Cats aren't great communicators - at least not in the way humans tend to think of "communicating". But cats have all sorts of communication tools in their arsenal, from body language to over 100 vocalizations. One of those communication tools just so happens to be biting. Whether it's a "love bite" out of affection or a harder bite due to overstimulation, there's no denying that cat bites hurt. Here are 5 ways to get your cat to stop gnawing on you.
Determine Why Your Cat May Be Biting
If your cat is a biter, try to keep a mental log of what situations or behaviors are happening during the bites to help you avoid future triggers. For instance, if you notice that your cat tries to bite you when you pet them in a certain spot, try to avoid that spot in the future; it might be sensitive to overstimulation.
If you like to wrestle with your cat during playtime and your cat grabs ahold and bites you, understand that this is completely normal and instinctive behavior for cats; it's how they learned to play as kittens with their littermates. This behavior is called "playfighting" and it's normal behavior for most animals.
A bite could also just be a "love bite," which is when your cat gently bites or nibbles your hand while you're petting or playing with them. Love bites often start off as licks and turn into bites, and aren't meant as signs of aggression or displeasure. But they can still hurt!
How to Curb This Behavior? Use Hands-Off Toys
Cats and kittens should be taught that hands are not toys. Cats are natural hunters with strong instincts and prey drive, so if you offer your hands as toys, you're only encouraging the cat to view your hand as something that's perfectly okay to kick and bite.
Instead, try taking a hands-free approach to playtime. Instead of wrestling with your hand, you could try a laser pointer to engage your kitty. If you want to offer your cat quarry that's more satisfying for them to catch, teaser toys or catnip-filled kicker toys are a great way to get your cat moving - without having to put your hands at risk! And if you want something that's a little more engaging for you, an app-controlled toy can make playtime fun for you too.
Don't Use Negative Reinforcement
Using punishment, such as swatting or hitting on a cat who bites only serves to agitate the cat further and can escalate the biting. Instead, use a reward system, such as treats or encouraging pets, when the cat shows appropriate behavior. Reward them only when they stop biting you.
Don't Pull Away
If you're wrestling with your kitty and they've got you in the hug 'n bite hold, don’t quickly pull your hand away. Being visual predators, cats are designed to track movement and are often revved up by the moving hand, foot, or ankle.
Instead, try letting out a high-pitched "OW," imitating the sound of an angry cat yowl or hiss. If your cat still doesn't let go, make the noise again and slowly push your hand forward, which will encourage your cat to release you.
Provide Environmental Enrichment
Bored cats can often be prone to overexcitement and biting - that is why environmental enrichment is especially important for cats whose owners work long hours outside the home (to pay for all the kitty food and toys!). Environmental enrichment for kitties on their own comes in many shapes and forms, and you can have fun experimenting with what works best for your cat.
Try videos of birds and small mammals that will keep your cat busy for hours, electric/automated toys, cat treat balls, and other amusements like cat tunnels that can keep your cat entertained in your absence, which reduces stress, which makes for a happy feline - and one that's less likely to chomp down on you.