Cat Biting – Why It Happens and How to Stop It
As any cat owner out there knows, dogs are not the only ones that bite. Cat biting can come in the form of gentle love bites or in the form of rough, sudden bites that can lead to actual injuries.
In fact, cats can become extremely aggressive and their biting is nothing to be taken lightly. Wounds caused by cat biting can be serious and should always be dealt with properly. Since no cat owner wants to go through this, everything other than love bites is behavior that should be stopped. Cats can actually be trained out of biting by using some simple techniques.
However, it is ideal to train kittens not to bite their masters, not even during playing, so that this type of aggressive behavior does not come up when they are adults. But to be able to train a cat not to bite, it is essential that you understand why it is doing that in the first place. This will give you leverage in developing the ideal plan for your specific situation.
Why do cats bite?
First off, biting is instinctive behavior for cats, so you should never expect that you will train your cat to stop biting. What you can do is to train your cat to stop biting people. There are several types of situations during which cats resort to biting. Each of these is tailored to its cause.
1. Cat love bites vs Cat warning bites
Love bites are a unique way of showing affection, which should be cherished and appreciated. These are more nibbles than bites. They are not supposed to hurt since they are intended as something positive. Cats usually give them during especially tender play sessions with their masters.
However, it is very important that owners know how to interpret their cat’s behavior. Love bites, which are a positive thing can easily be confused with warning bites. Sometimes when petting a cat, even if it looks like it is enjoying every moment of it, you may be surprised to get bitten suddenly.
This type of bite is a warning that you should stop petting the cat. This happens because cats get can get overstimulated when they are petted, which turns it into an unpleasant and maybe even painful experience for them. Their response is a warning bite.
To distinguish love bites from warning bites, all you have to do is pay attention to the cat’s behavior as you pet her. If you notice that it is getting agitated, if it is moving its tail, or making long meowing sounds, then you should look out for the warning bite.
On the other hand, if your cat is excited, rather than agitated, then you may be getting one of the good love bites.
How to Stop It
It is not up to you to decide when a cat becomes sensitive to your petting. What you can do to avoid warning bites is to pay attention to the cat’s behavior. If you notice it becoming increasingly agitated, then you should probably stop before you get bitten.
As for the love bites, enjoy them, but if they turn from nibbles to something more painful, then it may be time for you to put an end to it. Even if it springs from something positive, it is very important that you stop your cat every single time it bites you. If you notice any signs of stronger aggression, such as dilated pupils or the ears leaned back, you should know that your cat is ready to fight.
This is when you have to dominate it to contain the situation. Stop and slowly move away from the cat while watching her.
The teething phase kicks in when kittens lose their baby teeth, which happens at approximately 9 weeks. It lasts until the permanent teeth are fully formed, which happens at 5-6 months. During these months, kittens experience gum sensitivity of various intensities and even painful episodes, which is why they like to chew on as many things as they can.
A common mistake that cat owners make is to let their kittens bite them during the teething phase. Not only is this painful during those months, but it also makes cats believe that this is normal behavior, which means that they will continue to do so as adults.
How to Stop It
Managing the teething phase entails two essential steps:
A. Playing with the right toys The need that kittens feel to bite and chew on as many things as they can during the teething phase is extremely real. This is why it is very important that they have the right toys for this period. Chew toys will help them deal with most of the unpleasant things they feel. You have to play with them with the chew toys on a daily basis to engage them.
B. Bite-free playing When you play with your kitten, it is most likely going to resort to clawing and biting you. As soon as this happens, you have to alert it and put the play session to an end. Use a cue to alert it and use it every time the kitten bites you. Then, you have to become indifferent to the kitten’s attempts to get you to keep playing.
This will serve as a lesson and it will remember that biting makes you stop playing with it. This includes biting that you may not consider painful because your aim should be to stop the behavior altogether.
Never let your cat use your fingers as toys because it will grow up to bite them as an adult as well. While the training sessions with the kittens may be a bit tedious, they will prevent most of the following situations, which are far more difficult to deal with.
3. Regular biting when playing
Cats get to bite on a regular basis if their owners have allowed them to do so as kittens. Since this is regarded as normal, tolerated behavior, they will bite every time they play with their masters. This happens when the interaction is initiated by the owner, but also when it the cat wants to play.
