This topic typically splits people into 2 camps. One side says that it’s no big deal, that it’s just “love bites”. People on this side often put up with the pain instead of dealing with the problem.
Meanwhile, the other side claims that biting cats are like little devils who hate people. Humans on this side of the argument usually surrender their cats to shelters. Tragically, it is not an exaggeration to say that a shelter cat who bites will probably be euthanized.
But the truth lies in the middle of these 2 extremes.
First, let us address the myth of “love bites”. Bites hurt, and cats know that. 9 times out of 10, Fluffy bites to express her anger or fear. A cat never bites when it is feeling happy, so there is no such thing as “love bites”.
On the other hand, biting cats aren’t people-hating monsters. They have a bad habit, (and a serious one at that) but they aren’t beyond redemption. In fact, the solution can be shockingly easy once you have pinpointed the exact trigger.
Fluffy’s trigger should fall into 1 of 4 categories. (Note that each problem will have a corresponding solution of the same number.)
1. Lack of Exercise. Cats were built to hunt and kill prey daily. And if they can’t find a proper outlet for their instincts, they’ll take it out in improper ways — namely, on nearby hands and feet. So playing with your cat will drain her excess energy and make her far less likely to act out.
2. Improper Handling. Improper handling usually happens in 1 of 3 ways: either incorrect petting, incorrect holding, or teasing.
Cats dislike being petted like dogs. The vigorous, heavy-handed stroking that dogs crave will drive a cat mad. In addition, many cats don’t like full-body petting (although my Autumn enjoys it). And whatever you do, don’t touch the tummy or the paws!
Another common mistake cat owners make is holding cats like a babies. I made this blunder myself. Queen Autumn I generously tolerated my faux pas, but a lot of cats won’t. Furthermore, it is a myth that holding the cat by the scruff is a good idea. Doing so is very uncomfortable for the cat, and there’s even a strong likelihood of injuring your precious pet. So don’t do it.
Watch children carefully to ensure that they aren’t teasing the cat. What kids might see as harmless fun, cats see as bullying. It is only a matter of time before Fluffy retaliates. Indeed, if this kind of behavior is left unchecked, it could turn a normal, sweet kitty into a feline delinquent who attacks all humans.
3. Fear. What is behind your poor kitty’s fear? Well, one sad possibility is that it might be PTSD from past abuse. A cat emerging from this kind of ugly past could easily have a fear of hands, because of what humans used to do to her.
And then again, it is more likely to be territorial insecurities. Cats are highly territorial. If another animal invades their territory, they instantly go into combat mode. This is why it can be difficult for multiple cats to live in one house.
4. Physical or Mental Condition. If none of the above reasons seem to hold true for your cat, then it is possible that she has a health issue. For example, many older cats get arthritis, so petting can be painful; hence, the biting. On the other hand, poor Fluffy might have a mental instability. The chemicals in her brain might be so off balance that she is convinced biting is her only option to fend off the danger that lurks around every turn.
1. Exercise. Playing with cats isn’t as simple as it seems. In fact, I’ve written a whole 3-part series on the topic in order to cover it from all angles. Here’s the link to part 1, if you’re interested.
But if you are strapped for time, here’s the gist of it: you should play with your cat every day for 20 minutes, and then feed her afterwards. This mimics how cats in the wild hunt, kill, and then eat their prey. Naturally, Fluffy will love playing this way.
One more note before we move on: the best method to get your cat engaged in playtime is to be engaged yourself. If you just sit on the couch dragging some string from left to right, most cats won’t care. So stand up. Move the toy in random patterns, at random speeds. Run around a little. Play tag, or hide-and-seek. Try things until you find what Fluffy likes.
Doing this will improve your cat’s health, brighten her mood, and cure many bad habits (including biting).
2. Proper Handling. Petting a cat properly starts with slow, gentle strokes. Some felines enjoy long body strokes; some like chin rubs; but it differs depending on the cat. It’s all about being sensitive to what your cat wants. And if you aren’t sure what Fluffy wants, start by rubbing your fingers from her nose to along the side of her face. Most cats love this!
The secret to holding a cat properly is supporting all 4 of a cat’s paws. Most cats hate being held like a sack of potatoes, with their hind legs dangling disconcertingly in the air. Try instead to hold her back paws with one hand and let her front paws rest on your forearm. Alternatively, you could hook your cats front paws over your shoulder. In this pose, one of your hands will be supporting her back paws and the other can pet her on the back.
As you may have noticed, it’s difficult to describe in words. So if you didn’t quite follow what I was saying, please check out this great WikiHow article. The pictures show it perfectly.
Finally, if a child is teasing the cat, it is your duty as the responsible adult to make them to stop. Like I mentioned before, if you do not, the consequences could be severe.
3. Confidence Building. For the cat with a fear of hands, you will need to gently teach her that hands are harmless. The goal is to replace her bad memories of hands with good ones. Try feeding her and setting your hands flat on the floor nearby. Slowly move them closer; if all is going well, try touching Fluffy softly. Eventually you can graduate to feeding her out of your hand.
Cats who clash with their feline housemates will need play to blunt those hunting instincts. That’s step 1. In step 2, you should make your house more cat-friendly. Add cat scratching posts and cat trees to your home. For step 3, try to create what cat expert Jackson Galaxy calls a “cat highway”. The idea is to line up a system of shelves, cat trees, and other furniture so that your cat can cross a room without touching the floor. Cats love being up high — it’s one of the reasons they always climb trees outdoors and get stuck in them. You can indulge this habit (safely) and build your cat’s confidence at the same time by creating a cat highway.
4. Vet. If something is wrong with your cat physically or mentally, only a veterinarian should be trusted with prescribing the right treatments.
And there we have it: the causes and the cures!
If you own an aggressive cat or if you know someone who does, I hope this helps you. But if this post was completely useless to you, then congratulations! Hopefully you will never need to put this information into use.
Now a word to my regular readers. My blog is usually all about positivity, and you might have been surprised by this depressing post. The reason is that I’ve been thinking and learning a lot about this topic lately, so I wanted to share what I’d found. But I promise that next week we’ll get back to your regularly-scheduled smiles.
So until then: stay fuzzy, my friends!