BEHAVIOR & TRAINING

How to Make Your Cat Stop Biting: Gentle Ways to Help Them Understand Your Pain

A cat biting her owners hand
Stella Noble
Written by Stella Noble

Have you been bitten by cats before? We’re sure that most cat parents have. There is a term called “cat love bites.” These are the type of bites that you probably would consider cute because rather than actually biting, they are more like nibbling and gnawing on your fingers to get your attention. However, at times the love bites could develop into actual teeth-sinking, flesh-ripping bite. She wouldn’t let go even if you’re trying to pull back your hand or screaming out in pain. Times like these, it’s important to know how to make your cat stop biting.

Of course, your cat doesn’t have any actual intention to hurt you. She just gets carried away, and it doesn’t really register in her mind that what she’s doing is harmful. Biting is a part of her instinct dating back to the days when cats used to depend on their hunting abilities to survive in the wild. To stop this habit, you need to make them understand that they are safe, that you are their family, and that you do not appreciate her roughhousing. We know you don’t want to punish your cat—you want to settle this in gentle, loving ways. We’re going to tell you how.

kitten-playing-to-bite-a-hand

In this post, you will find different sections covering the logic behind why cats bite, how dangerous their bites can be, and how you can teach or train your cat not to bite. If all else fails, we have also included a brief explanation of what kind of necessary, non-harmful punishments you can exert on your cat to curb the bad behavior.

Why Do Cats Bite?

Before we move on to the step-by-step guide on how to curb your cat’s biting habit, we would like to first help you understand the logic behind a cat’s biting behavior. For cats, biting serves a number of functions such as:

  • To assert dominance. In the kingdom of animals, biting has always been seen as a sign of superiority. If your cat bites you, that could mean she is trying to show you that she is in charge.

  • To respond to threats. We all respond to threats. Cats also have their own ways of responding. We know you never mean to harm your cat, but cats see things differently. If your cat suddenly shows an uncommon level of aggression, it could mean that you did something to upset your cat.

  • To communicate. As we all know, cats prefer to communicate using their body language. Some cats can be quite vocal, but if your cat prefers to communicate with you silently, biting can be one of her ways to convey the message. Maybe she wants to be fed, to be let outside, or to play. If your cat bites you then tries to lead you into doing something, your cat is communicating with you.

How Dangerous Is a Cat’s Bite?

Depending on the factors that drive your cats into biting, cat bites can actually be pretty dangerous—not only to humans but also the cats themselves, as well as other animals. Once they bite your skin, you will be left with open wounds. As we all know, the mouth—any living being’s mouth, really, even yours—is a breeding ground for bacteria. These bacteria are capable of causing infections on the skin tissue.

kitten-nibbling-on-orange-painted-toenails

One of the most common bacteria is called Pasteurella multocida. It often exists as a commensal in the upper respiratory tracts of many domestic pets such as rabbits, dogs, and cats. If your wound is infected with this bacteria, some symptoms that you may experience are:

  • Swelling

  • Redness

  • Warmth and tenderness of skin

  • Discharge of pus

  • The lymph nodes may enlarge

  • In children, chills and fevers are common

  • Worst case scenario, the infection could lead to arthritis (joints), osteomyelitis (bones), and tenosynovitis (tendon)

  • Less frequent cases (but still possible) include pneumonia, blood infections (septicemia), meningitis, urinary tract infections, or eye infections

If any of these occur after a cat bit you, get medical help immediately. Most of the time, you would be prescribed an antibacterial treatment. If your wounds need to be cleaned, the medical professional will drain the pus, and in worst case scenario, you might need to be admitted to the hospital.

How Do You Teach a Cat Not To Bite?

We have compiled some techniques you can try to practice with your cat. You should understand that it is instinctive for a cat to bite. These techniques are not meant to teach your cat to stop biting completely. Rather, these techniques are designed to train your cat to differentiate between the things that are okay to bite and those that are not—one of latter being human skin.

Step 1: Never Use Your Hands or Feet to Wrestle with Your Cat

The reason why you should not use your hands or feet when wrestling or actively playing with your cat is because this could be considered as a threat by your cat.

Gray cat biting his owners finger

The act could feel a little too aggressive for some cats—they are very small after all, and us humans are very big—as a response, the cat may start fighting back.

Step 2: Never Yell At or Hit Your Cat

If you start yelling and hitting your cat for doing her “cat love bite,” she could get stressed out. As a result, you will be faced with a nervous cat. A nervous cat will do anything to protect herself, and she may feel like she’s been backed into a corner with no other option but to fight back.

Step 3: Always be Ready to Respond Calmly

Cats are always attracted to movements. You may have noticed when you were playing with them that their eyes will follow whatever that is swinging or moving in front of them.

Cats are very curious. If you are typing on a keyboard, cutting some vegetables, or doing anything that involves your hands moving, chances are your cat will be very attracted to the movement.

Owner looking at his cat and smiling

Never pull your hands away too quickly if she begins to bite your hands. She will take it as an invitation to give chase. Gently but firmly say “no” and distract your cat with a toy after you’ve removed your hands. By responding calmly, you are teaching and showing your cat that your hands are not something to be played with.

