Dear Tabby,

Sometimes our cat bites us. It doesn’t seem like an aggressive bite, but it’s hard to know. Can you help us to determine if we’ve done something to anger him and how to make the biting stop?

Love Bites or Not in Acres Homes

Dear Love Bites,

Oh, cats ... Cats are complicated creatures. While dogs are fairly transparent in their feelings, cats are often more vague in displaying their emotions. It takes a little time and patience to figure out the inner workings of the common feline and I applaud you for reaching out to seek the truth rather than immediately punishing or banishing your cat for this very common kitty behavior. So, let’s sink our teeth into why your cat may be biting and what we can do about it.

Grooming or aggression?

Biting humans is actually a very common thing for cats to do. The trick is to read their body language to determine if the bites are aggressive or not. “Love bites” typically do not break the skin and are often accompanied by grooming.

Cats groom those whom they consider part of their “pack,” and this includes humans. You might find your cat to be happily grooming himself while you’re petting him and then his grooming will sometimes shift to grooming you. Small nibbles are part of the grooming process and your cat might simply be “defleaing” you. If your cat is purring, relaxed and exposing his belly to you, it’s safe to say that he is content and the bites you’re experiencing are indeed “love bites.”

However, if your cat is twitching his tail, hissing or growling, something has upset him and, if he bites, look out! This is an aggressive behavior and there will be blood! Many cats have a very small window between enjoyable petting and annoying petting. If you’re petting your cat and he’s suddenly had enough, he will remove himself, stop purring, start flopping his tail around and often growl. This is his sign that he has had enough! Consider this your warning.

What to do if your cat is biting you?

The best thing you can do is prevent the biting in the first place. It’s very important to take the time to observe and respect your cat’s body language. Soon enough, you’ll begin to notice the minute details that show how your cat is feeling.

It’s also important to let your cat come to you for love and attention. A cat that feels trapped or chased will seldom relax and enjoy being petted. This is a recipe for a cat bite indeed!

Speaking “cat”

When petting your cat, pay attention to the parts of his body that he seems to enjoy being petted most and stay there. Generally speaking, the chin, top of the head and around the ears are the safest places to pet a cat. Proceed with extreme caution about petting his belly, though. Even though he might roll over and expose his belly to you, cats are different from dogs in this regard and are often very finicky about having their bellies touched. If your cat does bite you, never react negatively.

It might feel instinctual to swat at, or scruff a cat who has bitten, but this will seldom “teach the cat a lesson,” and will instead only make the cat more aggressive.

My best advice is to spend some time really paying attention to your cat’s body language and learning to “speak cat.” If your cat is biting aggressively, research ways to positively reinforce his good behavior and seek out ways to make sure you can give him the happiness he deserves in your home.

Do you have a question for Tabby? Email her at deartabby questions@gmail.com.

Pet of the Week

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