How Can I Keep My Cat From Biting Me?

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

Hi, I have a very serious problem. I am handicapped and needed a pet companion. So when I was told about a kitten was whose mamma had deserted her and her brothers soon after birth, my heart broke. She was bottle fed (not by me). I have loved and tried to cuddle her from the time I got her. She is 4-1/2 now. But here is my problem. She bites. I try to watch for signs of “I’ve had enough.” I try to just pet her head and face, because she seems to get overstimulated with too much back to tail petting. I have lots of toys for her. She seems to love her feather toy a lot. But she hides around corners and jumps out and bites ankles. Once my mother got blood poisoning. I love my cat and I am her forever mama. But I don’t want my mom or someone else to get sick. My mother and I live with my sister. Can you help me. Oh, I had her fixed and the vet says she is very healthy.

~ Kathy

A gray Persian kitten is biting at a person's hand in a play-fight.

Kittens often engage in play-fighting. If they learn that a hand is a good thing to bite, it can be a hard habit to break. Photo (CC-BY-SA) by Aravindan Shanmugasundaram

Siouxsie: Wow, Kathy. First of all, thank you for being so dedicated to your cat friend. That’s hard for a lot of people, especially when the cat has behaviors like biting. We do have some tips for you, and we hope that these will help you and your family avoid future bites.

Thomas: First of all, we think this behavior may have had its origin in the fact that she was bottle-fed and not exposed to other cats.

Kissy: When kittens are socialized with other cats at a young age, they learn boundaries and limits — especially when it comes to play-fighting and biting.

Siouxsie: The behavior you’re talking about is rooted in hunting. The best way to direct a cat’s hunting instinct properly is to engage in interactive play. If you use a toy like a feather wand or another type of “thing on a string,” and play with her intensely for 10- to 15-minute sessions, she’ll get her hunting fix and this may help reduce the lurking and biting behavior.

Thomas: The most awesome kind of hunting play happens when you move the toy like prey. For example, a mouse might scurry around, stopping from time to time to check out its surroundings. A bird would move around the floor, bobbing its head as it looks for worms, and then take off as soon as it spots the cat coming. Ooh, I’m getting all excited just thinking about that!

Kissy: Thomas! Stop staring at me! I just know you’re gonna come after me.

Siouxsie: Oh, Kissy, cool it. There’s no need to get all fat-tailed. And Thomas, you stop that tail-twitching, target-locked-in look right now!

Thomas: I’ve got to get it!

Kissy: Aaaah! Holy Bast, I’m gonna $%*&!!*%$!

Siouxsie: You two stop that right now! Do I need to come over there?

Thomas: Oh, okay! Go hide, you little orange sissy-pants!

Kissy: Mama! *sniffle*

Siouxsie: There, there, Kissy.

Thomas: *ahem* Anyway, Kathy … if your disability prevents you from being able to do this, maybe you can ask your mother and sister to help out. It’ll be good for everyone in the family because there’ll be a much lower risk of bites.

Kissy: *sniffle* *tremble*

Siouxsie: The other thing you’ll need to do is to make her lurking spots unavailable to her. For example, if she hides on a shelf under your TV, you may have to put some boxes or books in that space so she can’t hang out there.

Thomas: If she lurks under furniture and launches herself at you from there, you may need to rearrange your furniture to keep her from having such easy access to your feet. You might even need to put stuff under the furniture so she can’t hide there.

Kissy: Another thing you can do, which might be kind of a pain but it could still help, is the distraction technique. If she’s a doorway lurker, keep a toy or two with you, and when you’re about to go through her favorite doorway, toss a toy in ahead of you. This might distract her and keep her from coming after you.

Siouxsie: If she bites you while you’re petting her, use the “ow, and down” technique. This is a way to teach her the social skills she missed when she was a kitten.

Thomas: When she bites you, say “ow!” in a high-pitched, but not necessarily loud, voice, then put her on the floor and ignore her for a few minutes. If you and your mother and sister do this consistently, she’ll learn that biting means she doesn’t get what she wants — petting and affection.

Kissy: Mama and a number of her friends have used this technique with great success.

Siouxsie: We think this combination of kitty socialization, removing her lurking spots, and giving her a constructive outlet for her hunting instinct, will help you train your cat to stop her biting.

