Most cat owners are intimately familiar with love bites. Love bites can take shape in a number of ways, but most often they appear as a gentle bite, not meant to pierce the skin, and usually during a petting session, or when you show affection.
Cats give love bites for several different reasons. Sometimes they bite when they feel overstimulated, sometimes they will do it when they are happy, and other times they might be living a learned behaviour from their youth or somewhere else. In some cases, they may bite down hard if they feel defensive or highly overstimulated.
A Sign of Overstimulation
When your cat wants attention, they do a great job of letting you know. They will rub against your legs, paw at you, rub their faces against you, and sometimes it seems like when they lay on their side for you to pet them, after a few strokes they are biting your hand.
What gives? This behaviour, while seemingly aggressive, is their way of letting you know they’ve had enough. Your cat isn’t mad at you, it’s just trying to set a boundary. Oftentimes, as soon as they stop biting your hand, they will seek more affection.
The best way to avoid this sort of bite, or to avoid escalating it to a serious bite, is to read your cat’s body language while you are petting them. Look for the signs of overstimulation, like ears pointed back, dilated pupils, and tracking of your hands.
A Sign of Affection
Not all cat love bites are a sign of your cat feeling uncomfortable. Some cats simply like to gently bite the fingers or hands of the people they love. It may sound strange, but in the animal kingdom, it happens more often than you’d think.
Another reason they may nibble on you is to leave their scent on you. You are their loved one and they want to mark you. This is completely normal in the cat kingdom and should be taken as an act of love, not aggression.
The bottom line is if they are not hurting you with their love bites, and their energy is calm, your cat is likely telling you they care about you.
How to React
When your cat gives you a soft bite, don’t get upset. For some cats, it’s a fine line between soft biting and aggressive biting. When a cat gets overstimulated, you are the one who needs to de-escalate before they ramp up their reaction.
The first thing to do when a cat bites you is to stop moving your arm. Cats lose interest in prey quickly when it stops moving. Secondly, as you feel their grip loosen, slowly remove it from their grasp. Be sure to remain calm at all times. Cats can often sense the nerves of the people they interact with, and nervous energy can put them on defence.
The good news is, so long as you remain calm and safely remove your arm, in many cases you can continue having fun with your cat!
It’s obvious that cats give love bites for a few reasons, but so long as you pay close attention to their body language, listen to them, and the bites are soft, you don’t need to worry about a cat giving love bites.
Some folks might find it concerning at first, but unless the cat is getting aggressive and hurting people, it’s largely just normal behaviour. If your cat is hurting people and becoming aggressive often, talk to a vet or behaviourist and get them some help.