the skin. They can be deep and spread many bacteria into your body. I have been hospitalized from a cat bite to the hand (a less-than-grateful patient!). You should see your own doctor for antibiotics if your cat breaks the skin. Scratches can also spread disease. Clean even shallow scratches with antibacterial soap and visit your doctor if you feel ill or if you’re concerned by the size or depth of the scratch.
Featured Image: Crina Doltu from Pexels
Joanna is an experienced vet working in the UK. She has written about pets and pet health for many websites, blogs, and pet magazines and loves to help owners understand their pets through her writing.