Love Bites, Or Just Bites?

Why cats sometimes casually apply their teeth to your skin while you’re petting them.


You are gently stroking your cat, and she is clearly enjoying it, when out of nowhere she begins biting you. The bites are not aggressive. There’s no hissing or tail swishing involved, and she’s not trying to scratch you with her claws. There’s something almost casual about the bites, in fact. But while these “love bites” typically don’t break skin, they can prove painful nonetheless. What gives?

Animal behaviorists posit a couple of different reasons that a cat might bite her owner during a petting session. One reason for this common behavioral response to your attention might be that she wants you to stop petting. Cats tend to be rather particular about the amount of time they want to be petted and the amount of intensity they want to go into it. A nip or bite might be her way of telling you she’s had enough, even if she wants to remain on your lap or next to you on a couch or chair.

A so-called love bite might also be your pet’s way of grooming you. Sometimes, a cat will lick or mouth her owner’s hand and then, to really get at a spot to make sure it’s clean, use a couple of teeth to scrape away whatever debris she perceives might be present. That’s how her mother cleaned her when she was a kitten, so she is taking care of you in the way she learned how. In that sense, you could say she is being loving.

You should not yell at your cat to get her to stop. Don’t scruff or shake your cat or apply pressure from your hand, either, even if you feel some serious pain. Negative interactions between cats and their people are never a good thing; they fray the human-animal bond, teaching a cat to distrust her owner. Remember, your cat is not consciously being aggressive or trying to cause you any discomfort. She’s just responding to her instincts.

Better simply to stop petting and remove your hand slowly. Cats are engineered to track movement, and if you jerk your hand away fast, it becomes interesting prey. Reacting slowly may seem like the last thing you want to do; it can seem counter-intuitive. But it often stops the behavior because it makes your hand less interesting.

Also, when petting your cat, stop before she gets going. If she nudges you for some more stroking, do a little more, then stop again. Better to have her ask for more than to wait for her to let you know she has had more than enough.


  1. My cat bit me really hard yesterday. My hand was laying in my lap. He was on my lap. It drew blood and I have an enormous bruise. This seemed more aggressive than loving.

  2. It is so difficult to know what is going on in those furry heads, isn’t it? I have a cat that also does such bites, seemingly out of no-where, but I get the impression he is reacting from a place in his past, which I don’t think was always very good. Is there any possibility that there is something subtle going on in your household that may be bothering your cat…a new person or animal, a change in the household routine…? Cats are so sensitive to changes we might take for granted.
    So, put a nice bandaid on the wound…the bruise will go away…and love your kitty, tho he/ she can be so mysterious.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here