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Pet World: Why do some cats bite and what to do about it?

Cathy M. Rosenthal, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Cathy,

How do I stop my eight-month-old cat from biting me? I think he wants attention but that's a lousy way to get it. He doesn't bite my partner, just me. Also, are there any ways to keep the same kitten from pulling all the toilet paper off the rolls?

–Judy, Tucson, Arizona

Dear Judy,

An eight-month-old kitten is probably biting because he is teething, and his gums are sore. It’s likely just a phase, but phases need to be monitored and managed to ensure they don’t become habits.

Cat play is nothing more than a display of a feline’s hunting behaviors, which means they stalk, pounce, and bite things when playing. To avoid getting bitten, never use your hands as playthings. Keep stuffed socks, feathered wands, and other cat toys handy to quickly distract and play with your cat instead. This will keep your hands free from bites and your cat happy and content.

 

Some cats though, take biting a step further. One minute, you’re petting your cat and having a happy moment, the next your cat nails you with their claws or mouth. This is always a scary moment for the pet parent who wonders what on earth they did to deserve a bite? Or they wonder what’s wrong with their cat?

There is nothing wrong with your cat and cat is not misbehaving. But as a pet parent, you did do something wrong. You likely stroked your cat above his level of tolerance while your partner may stroke the cat below his level of tolerance. Cats are extremely sensitive to touch and other stimuli and when they are overstimulated, biting is often their go-to to tell you to stop petting them or remove the stimulus in the room. It’s called petting-induced or overstimulation aggression and is fairly common among cats. This behavior has nothing to do with how the cat feels about you, but with what is happening around them.

Be respectful of your feline’s tolerance for touch. Some cats might tolerate five minutes of petting, another cat may only tolerate five strokes, before they turn and bite the hand that feeds them. There are warning signs, like ears that twitch back, dilated pupils, and a rigid, slow-moving tail. Learn your cat’s tolerance for touch and don’t pet him one stroke more. It’s instinctive to want to pet your cat, but sometimes you have to override your instincts to abide by your feline’s wishes. Cats generally are content sleeping on your lap and maintaining contact with you in that way. Even if you are not petting your cat, you both will still benefit from the close contact.

Pent-up energy also can contribute to overstimulation aggression. Exercise helps. Make sure your feline has lots of toys, a cat tree, and at least 10 minutes of playtime/exercise, twice daily. If cats are tired from play, they are less likely to be aggressive and/or bite.

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