Why Do Some Cats Bite During Petting?

Some cats bite while they’re being petted.

Have you ever been petting your cat, and she was showing signs she enjoyed it, such as rubbing on you and purring, but then, suddenly, she turned and snapped at your hand? Her ears were laid back on her head and she looked totally angry. You had to slowly withdraw your hand to avoid being bitten.

Why do cats sometimes bite during petting?

Petting-Induced Aggression Is Confusing

The name of this type of behavior is petting-induced aggression, and it can be particularly confusing and upsetting to owners. That's because, often, the kitty has approached and even "asked" to be petted but then suddenly seems to change her mind. It feels like a bait and switch to the poor owner, who was only trying to accommodate the cat's initial request.

Why does this behavior occur?

The Repetition Can Be Irritating

Some cats enjoy being petted for a short time, but at some point, they get annoyed by the stroking, no longer finding it pleasant. That's when they hiss, swat, or bite at the petting hand.

Some people can understand this. Consider if someone was stroking or tapping you in the same spot over and over. It might turn from soothing and nice to irritating and almost painful in the blink of an eye.

Other cats just don't like being petted in certain spots. It could be anywhere for each particular cat, but common spots are the back, tail, paws, and belly.

Still other cats might not have been asking for petting in the first place. They might have simply wanted to lie next to the owner or rub their face on the person of their own volition without reciprocation.

Signs of Petting-Induced Aggression

Cats usually show signs they are becoming irritated with petting before they attempt to bite or scratch. Here are some body language cues you might see that indicate the cat is getting upset:

  • Stiffening muscles
  • Flattening of the ears
  • Quick tail-twitching
  • Staring at your petting hand
  • Leaning away from the petting

If your cat exhibits any of those signs while you're petting her, stop immediately and move your hand away.

You may be able to figure out that petting certain body parts is more likely to lead to aggression than others. Watch carefully for signs that your cat is fed up with the petting and make a mental note of which part of her body you were touching at the time. Every cat is different with regards to which parts of their body they like to have petted and for how long.

Most cats don't like to be petted roughly or have their fur pushed backward, so avoid doing those things while you're petting your cat.

Pain Can Cause Petting-Induced Aggression

If your cat has never shown aggression during petting before but suddenly begins displaying it, the cause could be pain. Arthritis, urinary tract infection, abscess wounds, and GI pain are some of the things that can cause a cat to be reluctant to accept petting even though she may want to stay close to her owner. If the onset of this type of aggression in your cat is sudden, get to the vet for a check-up.

Don't yell at or strike your cat for this behavior because that will usually make it worse.

Can You Increase Your Cat's Petting Tolerance?

If your cat isn't as cuddly as you'd like her to be and you want to try and help her accept petting more readily, you may be able to do so.

Make sure you go slowly. Allow your cat to approach you and give her a favorite treat while you're petting her. Always stop touching her if she shows signs she might bite, but don't give her a treat when you aren't petting her. Over time, she may associate being petted with positive things and tolerate it better.

However, some cats are never truly "lap cats." Don't risk a bite trying to change your kitty's personality.

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