When the cats initiate the play session in an aggressive way, it may look and feel like an attack. A typical situation is when people have their ankles or feet bitten by their cats as they walk around the house.
This is called play aggression and it is directly linked to the cat’s instinct to hunt. It will direct the energy it has for hunting towards its owners, which means that they will get bitten and scratched because they are treated as prey.
How to Stop It
If your cat attacks you in the house and bites your feet, then the first thing you should deduce is that it is not getting enough attention and definitely not enough play time. While it might look and feel like an attack, your cat is most likely playing with you, in a more or less aggressive manner.
The best solution is to entertain your cat in a positive way. If your cat is trying to make up for all the animals it is not hunting in the wild, it is up to you to give it some toy animals to hunt around the house and to supervise the process. Simply put, you have to play with your cat every single day.
Use toys that will make your cat run and jump after them. The toy will simulate their pray and they will let out that hunting energy in a positive way, which will keep them from biting and attacking. Some cat owners complain that their cats do not enjoy playing. What they should consider is that they may have not found the right toy for their cat.
Ragdoll Cat Biting Issue Discussion on Floppycats’ Facebook
4. Sudden biting when playing
A very common situation that cat owners come across is getting bitten while playing when they least expect it.
The cat appears to be enjoying the time spent with the owner, and all of a sudden, it starts biting.
This type of behavior is usually liked to traumatic events in the cat’s early life. Ragdoll cats that come from catteries may have been taken away from their mother and siblings too soon or they may have not been socialized properly.
As for adopted Raggies, there is a chance that they have gone through trauma before they found their home. If the biting happens during petting, rather than playing, the cat might be protecting a certain area because it is sensitive in some way. Our Facebook community had some suggestions on this post and on this post.
How to Stop It
If your cat attacks you in the house and bites your feet, then the first thing you should deduce is that it is not getting enough attention and definitely not enough playtime. While it might look and feel like an attack, your cat is most likely playing with you, in a more or less aggressive manner.
The best solution is to entertain your cat in a positive way. If your cat is trying to make up for all the animals it is not hunting in the wild, it is up to you to give it some toy animals to hunt around the house and to supervise the process.
Simply put, you have to play with your cat every single day. Use toys that will make your cat run and jump after them. The toy will simulate their prey and they will let out that hunting energy in a positive way, which will keep them from biting and attacking.
Some cat owners complain that their cats do not enjoy playing. What they should consider is that they may have not found the right toy for their cat.
The key to stopping this kind of behavior is figuring out what is causing it. However, that is not always possible. If that is the case, the owners can try out all the other methods and see if there is any improvement.
As an example, they can introduce more play sessions with various types of toys and stimulate the cat while teaching to be bite-free. If the cat resorts to biting only when a certain sensitive area is about to be touched, then it is important to get it to the vet. A full medical workout can shed some light on the matter because it may reveal if there are any local issues making the cat behave this way.
Aggressive biting Either of the situations described above may escalate to aggressive biting when the cat draws blood. In this situation, the issue is dominance and the cat will try its hardest to assert its spot as the alpha animal in the house.
Due to traumas from the past or because of recent emotional events for them, such as a welcoming a new member to the family or losing one, cats may feel the need to dominate their owners.
If they are permitted to do this, then there is going to be a fair share of biting involved. Please note that when aggressive behavior comes up because of deep-rooted traumas, it is much more difficult to pinpoint the triggers and the development of the behavior. https://www.facebook.com/floppycats/posts/10154128389943038
The most important thing that you have to do is to reestablish yourself as the dominant one. This does not mean that you will be aggressive in any way with the cat, but it does mean that you have to be as firm as possible. Do not use water sprays or newspapers because these only reinforce your cat’s aggressive behavior. Your aim is to dominate your cat, not to punish it.
This means that you have to speak in a firm voice and develop a cue to use every time after the biting takes place. Do not shout at the cat, but keep a firm voice. Another thing that will help you dominate your cat is to stare it in the eyes directly and fiercely. Dominance is all about the attitude, so you have to own your role 100%.
After the biting occurs, say the cue you have chosen, and ignore the cat completely for a few minutes. This will also emphasize that the biting is the problematic behavior. In addition, if your cat has not been neutered yet, then it may be time for you to make this step, especially if you have a male cat. After they are neutered, cats are usually calmer and the aggression may subside.
