Q My cat, Peaches, is a Siamese mix. She loves to cuddle with me, but sometimes when I am petting her, she bites me. Occasionally it is hard enough to break the skin. Why does she bite, and can I train her not to bite after 12 years of living with me?
A Peaches is biting the hand that feeds her, and without apologies. It is easy to mistake the reason behind the nip. Peaches is not delivering a love bite, but rather a clear indication that she has endured enough of human kindness. Her nip translates into “Kindly stop petting me or I will bite harder.”
Some cats bite because as kittens they were permitted to play “hand wrestling” with their owners, who considered it cute antics. They grow up thinking it is okay to bite and swat at hands. But when they do it as adults with big teeth and sharp claws, they aren’t nearly as cute.
Other cats bite because they are scared or do not feel well, but because this has been going on her whole life, it sounds like a classic case of petting-induced aggression. While some cats can tolerate being petted, others feel over-stimulated by the sensation and automatically react by lashing out. Peaches is probably lashing out at you as a last resort after delivering what she believes to be clear pre-strike warnings. These may include tail lashing, ear flicking, dilated pupils, shifting position, tensing muscles, and ceasing to purr. When Peaches displays these warning signals, that’s your cue to stop petting. She has communicating to you in her best cat way that she is done with being petted.
Do not be so eager to pet Peaches for a while. Greet her in a friendly tone, but avoid petting her for a couple of days. This will make her desire your physical attention. When you do pet her, do so for just a few seconds and then stop. By being better in tune with her body signals, you can stop before Peaches feels overwhelmed and save your hand from an unwanted bite.
To learn more about your cat’s behavior, purchase The Cat Behavior Answer Book from Catnip.