Thomas: Good luck, Kathy, and please let us know how it goes.

  • Susan C

    My cat gives me love bites… usually they are gentle, but sometimes they are hard and sharp. She does respond to the ow, down technique. Her love bites are when she is particularly lovey… but I’ve noticed that males and females do this to each other when they are not fixed. She had one heat before she was fixed but that was before I got her.

  • Kathie

    My cat Pumpkin has similar issues. She tends to bite a lot when we’re petting her and we just saw “ow!” really loud. I’ve read on it and like they said above, it goes back to her not being socialized with other cats when she was very young. So, she never learned what is appropriate and what’s not. She lost her mother at 4 weeks old and my husband found her hiding by her mother on the side of the road. Her mother had been struck by a car and killed. So, he brought her home.

  • Susan Pierson

    I have a cat named Codi. I found him at 4 weeks old in a big mall parking lot sitting next to car. He likes to bite also. I think it is because he lost his mother somewhere. He is madly in love with me and thinks biting is love. I catch him in the middle of the night giving my elbow a love bite. He is not happy unless he gives me a couple of bites everyday. If he is not allowed to bite me he actually will sit near me and make strange whirring noises. It is almost a sad sound. I also found out that if I over stimulate him like brushing him and clipping nails at the same time I get a real bite.

  • http://CatAdvice/Pawsandeffect Lynda

    Hi kissy,Thomas and Siouxsie, i have a problem sometimes my 1 year and 5 month old cat like to bite my ankles when I walk and when I just sit still or she jumps out at me . sometimes she gets me hard. Other times it is just a nibble. She doen’t do that to my hubby Dan. I think like you said about she not being socialized as a kitten with her brothers and sisters. Her mama abanded her at 3 weeks of age. We found her under our trailer she was back inthe middle of our trailer and her momma and brothers and sisters were up front . Dan had to go under trailer to get her. I also think that maybe she thinks Dan is her mama. My husband Dan and I bottle fed her. She liked to play fetch with plastic easter eggs. When she was little. She used to carry a half one in her mouth and bring it back to us to throw so she could go get it. I have tried the saying ow! loud. didn’t work. What can I do Help me Lynda

  • Kat

    When she bites, just tap her nose and say no. Then put her down and ignore her for a few minutes. She will get the message

  • Alice

    My 4-year old Snowshoe Siamese has been with me since he was 6 weeks old. He was a Rescue kitten. He nips at my ankles or backs of my legs as I walk by and sometimes actually stalks me with tail a-fluff, back raised, and eyes wide open. Sounds like a cat no one would want, right? But I love him, and he loves me, too, believe it or not. He’s the most affectionate cat I’ve ever had most of the time. When he misbehaves like that, I say “Yoyo (his name) No!” but that doesn’t faze him. The only thing he really responds to is a squirt of water, but of course I rarely have one of the many bottles handy. You’d think by this time, he would have learned that that behavior isn’t OK, wouldn’t you?

  • Marty

    Except water bottle spraying is aggressive behavior and you’re the one, sorry that’s not learned that a your cat isn’t “learning” that water bottle from your POV is supposed to be a deterrent. Read the suggestions above, “ouch” or “ow” in a fi voice will work a few times as well as play time of your cat is a single cat. Cats don’t normally live alone, its a human made situation, not their choice, even if you say “but my cat doesn’t like other cats”, Just like advice given in this post, if a cat hasn’t been introduced to other cats, its learned behavior is lacking. Either bejnv another cat in, or be your cats play mate.

  • Maggie

    My White Persian is now 4 years old she was a bate and switch kitten. The cat breeder in Loomis California gave me a sick white beautiful Persian with Myco Plasma Persian. She bites me, has nevered purred. NOT loving at all. Her pupils get black and she on purpose bites me to the Bone. They groomer did a lion cut on her and she was matted on her chest. Since that time she will NOT let me cut her nails, or comb her. She just would allow me to feed her and if I pick her up to hug she will give me 20 seconds only or she will bite me. I had her since she was 2 months old. She has the best of care and Inebulize her daily for 85 minutes with Baytrill medicine.

    She is getting worse and loses her patience at a heart beat and I thought of putting her down.

    Roseville, California