Wounds Caused by Cat Biting
Most of the time, cats bites lead to superficial wounds, but aggressive cats can cause serious injuries, so never underestimate them. Taking care of cat bite wounds is extremely important, even if they are not deep. Applying disinfectant is absolutely crucial, even though you know everything about the cat’s environment. You should also expect to feel quite a bit of pain.
When cats bite, they cause puncture wounds, which are usually accompanied by local inflammation and bruising. If you are bitten by a stray cat, an elderly cat, or one with unknown whereabouts, it is best to see a specialist. Cats have bacteria in their mouths, which they transmit when biting. This may lead to local infections of the cat bite, which should not be ignored.
Ragdoll Cat Behavior Problems
There could be a number of causes of wider behavioral problems with your cat. If they’ve picked up some aggressive traits then consider whether one of these may be the root cause.
Is your Ragdoll showing any signs of illness?
Consider whether you’ve noticed any changes in the way your cat is behaving in general, and whether they have any potential symptoms of illness, including a change in how frequently they’re using their litter box. One of the most common reasons for cats to bite is if they are in pain, whether that’s lashing out in general or because you’ve petted them in a sore area.
Biting may happen when your cat suffers from common health problems but if you’ve had your kitty for a long time and they’re uncharacteristically biting you then it might be a sign of a more severe pain, whether that’s a problem with the kidneys like a urine infection or bladder stones or something else.
If you think your cat might be misbehaving because of a potential illness, get them checked out by your veterinarian as soon as you can.
Is your cat spayed or neutered?
Neutering male cats and spaying females has a number of health benefits, one of which is either stopping or reducing behavior problems including aggression. It’s one of the reasons the AAFP recommends spaying and neutering because it increases the likelihood of cats being kept by their owners.
It can take up to a month after the procedure for your cat’s behavior to calm down. If it doesn’t – and it won’t always – then you can look into alternative reasons.
Does your kitty have a history of neglect or abuse?
It’s horrible to think, but sometimes a cat that you’ve picked up from the shelter might have gone through some pretty nasty abuse with their prior owner, or they might have been neglected. Rescue cats aren’t always comfortable with human interaction because you don’t know how previous humans have treated them. It might not even be a case of neglect or abuse, but if a Ragdoll kitten hasn’t been raised by a proper breeder they may not have picked up good behavior habits.
If your rescue cat has an aggressive temperament it may just take time to build that bond.
Hi, I’m Jenny Dean, creator of Floppycats! Ever since my Aunt got the first Ragdoll cat in our family, I have loved the breed. Inspired by my childhood Ragdoll cat, Rags, I created Floppycats to connect, share and inspire other Ragdoll cat lovers around the world,
My 1.5 year old non spayed female is in my opinion overly aggressive. She doesn’t care too much for bring held. I’ve had her since 3 months old. The family she came from bred ragdolls and golden retrievers and had 3 young(under 10) girls. I clearly can’t assume that my cat was traumatized by something when she was a baby, but I don’t understand why she acts the way she does. If I pick her up and pet her for too long I get scratched with her back feet and usually bit. She is most definitely in love with my husband. He can do most anything with her. I’m only good enough( in my cats opinion) to feed her or be the pushover treat giver. We got her because I had a male that passed years ago, but he was so awesome I wanted another. Maybe it’s a male verses female thing. All I know is it needs to change and I’m glad I have other pets to get genuine love from. Please any input is very appreciated.
My 15 month male rag doll cat attacks my ankles when I am walking down our hallways. He draws blood and it’s painfull. He is very gentle with my husband and everyone else who enters our home. Our cat is very affectionate most of the time. I do most of the caregiving. For some reason I am his target. I get very firm when this happens and say NO BITE and he will usually stop for a short period. I am at my wits end and my calves are covered with scars. He will also get the enlarged pupils and attack my shoulder when I’m sitting but most of the time he cuddles. What do I do?
hi i wondered if someone could give me some advice. I got my female ragdoll from someone when she was 12 month old. I have had her 6 month now. She has all of a sudden started going mad to go outside by scratching the door and darting past you as you come in or out. Also she has started scatching my 5yr old granddaughter more even though I watch her to make sure she isn’t teasing her. She plays with her making her jump with her toys. But for the first time yesterday she hissed at her and scratched her.. thanks Sue
Is she spayed?