Step 4: Do Not Pull Away if You Can Help It

We mentioned in Step 3 that you shouldn’t pull away too quickly. Pulling away slowly is a good solution if you’re in some serious pain, but if you can stand it, we would like to suggest not pulling away at all.

Owner keeping his hand on his ginger cats head

We are prone to protecting ourselves. When we are bitten by animals, the first thing we would do is try to pull ourselves away. This is considered intuitive. However, just as you shouldn’t run away when you see a dog running towards you, rather than pulling yourself away from your cat, we suggest that you firmly say “no.” Then, push your cat gently.

This act will usually confuse your cat because a prey would always try to run away. If you are firm, your cat will understand that you are not prey and will let you go willingly.

Step 5: Use Cat Toys as Distraction

This training is to help your cat understand that biting toys is okay, but biting humans is not. If your cat is in a playful mood and tries to bite you, don’t indulge them by giving them your hand.

Kitten playing with cat toy

Rather, play with them using cat toys like:

  • Wand toys. It’s one of the most effective toys for your cats. If you and your cat enjoy interactive play, controlling a wand toy from afar can help in disciplining your cat.

  • Throw toys. A throwing toy is very effective at diverting the cat’s attention away from you as your body will be far away from your cat’s mouth.

  • Kick toys. This type of toy is designed to satisfy your cat’s desire to bite. They will hug the toy, bite down on it, then kick it will all their might. Once they have gotten the itch in their teeth out, they are less likely to bite you.

Step 6: If All Else Fails

If all else fails, then it’s time for some serious discipline. Cats react differently to discipline. Some cats are very calm and obedient, some are not and tend to be hostile. Understanding your cat’s personality is a must before you try to teach her anything.

attentive cat listening to his owner

When you think about punishment, the methods that come to mind may be closely related to what parents usually do to naughty children, such as:

  • Putting them on “time out”

  • Sending them to their rooms

  • Grounding them

  • Taking something they adore away from them

And the list goes on. However, cats are not humans. If you want to punish and train your cat, you have to start thinking like felines. The aforementioned types of punishment that you use on humans can be very detrimental to the relationship between you and your cat.

Black cat-meowing to his owner

You do not want to frighten your cat. It’s a good thing you are trying to show your cat who exactly is in charge here, but turning your cat into a fearful one will not make things better. Unlike dogs, cats are well-known for running away. They are independent animals, and a stressful situation can cause them choose to live without you.

Proper discipline on cats can be exacted by way of:

Technique #1: Repetition

Cats learn from previous mistakes. If you keep repeating things patiently, eventually your cat will catch on.

A cat paying attention to something on the floor

If you want to correct your cat’s bad behavior, this is the most positive way to teach your cat even though it may take some time and effort.

Technique #2: Reward Good Behavior

Do not just punish your cat and leave her hanging. If your cat starts to show good behavior, always remember to reward her immediately. This way, your cat will know just how exactly you want her to behave.

Technique #3: Show Them You Are the Boss

When faced with a cat’s bad behavior in biting, there are specific ways on how you can respond to it. But most importantly, you have to show them that you are the dominant one.

Cat listening to his owner

Cats have a really good hearing, and they can pick up changes in volume and tone easily. Speak in a firm, reprimanding way, and your cat should understand that you are displeased. Just don’t use physical force on them.

Technique #4: Ignore Them

As much as cats are independent animals, they can be very attached to humans. When they want your attention, they will do whatever it takes to gain it. That could include biting you. But if you ignore the act of biting, you are teaching your cat not to do the same thing because it doesn’t work.

Ignoring your cat completely will discourage him from scratching the carpet under your door.

This technique is probably hard for you to do especially when your cat looks so saddened by your rejection, but by ignoring them and moving on to doing different things, you are signaling to your cat that you are not interested in the activity.

Technique #5: Establish Different Forms of Communication

When trying to stop your cat from biting, you must learn to establish different ways to communicate. If your cat wants you to do something, you should only do that for them after they rub against your leg or meow at you. Eventually, they will understand that while biting you won’t yield the desired response, other methods of communication will.

Wrap Up

Training your cat to stop biting can be pretty intimidating. Just like teaching a child how to eat properly, it will always take a whole lot of patience to make sure your cat does what you want. But if you follow our guide on how to make your cat stop biting and really apply them in real life, you will start seeing the difference.

However, always remember to be very selective with any negative reinforcement. You are trying to train your cat to communicate better and to reach out to you properly. If you use the wrong or too many punishments, you might turn your cat into a fearful one.

Cat playing with her owner on a red carpet

Don’t use physical force to make your point. Be gentle yet firm. Your cat will understand eventually. It might take time to get the point across, but once your cat gets it, she won’t “unlearn” it.

When does your cat tend to bite? Does she get carried away during playtime? Does she unconsciously get too rough while giving you love bites? How do you usually admonish her? If we missed any good ways to teach a cat not to bite, please help us complete this article by sharing any tips and tricks below!

About the author
Stella Noble
Stella Noble

Stella Noble lives in Warren, Michigan with her family and three cats. She is a Certified Cat Trainer and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

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