Here's Why Your Cat Gives You "Love" Bites


If you're a cat butler (err, owner) you've probably experienced a "love bite" or two. Love bites usually happen in the midst of kitty cuddle time. One minute your kitty will be purring away as you pet them, the next they're nibbling and nipping at your hands. My cat Rascal has a fondness for my chomping down on my knuckles. This odd behavior may leave many cat owners wondering, "Why is my cat biting me out of nowhere?"

Biting is a form of communication for cats. They can bite for more than a few reasons: fear, aggression, defensiveness, or acting territorially. But did you know that many cats give their owners gentle nibbles and nips as a display of affection? Hence the name "Love Bites"! Cats show their affection for us humans in several ways - you just have to know what to look for. 

What is a Love Bite?

Love bites generally start as licks and graduate into gentle nips and nibbles that don't break the skin. Some cat behaviorists believe that love bites are reminiscent of a cat's kittenhood when their mothers would lick and nibble them during grooming. So if your cat is giving you a gentle nibble or lick, it can be seen as a sign of affection.

And believe it or not, though domestic cats aren't usually seen as "social" animals, they actually enjoy participating in what's called "allogrooming." Allogrooming is a social grooming behavior that helps increase bonds among social groups, in this case, you and your kitty; much like a pride of lions

So, how can you tell what is and isn't a love bite? A love bite generally doesn't break the skin. And when your kitty is giving you these gentle nibbles, there won't be other signs of fear or aggression, like hissing, growling, and clawing. Engaging in "love bite" behavior, your cat's body language will be relaxed and calm. 


However, as most cat owners know: sometimes these gentle nibbles and licks can be a sign that your cat is overstimulated and they're letting you know, gently, that it's time to stop. If you've ever been petting your cat only to have their gentle nibbles escalate suddenly into a harder bite, your cat may be experiencing overstimulation. If you have multiple cats that groom each other, you may notice this behavior during grooming time, too. 

Cats may experience overstimulation due to the sensitivity of their hair follicles - after an extended period of petting or pressure, it can begin to hurt and cause discomfort in cats. Gentle nips may be your cat letting you know petting time is over; these warnings may be paired with other signs of discomfort, such as tail swishing or flicking, skin twitching over the back, flattening of the ears, freezing, tenseness or staring, quick head turn to watch your hand as you pet, pupillary dilation, or walking away and lying down. 


How to Stop "Love Bites"

While love bites can often be a sign of affection, they can still hurt or cause discomfort to us cat owners. It's okay to discourage this behavior.

1. When your cat gives you love bites, don't quickly pull your hand away. Instead, stop moving your hand altogether until the nibbles stop, then move your hand. Cats are visual predators and the movement of your hand may encourage their prey drive and make them chomp down harder, purely out of instinct. 

Don't yell at or swat your cat, as this may result in fearful or aggressive behavior. Instead, use a reward system, such as treats, when the cat shows appropriate behavior. 

2. If your cat gives you love bites a little too often, try a hands-off play style. Use interactive toys such as a variety of wand toys or even an app-controlled cat toy to encourage bonding with your cat without the love bites.


Does your cat give you love bites? Let us know in the comments! 



  • Karalyn Garcia

    My little girl who is 18 months love bites me all the time. She will snuggle up by my legs and the next thing I know she’s love biting me. She’s “bit” my butt cheek, calf, ankle, foot, thigh. Never hard but it’s def uncomfortable! Good to know she’s showing her affection .

  • Mrs. Dr. Spencer Reid

    My daughter’s rescue cat, whom she raised from a kitten, has grown to a hefty 16 lbs. I watch her daughter (my granddaughte) a few days a week. I spoil ALL her animals (including 2 Chihuahuas & a very affectionate Pittie). I buy tuna for the cat & feed some to him every time I visit. Lately, he’s been cuddling up to me (not his usual behavior ~ he’s somewhat stand offish). He just started biting my feet recently ~ not hard but he has sharp teeth! He’s been neutered so I don’t know if that has anything to do with his change of behavior. He loves neck & behind the ears scratching but won’t tolerate belly scratching. He’s weird 🤣❤️

  • Steph

    Hi all…was looking this up because well, it’s not my kitty – my neighbor and close friends cat, Lt. Dan, seems to have grown to be fond of me? He shows up most every time I’m walking my two dogs and walks with us the entire way, just waiting for me to pet him here and there along the way, raising up his body to meet and bump my hand…but every once in a while, as I’m starting to walk away from him, first he’ll swat a paw at me sticking a claw out to hook into my shirt, as I ask him what? And I continue to walk, so then he’ll give me a small bite on my forearm, sometimes along with a little meow…and so I can’t tell if he is being aggressive or affectionate lol? I understand could be overstimulation, but as I said I am already walking away from him? Could it be he just isn’t satisfied with my quick bits of attention and doesn’t want me to keep walking away? Or he doesn’t like something I’m doing? I do love him but don’t get enough time with him to get to know his cues – so just looking for opinions from other cat butlers lol thanks

  • Carolyn

    Everything that I have read is exactly what my 4 year old cat does. Most of the time she makes my hand bleed. Her name is JoJo. I rescued her from Houston’s Pets Alive in a Pet Store. She was about 4 months old. I could never understand why she would be loving me and all of a sudden bite me. Thank you for the good advice. I’m going to try what you suggested.

  • jasmine

    My cat Polly, is a little kitten. I was petting her and she bit me softly on the hand twice. She crawled up into my lap and is looking at me, kneading and purring as I type this. I was curious about the small nibbles, thanks!

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