Cats bite for a variety of reasons. It’s important to understand why if you want to stop it.
Some cats love to bite their owners. Some biting can be playful, but biting for the most part is undesirable behavior. Different cats bite for different reasons. In order to fix your cat’s biting behavior, you must first identify why they are doing so, and then take appropriate actions for your cat.
Why Do Cats Bite?
Biting serves a number of functions for cats. It is often an animalistic behavior that a cat uses to assert dominance and respond to threats. In the home, it means that your cat may be biting because they are trying to show who is in charge. You’ll know this is the case if your cat bites you, but neither backs down nor tries to play or cuddle with you. Your cat is showing dominance by biting.
Your cat may also bite as a form of communication. Instead of meowing, some cats will use a nip on the calf or forearm to signal that they want something – to be fed, to open a door, to be let outside, or even to clean the litter box. You’ll know that biting is a signal behavior when your cat bites, then tries to lead you off in the direction of some action they want accomplished, or if they immediately meow afterwards.
Fixing Biting Behavior
Training your cat not to bite is very similar to training any pet to stop any bad habit. Here are a few basic training principles to always remember:
- Punish bad behavior, reward good behavior
- Punishment or reward should always immediately follow the cat’s action, so your cat is able to know why they are being punished or rewarded.
- Consistency is important.
Beyond these simple principles, there are specific ways you need to respond to different kinds of biting behavior. For cats who bite to assert dominance:
- Show them that you are the boss. Get angry and speak loudly. Cats are not as receptive to verbal communication as dogs, but will respond to volume and tone.
- Consider neutering your male cats that bite. Male cats tend to be more aggressive, but will calm down if neutered.
- Use a dominance item. When your cat bites you, lightly hit them on the head with a dominance item such as a rolled up newspaper. Eventually, they will respond just from the sight of it.
These measures can be helpful when a cat is showing dominance, but if your cat is just trying to communicate with you, different steps must be taken. For cats who are signaling to you, do the following:
- Ignore them. Cats who are trying to signal you are trying to get something out of their bite. If you do not respond, they will try a different signal.
- Establish a different form of communication. Do what your cat is asking you to do after they meow or rub against your leg. Over time, they will use it instead of biting to communicate with you.
- Be selective with negative reinforcement. You’re trying to teach your cat to reach out and communicate with you. If you punish them too much, they will be afraid to tell you of their needs.
You Can’t Have It Half Way
If your cat is like most, their biting behavior can be both cute and annoying. When they come up to you and playfully nibble on your hand, you may enjoy it. At other times, the biting can be painful and bothersome.
It’s important to remember that you can’t pick and choose if you want to stop your cat from biting. Your cat will have a very difficult time judging when the right time to be cute and bite is and when they shouldn’t. You must be unambiguous when training them. All biting is bad, and should receive the same response.