Cats are beloved, cuddly companions. While we love our cats dearly, it can be a surprise when they choose to take a bite out of your hand. But why does your cat companion do this?
A cat may grab and bite someone's hand because of a feeling of overstimulation, annoyance, play, or signaling an injury. Identifying the reason a cat is biting you will likely be circumstantial. Redirect the cat's energy with a toy to stop the cat from biting.
Everyone has a different explanation for their cat biting them. We spoke with the experts to find out some of the exact reasons why cats do this kind of behavior. Keep reading to find out!
Why Cats Grab And Bite Hands
When a cat bites your hand while you are petting it, we call it a “love bite.” Unfortunately, these love bites can seriously hurt. So why does your cat bite your hand? Is it just a love bite/an act of affection? Well, it may be a bit more complicated.
The first thing to consider is your cat's age. Young cats and older cats may bite their owner's hands for different reasons. Young cats and kittens primarily bite hands as a form of playing.
Kittens are still learning right from wrong and are full of energy. As they learn to control their bursts of excitement, they may swat at or nibble on your hand.
Some kittens may latch on to your hand and repeatedly kick the palm of your hand as they bite you. Why is this? Most young animals “play” is just them learning how to hunt.
As gruesome as it may seem, some suggest the kitten kicking your hand is practice for kicking and ripping the stomachs of their future prey.
Your cat is not mistaking you for their prey. The cat is simply using you to practice. As your cat's only playmate, you may fall victim to these instincts. Do not be surprised if your kitten attempts to play rough.
Another reason a young cat may grab and bite your hand is because it mistakes your hand for a toy. We frequently dangle our fingers over our cats as they lay in front of us.
Taunting them with our hands may be fun for us, but it can confuse them. Cats may become especially confused when they get in trouble for scratching or biting the hand dangled that was dangled in front of them.
Teach your kittens that hands are not toys by redirecting their energy into toys.
While older cats do not have as much playful energy, they too may grab and bite your hand on occasion. If this happens, it could be for one of two reasons. Let's take a look at two different scenarios.
#1 Your cat is lying on the floor in front of you. As you approach them, they roll over, exposing their stomach to you. You reach down to rub their tummy. As you do, the cat latches on and begins to bite you.
#2 Your cat is lying by themself, perhaps on their cat scratcher or by the window. You walk closer and begin to pet them. Suddenly, your cat swings around, grabbing your hand and biting it.
So what's the difference between these scenarios? Well, let me explain.
Grabbing And Biting When You Rub A Cat's Belly
In the first scenario, the cat appears to be inviting your attention and affection. Even though you feel invited, the cat still bites you.
Just because your cat rolls over does not mean it necessarily wants petting. One expert explained that cats roll over to show their stomachs as an act of friendship and submission.
Your cat may only want to be acknowledged, not touched. The expert continued to explain that a cat biting your hand resembles how their mother would treat them.
Mother cats correct their kittens with gentle bites and pawing. If your cat is biting your hand, they may be signaling to you that they have had enough stimulation, just as their mother did with them.
Grabbing And Biting Because Of Discontent
Now, let's look at the second scenario. This scenario is a little more plain and simple. If your cat is not seeking out attention, it may be annoyed by your petting.
Annoyed by the attention, the cat will grab your hand and bite. A practice, once again, taught to it by its mother.
Petting a cat creates lots of stimulation. If your cat is not seeking out attention, it will likely react negatively to your attention. Your cat will notify you of its discontent.
But what about a third possible scenario?
Your Cat Might Do This Because Of Overstimulation
Your cat is sitting by you on the couch or perhaps is lying on your lap. After petting them for a while, they suddenly grab onto your hand and bite.
This reaction could be a result of overstimulation. As mentioned above, petting a cat anywhere creates significant stimulation. One cat behavioralist explained that cats have sensitive hair follicles.
These hair follicles can only take so much attention. If a cat becomes overstimulated, it will ask you to stop, or they will get excited and start to play. Both situations could result in your hand getting bitten.
The cat may also be telling you that you are petting it too roughly or in some other way that it dislikes. Remember, this is not a sign of aggression. Your cat is simply communicating with you in the only way it knows how.
Some suggest your cat biting your hand means it is injured; however, there is not much evidence to support this claim. Watch for other signs of injuries.
Another behavior associated with grabbing and biting your hand is cleaning it. Sometimes your cat will snag your hand and start licking you with the occasional soft bite.
This biting and cleaning combination is a form of affection and, once again, resembles its interactions with the mother cat.
If you think your cat is biting your hand for a different reason, chances are it is. You spend the most time with your kitty companion and therefore know its behaviors and personality best.
