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A cat biting a person‘s finger.

The essentials

  • Cats bite for a lot of reasons, and not all are bad — Play, love, and attention-seeking bites are all non-aggressive forms.
  • Kitty training has five important parts — Calm, quiet, and familiar settings are very important for training sessions.
  • Cat bites can be dangerous if the skin is broken — Flush out and wash the wound, then seek medical attention from a doctor and watch for any signs of infection.

Loving a cat with a biting problem is more than just a little difficult and stressful; it can break a once beautiful bond between cat and human. As hard as it may be, try not to take what your kitty is doing personally. Remember that biting is an instinctive way for cats to communicate, and your cat may just be trying to tell you something.

Why cats bite

Cats use biting as a means of communicating along with other body language. While kittens use biting as more of a way to explore, adult cats generally bite as a self-defense tool for reasons such as anxiety or fear, pain, frustration, instincts, or end-of-life complications.

A kitten playing with a toy.

Kitten play

Kittens learn through interactions with their mother, siblings, and other adult cats which behaviors are acceptable and appropriate and which ones aren’t. A part of this predatory play includes skills like grabbing and biting. If your kitten was taken from their litter too young, they may not even realize that their bites hurt. If that’s the case, then it’s now up to you to teach your kitten what it looks like to play nice.

When you play with a kitten with your hands or feet, the kitten may react as if your hands and feet are prey.

Anxiety, fear, or stress

When a cat is feeling threatened, it will give warning signs to let you know that something is wrong. If those warning signs, such as flattening their ears, puffing out their fur, and arching their back, are ignored then the cat may resort to biting instead.

👉 This bite isn’t done in malice. It’s the only way the cat has left to tell you that you didn’t respect a boundary. 

All cats should have a space that is theirs to help lower their anxiety level. A private space like a cat tree or tower, a cozy nook, or even a cat room where they know they can go to be alone for a little bit. We all need time alone and cats are no different, they just don’t have the ability to verbalize this.

Disease and pain

Just as some people want to be left alone when in pain from an injury or illness, cats feel the same. If your cat has a medical condition like arthritis, headaches, or an injury, then it may react to petting with a bite – just as we might snap at a well-meaning loved one.

Other health issues like certain heart and lung conditions can make breathing difficult enough that any extra weight, even if it’s just your hand, may cause your cat to lash out . Something like feline leukemia virus is an example of what could cause your cat to bite because this disease can cause abscesses which would be painful if touched. Here are some other health conditions that might cause your cat to lash out.

  • Adrenal dysfunction . Hypoadrenocorticism, or Addison’s disease , is a condition that keeps the adrenal glands from producing enough steroids causing the cat to not be able to effectively fight infection.
  • Cognitive dysfunction . As cats age, they start to lose some of their reasoning and awareness. This can cause an increase in confusion, anxiety, irritability, and spatial disorientation.
  • Thyroid abnormality . Most commonly, hyperthyroidism is found in cats, but hypothyroidism can be as well due to the removal or destruction of the thyroid gland in the treatment of hyperthyroidism.
  • Neurological disorders . These include a wide variety of neurological issues and conditions that may be life-threatening to your cat. These can include cognitive dysfunction syndrome, which is similar to Alzheimer’s disease but for cats, which can ultimately result in dementia.

🚨 If there’s been a sudden change in your cat’s behavior, make sure to plan a vet visit to rule out serious issues.


A bite out of frustration is not much different than a person lashing out in anger during a frustrating situation. It’s not a personal thing against you. These situations can include a cat-on-cat spat that you try to diffuse and end up with displaced aggression.

It may also include your cat trying to get to something that it can’t reach, like a bird or another cat outside the window, and becoming frustrated by it. When you try to remove your cat from the situation, they may bite.

Induced by petting

If petting your cat sometimes causes them to bite, it may just be something as simple as the cat becoming physically overstimulated. Cats usually tell us through body language when they need us to stop, but sometimes we don’t pick up on it. While petting-induced biting may sound scary, this is in no way meant to be mean or aggressive, it’s just simply your cat’s way of saying enough is enough.

Misdirected instincts

Cats are predators and good ones at that, so it comes as no surprise that your loving kitty has some mean predatory instincts hidden away under all that floof. Because of that, a bite could be a sign that your cat isn’t getting the right kind of play or exercise during a play session.

To make up for this, your cat may start “attacking” other prey, like a fast-moving hand or foot. This situation is only made worse when you make a loud noise and try to move away quickly, causing the hunting instincts to kick into overdrive and your cat to bite down harder.

Attention-seeking bites

These bites are sometimes called love bites or play bites in adult cats. Essentially, these bites are the way the adult cat has chosen to get your attention and let you know that they want to be your sole focus for a while. This may look like a cat lightly biting you and then rubbing their head on the bitten area, or them biting and then bringing you their favorite toy.

These nips and nibbles may be something learned from the mother cat while she is grooming the kitten. Adult cats in your life may then also use these learned behaviors when they’re grooming you.

Kids playing with a white cat.

How to train a cat not to bite

Once you have figured out what the trigger or cause is of your cat’s biting, you’re ready to move on to the training part. There is a huge misconception about cats not being able to be trained, and while it may take a little extra work in some cases, cats can respond well to learning new things. This is great news if you’re looking for ways to train your kitten or cat to stop biting so they can be a regular part of family time.

Perfect your training setup

No matter how outgoing your cat may be, it’ll be best for both of you to start training when your cat is feeling calm. Cats are extremely sensitive to new environments and objects being introduced to them. If done incorrectly, they may take some parts of the training as a threat. The last thing you want to do is traumatize your cat while trying to train it. So when it comes to training your kitty, here are some things to keep in mind when setting everything up.

