Why Does My Cat Bite Me? Unprovoked Attacks Explained

A gray cat with green eyes biting a human hand
Diana Taliun/Shutterstock.com

Written by Angie Menjivar

Updated: October 14, 2022

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Cats are way too stinkin’ adorable. But their behavior can be puzzling. The question remains: Why does my cat bite me? Cats are temperamental, they’re known for being persnickety, and people who don’t know cats are often scared of them. If you’re a cat parent, you’ve come to recognize the different moods your cat exhibits. They’ll “groom” you by licking your hands, arms, legs, feet, or face if you let them! Those rough tongues don’t feel good on human skin, but you let them because you understand it’s their way of caring for you.

Kitties lay on your belly, purring away while making biscuits and suddenly you’re the bread factory. And when they fall asleep and you’re in an awkward position, you sacrifice your neck for their comfort. They’re too perfect to disturb! This is why you allow behaviors you don’t yet understand fully—like all those kitty bites. Some feel sweet and loving while others make you question what you could have possibly done to anger your little feline friend! Below, we explore the reasons why your cat bites you on different occasions and how you can circumvent the behavior when needed.

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Why Does My Cat Bite Me?

The most common reason your cat bites you is to express stress, fear, or frustration. You may just be doing too much! Ahh, we hate to hear it as cat parents but it’s true! Cats are easily overstimulated and when you’re petting too much, kissing too much, or hugging too much, your cat resorts to bites to let you know it’s enough. Cats have super sensitive nerve endings and although they may enjoy a few good scratches, pets, cuddles, and even kisses, they have a limited threshold.

We cover different instances when cats bite, but we can’t help but stress that cats bite only when they’re feeling like enough is enough. Obviously, a cat bites when feeling threatened but there are plenty of other occasions when your kitty may display those little fangs! They won’t come as a surprise to you when you know what they mean though.

Why Does My Cat Bite Me When I Pet Him?

Cats are funny this way. They come to you, nudging their sweet little faces against you to let you know you’re part of their herd. They claim you. And they want to be close to you. When you return the affection, it has to be comfortable for them. Honestly, cats are better at boundaries than humans. We could learn a thing or two from them!

Yes, pets feel good for your kitty but sometimes we go too hard. We may even be petting them in a way they don’t appreciate. Maybe your kitty loves head scratches but when you try to move toward her tummy, she turns on you. Pay attention to this feedback—the more you get to know what your kitty likes and doesn’t like, the more you can mitigate biting behavior.

Why Does My Cat Bite Me Softly?

Oh, the love bites. These are sweet, affectionate bites that don’t threaten to break your skin—they don’t even hurt you! They’re just little bites that communicate your cat’s affection for you. When mom cats groom their babies, they engage in this gentle biting behavior. They help her get the attention of her babies and aid with showing them love and affection. This is just an instinct kitties have that replicates what their momma’s taught them.

Why Does My Cat Bite Me Unprovoked?

We have to clarify here that cats don’t bite without provocation. The issue is that as humans, we don’t perceive the triggers as easily as cats do. For example, if your kitty is feeling neglected, she may use her teeth to let you know she needs more attention from you. If you’ve ever tapped on someone’s shoulder to get them to face you, then you know what this behavior is all about. They may not be able to harness the power of human verbal communication, but they are intelligent enough to get your attention!

Another reason cats may bite is to engage you with play. They may be saying something like “hello! Let’s do something together!” These bites grab your attention but they’re not hurtful. It feels more like a child tugging at your pants. It’s a sweet gesture meant to bring your energy forth for playtime.

There are some occasions, however, when cats bite based solely on their reflexes. For instance, if you scare your kitty, the natural instinct may be to bite for protection. A startle response is completely automatic and doesn’t allow your kitty to consider the circumstances. This is a rarer occurrence and has much to do with your kitty’s past. If she’s a rescue, she may be more prone to this type of startle response.

Okay, so those are some biting instances. But sometimes, bites aren’t quite bites—they’re more like little nibbles. You know the difference. Just like you want to squish your favorite fur babe, cats have a similar instinct. They control the power of their bite and nibble on you when they’re feeling oh-so in love with their favorite human. This is a good sign that they’re completely enamored with you.

Why Does My Cat Bite Me After Licking Me?

You are a part of your cat’s family and as such, you deserve to be groomed. When a cat likes you, she begins to engage in grooming behavior. Although your skin is not covered with fur, your kitty wants to ensure that you also get a good cleaning on a regular basis. If you have more than one cat, you’ve probably noticed that when they engage in grooming behavior, little bites are part of the process. If it’s just you and your cat, then you may just be like a much bigger, furless kitty to them. Therefore, it’s expected that they engage in similar behavior with you.

Aside from grooming behavior, these little bites are also a sign of affection. For cats, it’s completely normal for them to use their teeth with little bites to communicate their love for you. Your cat may actually be surprised if you respond aggressively because if the bite hurts, it’s not something they understand at the moment. However, you can let your cat know that this is unwanted behavior if it does actually hurt you. Cats don’t have the understanding that your skin is more delicate than theirs or that their cute little teeth are capable of serious damage. Especially when they’re in the moment with you, feeling relaxed and playful, they’re not trying to go in for a kill. Certainly, they know their capabilities but since they’re domesticated (particularly indoor cats), they tend to be a lot calmer overall.

