Cat Love Bites — What Do They Mean and Why Do They Happen?

Cat enthusiasts are probably the most passionate demographic around. We love our cats! We wear our love, we record it, we photograph it and we share our love, wholeheartedly. It’s like it’s always Valentine’s Day with our feline friends. While we love our cats and want our cats to love us back, sometimes we get a little too zealous in demonstrating said love to our cats. Yes, we want to cuddle and stroke them nonstop, and very often they enjoy the attention — up to a point! Cat love bites are the result of our demonstrative nature run amok. Anyone who has lived with a cat probably has a story or two about a cat love bite. Let’s find out how to identify cat love bites versus real cat bites and what to do when they occur.

Cat love bites and being overstimulated

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Cat sounds can only provide insight into our cats’ emotions to a point. So, we rely on their body language to relay how they’re feeling. Ears backlow growlthumping tail says, “Stay away from me right now.” A cat who is cornered and agitated could lash out at the perceived threat. Watching for escalating aggressive signals from your cat can thwart a real cat bite. A real cat bite that results in a puncture wound should be addressed right away.

However, there are times when you and your cat are in the groove. You’re giving him a nice ear rub, and he’s looking at you with soft eyes, giving you that cat slow blink kiss. He might even start kneading your leg. The feeling of mutual admiration is pulsing through the air. You start rubbing his shoulders, he seems to really like that area caressed. So, you increase the pressure and lean in a little more to ramp up that purr. Then, seemingly without warning, he bites down on your hand. The pain probably takes hold of you before you can realize what just happened. The cat love bite strikes again!

According to Jackson Galaxy, cat behaviorist and author, the cat is over-stimulated. More precisely, Galaxy tells the Sydney Morning Herald, “It’s called petting-induced overstimulation. The hair follicle receptors in a cat can only take so much petting before it hurts.”

Cat love bites can be a behavioral holdover from kitten days

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My Himalayan mix, named Slayer, will out of the blue come over and bite my arm — it’s more like a nip. Whether I’m on the couch or in bed, he hops up and makes this random gesture. Then he’ll plop down and expose his belly. This ritual ends with me giving him a few strokes. But not too many!

So, what’s this about? Dr. Karen Becker tells Huffington Post that it’s reminiscent of the ways cats and kittens playfully interact with each other. It’s another form of cat love bites, but it’s not a result of too much stimulation. It’s your cat just being playful and using his nonverbal communication skills to let you know he’d like some attention, now, please.

Cat love bites and play aggression in cats

Most kittens play rough. Youngsters’ play is not only a form of social bonding, it’s also preparing the litter for adulthood. Bouts of mock stalking and hunting give way to pouncing and biting. Cat love bites can occur when your kitten is playing aggressively with you, especially if you’re kitten doesn’t have another feline playmate.

Again, you can tell the difference between aggressive playtime and real aggression by paying attention to your cat. If he’s not growling or hissing, his excitement (not agitation), is escalating. It’s important to remember that his play drive is connected to prey drive (which historically ends with a “kill”). Dr. Jean Hofve, DVM, holistic veterinarian warns on Jackson Galaxy’s blog that playing rough with your kitten can directly cause unwanted aggression toward you when he’s an adult. A tiny cat love bite from a kitten might be funny. An adult cat love bite might cause swelling.

If you’ve inadvertently created a cat who gets a bit too mouthy with the cat love bite during play, you can change that behavior. Don’t play with your cat using your hands. Instead, use a to toy with a string or wand. Teach your cat to fetch. Try clicker training your cat.

What to do after a cat love bite

In his interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Galaxy recommends watching for signs of agitation while you’re petting your cat. If his pupils start dilating, his ears pin back and his tail starts wagging, stop caressing your cat. It’s really that simple. If you don’t stop before you get a cat love bite, definitely stop as soon as you are bitten.

Then let your cat establish what he wants to do next. Sometimes, cats make a mad dash out of there. Sometimes, they want to still be near you, they just don’t want you petting them any longer. Respect your cat’s boundaries and if he stays next to you, don’t keep touching him.

The bottom line on cat love bites

Cats show their affection in a myriad of subtle ways, so always be receptive to what he’s telling you. Seemingly innocuous actions like cheek rubsheadbutting and licking are actually letting you know they love you! Whether he’s hanging around and purring or kneading your extremities raw and chirping, it’s all about the love.

So, whether they’re giving you a little cat love bite out of follicle frustration or out of kitty cat playfulness, our cats are always letting us know how they feel. It’s up to us to pay attention.

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