Feline affection can appear, at times, to be rather fickle. One minute you’re having fun with your cat, and the next minute you’re trying to gently detach four sets of claws from your arm and rescue what’s left of your fingers from a tiny, snarling mouth.
Often, this behaviour change seems to come out of nowhere — everything was fine until suddenly it wasn’t. Why would your cat turn on you like that? One of the most confusing behaviours is the sudden switch from licking you in a friendly manner to biting you. Why do cats act this way?
Why does my cat lick me, then bite me? Your cat licks you as a form of grooming. Sometimes you may have something on your skin that tastes good to your cat. If you move suddenly, make an unexpected noise or if your cat simply becomes overstimulated, your cat may sometimes bite after licking you.
You’ve arrived on this page with questions and possibly minor injuries. Why did my cat bite me? What went wrong? Why was my cat licking me in the first place? What happened to make my cat angry? How do I stop my cat from biting and scratching?
Does my cat hate me? What happens if I can’t stop my cat from biting me? How do I help my cat to be less aggressive? Keep reading, because we’ve got the answers you’re looking for. In this article, you’ll find out all about licking and biting behaviour in cats.
Why Does My Cat Lick Me, Then Bite Me?
Cats lick us for a variety of reasons. The simplest may be that you have something on your skin that tastes or smells good to your cat. This may not always be something you’d expect, like the salty-tasting residue from perspiration.
One of my cats was crazy about a hairspray I used to use — he’d try and lick my skin and hair to get a taste. The most confusing was a medicated nail treatment; I had to put it on in a room with the door shut because my domestic shorthair cat used to try and lick it off my toes, and it can’t possibly have been good for her.
More often, though, your cat is licking you because of her mutual grooming instinct. Feral cats groom each other as a way of reinforcing social bonds within their colonies.
When your cat grooms you, it’s often because she sees you as a large and ungainly colony-mate and wants to strengthen the connection between the two of you. Cats are, in their own way, social creatures. Licking and grooming you is a reflection of this.
But why the bite? There are lots of reasons. One is that the cat is simply being playful. A small nip would encourage another cat to engage in play-fighting, something that cats often enjoy. Your cat is just trying to get you moving so you’ll play a game.
It could also be because something you did unnerve the cat. Sudden twitches or flinching could have made the cat nervous and triggered a defence reaction. Cats can be quite skittish, and it’s not always easy to predict what will make them nervous.
You may also have done something that evoked a predatory instinct. Small movements can also prompt your cat to pounce as if you were prey. I find that one of my cats will sometimes try to pounce on my hands when I’m typing; I can only assume that the way my hands move is enough like a small animal to trip that “prey!” switch in her head.
The cat may also have become overstimulated. If you were petting her while she licked you, it’s possible that you accidentally “overloaded” her and she discharged that energy through a bite.
How Do I Stop My Cat From Biting Me?
This is a complicated question, with a lot of possible answers. It depends on why your cat is biting you. Sometimes I’m asked to advise owners who have “bitey” or “mean” cats, only to see them picking the cat up or trying to hug her when she clearly doesn’t like it. Of course, the cat struggles to getaway. If wriggling and struggling don’t work, biting and scratching will be the inevitable next step. Let your cat come to you and don’t invade her personal space.
Cats may be more inclined to bite when they’re scared, stressed or anxious. My domestic shorthair girl, a rescue, took some time to settle down when I first adopted her. She would watch me anxiously from under the furniture and sometimes go for my ankles. When I bent down to pet her, it was a toss-up as to whether she would relax and purr or bite my fingers. With her, it was a matter of giving her space and building trust.
It’s important to monitor your cat’s body language when you’re petting her. Cats can become twitchy and overly energised during petting sessions, even if they start out enjoying the process. If you see your cat stiffen or begin twitching her tail, stop petting her or switch to just petting her head.
Biting When Hungry
Cats can sometimes bite you when they’re hungry. They’re not trying to eat you (I hope). They just have a limited range of communication. Try to feed your cat on a schedule, and make sure she gets enough food for her age and weight. While cats should not be overfed, they do need a reasonable amount of high-quality, high-protein food to stay healthy.
The exact amount you should feed your cat will depend on the type of food you’re giving her, on her size, and on her age. Older cats tend to slow down. They don’t burn off excess calories the same way and can gain weight rapidly if overfed. Young cats, on the other hand, tend to be much more active. They need more food to support their growth and fuel their activity levels. In general, I usually provide two to three pouches of good-quality cat food every day. You can get more precise information from the manufacturer’s website.
Some cats simply never seem to get enough. Don’t resort to giving more and more food in an attempt to manage their appetites. Instead, use a slow-feeding dish. These are food dishes with convolutions that make it harder for the cat to eat all their food at once. You can also offer a treat toy that dispenses kibble when the cat manipulates it. This provides useful exercise and stimulation for your pet.
Playing With Your Cat
Cats require plenty of physical and mental stimulation. You can provide this in two ways: by making sure they have an enriched and exciting environment to explore, and by engaging them in play.
Make sure that your home has lots of exciting spots for your cat to walk, climb and perch on. Cat trees and habitats are fantastic. I have a catwalk — a sturdy shelf running around the top of my living-room walls — for my cats to explore. I also have a large cat tree, a tunnel and a couple of boxes lined with old blankets for my cats to lurk in. This encourages them to run, climb and play even when I’m not around to play with them.
I like to have three fairly long play sessions with my cats every day. In the mornings, before work, I spend about 20 minutes having them chase a teaser toy around. I do the same thing when I get home from work, and try to fit in another session just before I get ready for bed. This burns off their nervous energy so they’re more relaxed and less likely to become overstimulated at other times. Play of this sort is important for a cat’s health, especially more sedentary characters like my British Shorthair.
If your cat doesn’t respond to a teaser, try tempting her with a blob of wet food or pure-meat baby food on a long sundae spoon. This can get even the most lethargic cats to chase it. A well-exercised cat is much less likely to bite.