How to Tell When a Cat Will Bite You
Although it may seem sudden and unprovoked that your cat grabbed and bit your hand, chances are they warned you before biting you.
Unfortunately, cats and humans do not speak the same language. This language barrier can lead to some miscommunication and hurt feelings.
Do not be upset if your cat bit you. Watch for the warning signs described below to avoid it happening again. Cats are in constant communication with us. Whether they are meowing loudly or seemingly lying quiet, there is always a message.
Signs that your cat is about to bite you could be as subtle as the flick of their tail or a change in their ear position. More direct signs of irritation include hissing and growling.
If your cat arches its back, this is a definite sign of anger. Remove yourself from these situations.
Cats flick their tails as a sign of annoyance or even for excitement. If your cat is exhibiting these behaviors, it is best to avoid them or redirect its energy with a toy.
How to Stop Hand Biting
So you have identified the reason your cat bites your hand, now what? Now you can help your cat develop habits other than biting your hand.
Punishing your cat for this form of behavior will likely result in the cat disliking you. The more your cat dislikes you, the more likely it is to bite you. Punishing your cat will essentially result in a more aggressive cat rather than a trained cat.
Remember, your cat is an animal, and it will act by its instincts. Do not damage your relationship with your cat. Follow the advice below instead.
The first step to stopping your cat from biting hands is to understand the things you do that trigger the cat's reaction. You have already taken this step by reading the section above!
Now, be mindful of your cat. Become aware of the things you do that result in them biting your hand. If possible, stop these behaviors. Perhaps your cat only bites when you grab their tail or their feet. If so, stop petting these areas.
If you are petting your cat, and you notice they are beginning to get agitated or overstimulated, stop giving them attention. Only give your cat a few strokes to avoid riling them up. If your cat gets riled up, redirect its energy towards a toy, not your hand.
Never use your hand as a toy. Using your hand as a toy will only teach and encourage the cat to bite you and others.
Playing with your cat for at least 30 minutes a day will reduce the chances of it biting you. Cats rarely play for extended periods. Ensure your cat gets the full 30 minutes each day by dividing playtime into two or three segments each day.
Spreading playtime out will continually stimulate your cat's energy, decreasing its desire to bite your hand. Have playtime right before you leave for work to keep your cat out of trouble while you are gone.
What to Do When Your Cat Grabs and Bites Your Hand
Teaching your cat not to bite your hand will take time and lots of patience. But what do you do in the meantime if your cat bites you?
First things first, put down the spray bottle or the bottle of rocks. These tactics rarely teach the cat what they are doing is wrong. Instead, they invoke fear and panic. Cats learn by redirection.
Do not yank away from the cat. If the cat already has its teeth and claws on you, pulling away from them will only tear up your hand more. Additionally, pulling your hand away too quickly may further excite the cat, causing them to follow you or bite more.
Grab the cat's scruff with your free hand and gently pull them away until they release your hand. If the cat is not biting hard, you can also wait for it to let go and then pull your hand back slowly.
Remember, fast movements may excite them again. Some suggest pushing your hand gently into the cat's mouth. Doing so will force them to let go.
Once your hands are free, you need to distance yourself from the cat. Set the cat on the floor, move them off the couch, or ignore them. Ignoring a cat when it bites you teaches it to seek attention in other ways. If necessary, walk away from the cat.
Examine your hands for bites and scratches. Treat any bites or scratches.
How to Treat a Cat Bite/Scratch
As harmless as a cat bite or scratch may seem, they can be quite dangerous if left untreated. Both cat bites and scratches can easily get infected due to the bacteria they carry. One such bacteria, Pasteurella multocida, is the leading cause of hand infections.
Because cats have significantly sharper teeth than other animals, their bites essentially inject bacteria into the wounds. Although a cat bite may not look serious at the moment, this can quickly change.
Immediately wash the bites and scratches on your hand. If the wound is bleeding, apply pressure and a bandage.
If your hand begins to swell, turn red, or becomes more painful, seek medical attention. Other warning signs to watch for are fever or flu-like symptoms.
Cat bites or scratches that have been left untreated could result in serious infections that may require surgery. Cat scratches are dangerous because their claws are so sharp.
Because of the smooth cut cat claws create, it is harder for the wound to heal. Additionally, cat claws carry bacteria which then get into the scratch.
Wash cat scratches with soap and water. Be careful not to rub the wounds as this could work the bacteria further into the site. Watch for signs of infection such as swelling, chills, body aches, and pus.
If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention.
Consult a veterinarian if any of your other animals get bitten by a cat (if it breaks the skin).