To let your cat know when their bites are too much for you, simply say “no” firmly and withdraw from the grooming, petting, or play session. It’s ultimately the withdrawal of your attention and affection in that moment that lets your cat know that what she did is not okay. Cats don’t respond well to being hit or having water sprayed on them. Instead, just withdraw your attention and they’ll understand not to engage in the unwanted behavior. There’s nothing they want more than living in harmony with their favorite human counterparts and when they see that you’re not giving them the attention they crave, they’ll adjust their behavior to keep the connection with you.

Why Does My Cat Bite My Feet?

Cats have a hunting instinct and when they see your feet, especially if you’re wiggling your toes, that instinct takes hold of them. Your moving feet are like prey to them, and they get excited to catch their prey. This happens when you’re walking through a room or when you’re just resting on the couch or bed with your feet hanging off the edge.

Feet and toes are small enough to resemble natural prey for cats. If you’re a cat owner, you know that dangling your feet off the edge of any furniture surface is never safe. Although their hunting instinct does take over, your cat does understand that your feet aren’t actual prey, so they won’t attack ferociously. Instead, it becomes a little game of cat and mouse.

Since cats love pouncing, they may sometimes get carried away. To prevent accidental injuries to your feet from their claws or bites, redirect their attention to cat toys when they start playing with your feet. Just grab a cat fishing pole, catnip toys, or an electronic toy to keep their attention away from your feet and satisfy their desire for play.

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Why Does My Cat Bite My Nose?

This is just another sign of affection usually. When you are snuggling up with your cat and your faces are close to one another, your cat may lean over to gently nibble on your nose. This is a way of letting you know she feels close to you and trusts you. The type of bite is an important indicator. If it’s soft and gentle, then your cat is in a relaxed mood and is just enjoying time spent with you. However, if the bite feels aggressive, you may need to do a little more investigating to understand what your cat is trying to communicate with you.

Sometimes, a bite on the nose is an indication that your cat wants to engage in playtime with you. This is especially true for kittens because they still haven’t learned what is and is not appropriate behavior. Kittens are extremely playful and silly, and their antics may take you by surprise. If you want to mitigate this behavior, you can touch their nose gently but firmly and say “no.” Keep this correction consistent and eventually, your cat will understand that biting your nose is not allowed behavior.

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Why Does My Cat Bite Me When I’m Sleeping?

Typically, because she’s bored! The house is quiet, she’s not getting enough stimulation, and she wants you awake so she can play or snuggle. Cats have personalities that feel like those of mischievous children, even into their adult years. This behavior could also be their way of self-soothing when they’re not getting your attention or affection. Small bites along with biscuit-making are a way for cats to make themselves feel safe, and they do it next to you (sometimes on you!) because you’re their caretaker and they trust you.

Whether you had siblings or enjoyed sleepovers with friends as kids, you know what it’s like when your buddy starts falling asleep and you still have the energy to stay up, eat snacks, watch movies, and hang out. Cats feel that same sense of subtle frustration when their favorite human goes off into dreamland. Your eyes close, your body becomes still, and it can feel like you’ve left them. To keep themselves engaged and soothed, they turn to biting, pawing at you, meowing, zoomies, or making biscuits on your belly. Eventually, they soothe themselves enough to drift off into sleep with you. That’s why you often wake up and find your cuddly buddy on the bed snuggled up against you.

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How to Stop Cat Bites Gently

Although cat bites may sound intimidating, if you’re a cat owner, you know that this behavior is typically coming from a sweet, curious, and loving place. One of the ways to keep your cat from biting you, even during play or snuggle time, is by rewarding them for positive behavior. Your cat can play with you without using her claws and without using her teeth and when she does, you can reward her with a treat. With enough consistency, she’ll come to understand that you are rewarding her for gentle play.

The other technique we covered briefly above—is withdrawal. Withdrawal techniques are employed when you are engaged with snuggle or playtime with your cat and she starts biting. This is when you withdraw your attention from her, so she understands that something she did was inappropriate. Again, these techniques require consistency so that your kitty can come to understand your preferences for playtime.

Although your instinct may be to yell at or reprimand your cat after a particularly pointy bite, this behavior can actually stress out your cat. If your cat is stressed out by your harsh language, she may resort to hiding. If your cat doesn’t feel safe at home, she may also develop stress-related behaviors like grooming too much or going potty outside of the litter box. Some cats may even resort to aggressive behaviors If they feel threatened by you. That’s why it’s super important that you stay consistent with praising good behavior and withdrawing when appropriate behavior occurs.

Although cats don’t speak the same language as you, they always find ways to communicate their needs. One of the ways they do that is through biting. So long as you keep communication consistent with your cat, including rewards, you’ll develop a groove with one another that doesn’t require you speak the same language.

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About the Author

Angie Menjivar is a writer at A-Z-Animals primarily covering pets, wildlife, and the human spirit. She has 14 years of experience, holds a Bachelor's degree in psychology, and continues her studies into human behavior, working as a copywriter in the mental health space. She resides in North Carolina, where she's fallen in love with thunderstorms and uses them as an excuse to get extra cuddles from her three cats.

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