Hi I adopted a female 5 year old cat from a friend a few months ago and while she gets on well with my 9 year old Jack Russel (she had a dog companion at her last house) she stalks my other 5 year old male cat relentlessly, he is Siamese x moggie and is quite aggressive to wards him. He is used to sharing the house with other female cats as I had two other cats that have since passed away.
I have resorted to shutting her in my bedroom were she sleeps at night while I go to work. This situation is not ideal as I would like to let her have the run of the house like the other cat and dog but don’t know how they would get on throughout the day. She is has the run of the house during the day at the weekend but this results in spats of aggression usually initiated by her to the point she chases him even when he is being submissive towards her.
She is a very friendly cat towards me and so I would love to keep her. Any suggestions on how to solve this problem would be appreciated
Guimauve started biting very young. We couldn’t figure out why. The first two days we had him, he hid under the bed. I thought “ Oh boy, we have a “scaredy cat.” Boy was I wrong! Eventually he emerged and found his litter box, which was down in the garage. He could barely go down the stairs on his little legs. I was so pleased. I had a clean little boy. Then things changed. He wasn’t mistreated, in fact he was spoiled rotten. Anyway, when we first got him from the breeder at four months old, I was still working and so I just tried to give him his space. When he was about four, I retired and so was able to observe him all day. He was very territorial and you couldn’t bother him when he was not in the mood. He, in essence, decided when you could pet or touch him. He ruled the roost. I was a bit afraid of him. And more afraid he would bite my Husband, who was less tolerant of this behaviour. He seemed to attack him more than me. I think because he was less aware of the warning signs. At one point, I tearfully considered re-homing. But I knew that any new home would not keep him. It would be dangerous if there were children. It wouldn’t end well for him. I decided to become the “cat police” and to try to change the situation. In essence, I had to train both my Boys. I am so glad I did!
He had always followed me around the house, even to the bathroom. One day while I was sitting, he jumped at me and bit my arm. I yelled as he bit and perhaps because of the echo in the small space, he looked confused and backed away. Needless to say, I was getting tired of this behaviour, so I took advantage of the situation and told him verbally how upset I was. When I opened the door, he actually slinked away.
After that day, we turned a corner. I started to say no to him in a louder than usual voice when he did something not allowed; such as jumping on the dining room table. He pretty much has free reign in the house except for a few places. Obviously, I don’t want him on the kitchen counters or island as I’m preparing food. Now, if I hear my Husband telling him “NO” more than once, just my turning in their direction, will result in him stopping the unwanted behaviour and by the time I get to where they are, he is invariably on his back, belly up in a position of submission. Little scoundrel…so funny!
I watched videos and read about cat behaviours. Gradually he started to change. I got so I could prevent unwanted behaviour by saying “no” just as he initiated. He began to listen, sometimes complaining loudly but he listened. If he is lying on my Husband’s favourite chair and my Husband wants to sit down, he is told to get down and he will, again perhaps complaining but then he will settle on the pouf at his feet. Now, he is a real joy; so much more relaxed. I can even take him on my lap upside down, as long as I massage his head and ears. I put him in one of his beds, also upside down to trim his claws. While I trim, my husband gives him his chicken flavoured toothpaste which he loves. ( this however, is the only time I can get toothpaste into his mouth but I’m okay with that. He has dental cleanings every two years ) Sometimes I can trim both front and back paws, sometimes just the front. No matter, we can finish the next day.
I think in retrospect, for some reason, he was not taught young how to play. How to mouth without hurting. I think by giving him his space, I inadvertently allowed him to believe he was Alpha. After I began to correct bad behaviour and reward positive, he gradually began to realize he was not the boss. He then started to be more Zen…less aggressive. I have come to think that his trying to maintain the Alpha position was stressing him and that realizing his place in the family made him more calm.
Now we can walk down the corridor in the dark, without fear of being attacked. He will still wrap his paws around our ankles but a simple “ be careful, no bite” will ensure just playful behaviour instead of aggressive play. I started to schedule play time to expend excess energy and to take him outside in clement weather for walks or to lounge on the deck or walk in the grass. I have the “catfishing” app on my tablet and buy him anything I think will enrich his life. I can have visitors without shutting him away or being stressed that he will bite someone else. He thankfully never has. He seemed to reserve this bad behaviour for us LOL
He has turned out to be a funny beautiful Boy. He makes us laugh every day, which is especially important at this time.
