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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.
  • Set your cat up for success — Calm, quiet, and familiar settings are very important for your cat, keeping training sessions as productive as possible.
  • 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. 

While it may look different than dog training,  cats can be trained to control their chomps. However, you first have to figure out why the behavior is happening in the first place.

🚨If a cat bite has left your skin red and swollen, go to the doctor immediately and bring your cat’s vaccination card with the date of their last vaccination on it. They may need to administer immunizations and antibiotics to you to keep you free from conditions like cat scratch fever and rabies.

Why cats bite

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

1. 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.

2. Anxiety, fear, or stress

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

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

3. 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.

4. Misdirected instincts

Cats are predators and good ones at that, so it comes as no surprise that your loving kitty has some 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. 

5. Attention-seeking bites

These bites are sometimes called love bites or play bites in adult cats. Essentially, these bites are the way your 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 nibbling and then bringing you their favorite toy.

6. Frustration

A bite out of frustration is not much different than a person lashing out in anger during an irritating situation. 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. It’s likely nothing personal against you — you were simply collateral damage!

7. 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, dental disease, an injury, or another disease process, then they may react to petting with a bite – just as we might snap at a well-meaning loved one.

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

How to train a cat not to bite

Once you’ve figured out what the trigger or cause of your cat’s biting is, you’re ready to move on to the training part. Cats often respond well to learning new things, provided they are given the right foundation and tools to thrive. Here’s what you need to make your cat training process successful. 

1. Perfect your training setup

Cats are extremely sensitive to new environments and objects being introduced to them. Here’s a quick guide to ensure that your space is ready for training. 

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. Your living room or home office might be a good place to start.  

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 — like fresh water, a litter box, and a designated place for your cat to go to once they’ve had enough.

Gather all the training equipment — Some of the items you’ll want to have ready for training include different types of rewards (food or toys) and training props (clickers or target sticks). 

Have time blocked out each day for a training session — Training sessions should be limited to about three to five minutes each. These training sessions should be scheduled and repetitious, perhaps fitting into your and your cat’s schedule in between your cat’s meals. 

Take your cat’s personality and mood into consideration — There may be times when your cat isn’t in the mood to train — no big deal. While this can be frustrating at times, it’s helpful to remember that 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.

2. Pick 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.

  • Clicker training. This technique works to teach a new behavior by making a distinct sound (like a clicker) at the same time your cat performs the appropriate behavior. When you make the clicker sound, also give a reward like a treat or physical pets. This is an easy way to give your cat immediate feedback on if they’ve performed a specified behavior. 
  • Target training. Pick a target that your cat is going to be interacting with, such as a ball attached to a long stick or even just your hand. When they interact with it in the right way, (e.g. touching it with their nose), you reward them.
  • Positive reinforcement. It’s common for cat owners to accidentally reinforce attention-seeking behaviors by giving in to their cat and giving them something they want to make it stop the negative action, or by punishing unwanted behavior. Instead, focus on training the cat to remain calm using positive reinforcement (like a favorite treat), 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.

3. Correct or redirect

It’s important to correct your cat’s behavior quickly if they are biting you. While punishment doesn’t generally work, redirection and other methods can. Here are steps to consider to get your cat to stop biting you. 

  • Redirection and distraction. If your cat has nipped you in a playful or unserious way, it can be helpful to redirect their attention to something else. Remove yourself from biting range and put a toy or a distraction in your place.
  • Correction. It’s not good to yell at your cat, as this can confuse them and harm their relationship with you. However, verbal redirection that’s succinct (like a sharp “no or “ow”) can go a long way toward correcting the behavior.

How to treat a cat bite

If you get a cat bite, you need to seek medical care quickly. Untreated cat bites can lead to tissue infections and in rare cases other serious diseases such as rabies, MRSA, and cat scratch fever. 

The first thing you need to do is clean the injured area well. This includes soap and water around the bite. After you do so, watch for signs of infection. An infected bite will look swollen and may turn red or be painful to the touch. 

Regardless if you see an infection or not, a doctor’s visit might be in order. They’ll be able to provide you with ongoing care and monitor for signs of inflammation later on. If you can’t get in, go to the ER or urgent care for further assistance.

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 randomly bite me unprovoked?

Some of the reasons why your cat bites unexpectedly 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.

Why does my cat grab my hand and bite me? 

Your cat might attempt to “grab” your hand and bite it if it thinks it is prey, which can happen when you play with your cat using fast or sudden movements. To avoid this, try to move at normal speeds and in predictable ways around your cat.