Pick the right location for training to take place — A cat will be the most receptive to training if the location is somewhere that they feel comfortable in and familiar with, this allows them to relax enough to focus.

Make sure the location is cat-ified — Once you’ve picked the perfect location, take some time to make sure it has the right items in it. Make sure to have fresh water, a litter box (because everyone needs a potty break when doing something stressful), and a designated place for your cat to go to once they’ve had enough. Also, avoid outside distractions like other people or pets, food, or unfamiliar smells.

Go through your closet to gather the appropriate clothing — When it comes to dressing appropriately for cat training, it’s advised to wear thicker, long-sleeved shirts, thick pants, closed-toed shoes, and gloves to prevent or minimize any injury to yourself.

Gather all the training equipment and pick a place to store it in the room — Some of the items you will need to have ready for training include different types of rewards (food or toys) and training props (clickers or target sticks). The best cat toys for training are rod or wand-type toys because the feathers or small toy on the end can be moved quickly along the floor to give the imitation of prey. They also give you distance between you and your cat.

Make sure that you have time blocked out each day for a training session — Training sessions should be limited to about three to five minutes a day. These training sessions should fit into your and your cat’s schedule in between your cat’s meals. This is important if food rewards are being given so that your cat is more interested in the high-value treats, and more willing to work with you to get them.

Take your cat’s personality and mood into consideration — If your cat is nervous or skittish, then this will have an effect on how your cat responds to training. There may be times they are just not in the mood and you won’t be able to get as long of a session.

It’s important to note that their mood or apprehension to training may be because of previous bad experiences. Because you want this to be a positive experience, that should be respected and you’ll have to be patient.

Any amount of time doing positive training is better than a full session of stressed-out training that your cat may start to associate with negative feelings.

Picking the right training method

When training your cat, it’s important to remember that consistency is key. Keep that in mind as you look through and pick a training method that you think will work for both you and your cat. That consistency must be shared between you, family members, visitors, and anyone else who may come in contact with your cat to make sure there are no mixed signals or messages.

  • Clicker training. This is an easy way to give your cat immediate feedback on if they’ve performed a specified behavior. Clicker training is where you work to teach a new behavior by making the clicker sound at the same time as your cat performing the appropriate behavior. When you make the clicker sound, give a reward.
  • Target training. This is a way to use a clicker while also putting a little distance between you and your cat. When you use target training, you are going to use a target stick that your cat is going to be interacting with. When they interact with it in the right way, you click the clicker and then reward them.
  • Object play. This is a great way to address any kind of misdirected instincts and behavior. This method allows you to pull your cat’s attention away from biting your hand or feet and onto an inanimate object. You can keep a few smaller toys like jingle toys, small cloth mice, ping pong balls, or other objects your cat likes to play with and toss them before your kitty nips you for play. You can also engage in this type of play with a long wand toy. It’s important to include this type of play because it lets cats express their instinctual predatory behavior while keeping you safe.
  • Positive reinforcement. It’s common for cat owners to accidentally reinforce attention-seeking behaviors by giving in to the cat and giving it something it wants to make it stop the negative action. Instead, focus on training the cat to remain calm, which will help in the long run to minimize redirected aggression, build confidence in both your cat and you in the relationship, and reduce your cat’s stress.
A gray cat playing with a girl's hand.

What to avoid when training your cat not to bite

One of the most important things to remember is not to ignore when your cat has had enough. These warning signs can be flattened ears, forward whiskers, dilated pupils, a twitching or swishing tail, and a stiff posture. If you can pay close enough attention to the more subtle hints they are giving you, then you may be able to completely avoid a bite.

Don’t yank your hand away from them — Instead, if they try to bite you, try to push whatever they are biting towards the cat’s mouth or lightly nudge or tap their shoulder. This will probably surprise them and they will normally let go.

Don’t use your hands or fingers as any kind of toy — Additionally, don’t lure your cat into playing or training with a toy in your hand. This causes mixed messages and your cat may start to regard hands as part of the toy, continuing to attack and play with your hands even after playtime has stopped.

Never use physical punishment This includes kicking, hitting, shoving, or spraying. Not only is this abusive, but it’s very likely to arouse the cat more and cause them to fight back because they feel they need to protect themselves or engage in rough play.

Yelling or shouting at your kitty will only cause the cat to learn to fear you and will result in the opposite kind of reaction from what you’re hoping to obtain through training.

A cat playing with a feather toy.

Frequently asked questions

How come cats bite for no reason?

There is always a reason behind a cat bite and it’s not always malice. Most situations with bites come down to some kind of miscommunication between the cat and the owner.

Why does my cat bite me?

Some of the reasons why your cat bites may include overstimulation, attention-seeking, anxiety, or they might be in pain.

Is there a way to stop my cat from biting?

The first thing is to figure out why your cat is biting. Once you know that then you can pick a training method to help your cat learn what is appropriate and acceptable behavior.

What do I do for serious cat bites?

If the skin is broken, it is extremely important to flush the wound and wash it immediately under running water. Seek medical attention as soon as possible because cat bites can be dangerous and become infected easily.

How do I get my hand away when a cat bites it?

If you get bit by a cat, the best thing to do is try to remain calm and not yank your body part out of their mouth. Any quick movement will only cause them to bite harder. Instead, sit quietly while pushing the body part into their face and lightly pushing on the cat’s shoulder until they release the body part. Then, walk away from the cat.