Thank you, Maggie, for sharing your success story with us – I hope it will help others!
Great Article Jenny and one that will come up time and time again, especially with new floppy parents that assume a docile nature means Ragdolls are void of natural cat instincts!
I’m very fortunate that I trained my two myself so they rarely dish out more than love bites. It was hard work as kittens as they loved rough play but I bought them kickers to redirect that kind of play.
Charlie more than Lola will give warning bites because she’s super sensitive to being stroked on her spine and tail.
She still doesn’t strike she has a warning cry that happens first (like a whine that she’s over being petted) then she’ll bat you with her paws to push your hand away and then the ears go back and her eyes go really dark before she goes for a warning bite.
Lola doesn’t bite unless she gets really carried away at play time and forgets my hands or arm isn’t part of the play toys. Even then it’s a nibble and an apologetic lick/kiss when she realises what she’s done!
I’ve got to admit because I don’t believe in declawing I get scratched more than anything by the odd stray nail I can’t trim or they haven’t filed down on their trees!
Fortunately even scratches are avoidable, so I do my best not to pick them up unless I need to as the struggle to get down is normally when I get scratched!
Thank you, Clair – for sharing your experiences with your kitties. Yes, declawing is terrible. I don’t think the UK allows it anymore, right?
My baby Bailey is a rescue. His mom died shortly after Bailey was born. Bailey was part of what the Vet believed to be one of three litters delivered back to back. His mom was a street cat already in poor health. Several of the kittens didn’t survive even with extensive treatment and care.
He’s turned out to be a wonderful and loving kitten. It took months to get him healthy and free from parasites and other medical problems.
Starting just a couple of months ago he began biting during play. He has a variety of toys and he plays with them alone and together with me. I don’t want him to fear me or to stop engaging in play with me. But I haven’t found a way to get him from biting during play. I’ve tried many of the suggestions given here.
Starting at about the same time of the biting, he’s also tears off pieces of paper or tissue and chews on them. He doesn’t swallow them. I just find small pieces chewed up around the house. I’ve tried to be vigilant about leaving anything out for him to get too. But he’s extremely clever and manages to find paper somewhere.
I’d love for any suggestions about both behaviors and how best to stop them? He’s already finished teething and is coming up on his 1 year birthday.
God Bless you and all that you’re doing to help Ragdolls and Ragdoll parents everywhere❣️
Ginger, McKinney, TX
I am sorry about your mom.
Have you asked your vet? Have you read about PICA? Did you read the suggestions in this article?
Emily has a supply of personalized “sorry” cards to send after she’s bitten someone.
ha ha ha!
Very informative article! Emily is a biter. Her original owner played roughly with her with his hands and she got used to biting when aggravated. She especially hates “absent-minded” petting and will turn around and bite you if you are petting her and not paying attention to what you’re doing. I put her down immediately and ignore her for a few minutes, which is the worst punishment you can dole out to her. But, we’ve all learned her body language and know when she’s about to snap at you.
good on you for figuring her out – a cat that bites when petted – that was NEW to me after I had only been around Ragdolls as a little girl. I remember crying the first time a cat bit me after petting it. Now I don’t really pet cats I don’t know for that reason.
Super wonderful & fabulously informative & super pawesome post, Jenny!! TYSVM for sharing this very important info to us about this very confusing cat behavior! Our Miss PSB does the love bites and the warning bites so we have learned to look for the signs for when she’s getting a bit too much stimulation from us! I really enjoyed reading all this info as I learned quite a bit of new info and strategies to try just in case she evers gets a bit too aggressive with her warning bites. 🙂 <3
Big hugs & lots of love!
Patti & Miss Pink Sugarbelle 🙂 <3 <3 <3
i hope i never know the feeling of anything more than a warning bite.
Me, too!!! 🙂 <3
I got in the middle of a fight my cat had with a visiting cat, and I got a fight bite. It was nearly to the bone and landed me in the ER. Hurt for months.
YUCK – that sounds awful.