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Why Does My Cat Rub His Face on Me Then Bite Me?

Cats can be confusing. Even though I’ve had them both for years, my British Shorthair and American Shorthair still surprises me sometimes. Just when you think you’re getting to grips with all the nuances of kitty communication, you’ll suddenly find yourself confronted with a new wrinkle that you just don’t understand. Most cat owners know enough to associate rubbing and snuggling with contentment and affection, so it’s just baffling when your cat suddenly goes from rubbing his face against you to sinking his teeth into the nearest body part. What could have gone wrong?

Why does my cat rub his face on me then bite me? This could be because your cat has been trained to regard body parts as toys. As with any feline aggression, it may be due to the cat not being spayed or neutered. Some cats are being playful when they bite, while others are showing fear or hostility.

If you’ve landed on this article, it’s probably because you have questions about your cat’s behaviour. Maybe your cat makes a habit of biting you right after nuzzling you. Perhaps this has only happened once or twice, and you’re keen to nip the behaviour in the bud. This may be the only aggressive behaviour that your cat has shown, or perhaps it’s part of a pattern of biting and problem behaviour that you want to resolve. Whatever your situation, you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading to find out more about feline aggression and how to put a stop to biting during play.

Why Does My Cat Rub His Face on Me Then Bite Me?

It’s confusing and upsetting when your cat bites you. Serious cat bites can be quite unpleasant — I once had to have stitches and a course of antibiotics after an encounter with an injured stray kitty went badly. Even if he doesn’t break the skin or leave you with any real injuries, those warning nips can be alarming. It’s especially disconcerting when your cat bites you after showing affection.

With any feline aggression, my first question has to be: “Is your cat spayed or neutered?” Your cat needs to be desexed as soon as possible after the 16th week. If you got your cat from a reputable breeder, it’s virtually certain that he was already desexed when you got him. If you rescued him, however, things may be a bit less clear-cut.

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Shelters generally desex cats before the animals leave their care, but a stray cat or a cat from a bad home may not have received proper veterinary care and may still be “entire”. The same frequently goes for cats acquired from pet stores and other unscrupulous breeders. Unfortunately, those cute kitties in the pet-shop window are often sourced from kitten mills, and might not be spayed or neutered when you buy them. Feline hormones can wreak absolute havoc with some cats’ temperaments, causing them to be erratic and aggressive.

Another possibility is that your cat has learned to treat body parts as fair game for play-fighting. While it might be cute to wriggle your hand in front of a small kitten and watch him pounce, it’s a lot less fun when a fully grown cat is using your limb as a chew toy. It’s important that your cat learns not to attack hands, feet, faces or any part of your body. If not, your cat might bite you while simply being playful. Nuzzling and rubbing are affectionate behaviours that might precede an invitation to play; it’s just unfortunate when said “play” consists of a set of sharp teeth in your finger.

It might also be that something is frightening your cat after he nuzzles you. Face-rubbing is a connection-building gesture and your cat is expecting friendly overtures in response. If you talk loudly, move unexpectedly, try to pick the cat up, or do something else that startles your cat, a bite may be the result.

For readers in countries where the cruel practice of declawing cats is legal, this might also be the reason for an unexpected bite. Declawed cats, having been robbed of their main defence, are much more prone to nipping and biting when they feel upset.

Why Would My Cat Be Scared?

You love your cat and you’d never hurt him, so it can be puzzling to learn that he might be scared of you. There are a lot of things I see cat owners doing that seem innocent, but could frighten or rile up a cat.

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  • Loud noises: You might be squealing with delight because your cat is being so adorably affectionate, but he doesn’t know that. All he knows is that you made a sudden loud noise near him when he was just trying to be friendly.
  • Hugging, grabbing or picking up the cat: Cats generally don’t like to be caught or restrained. Your natural response to a display of affection might be to scoop your cat up for a cuddle, but as far as he’s concerned you’ve just done something that makes him feel very unsafe. Cats have different levels of tolerance for this sort of thing. My American Shorthair loves to be picked up, but my British Shorthair absolutely hates it.
  • Sudden movements: If you move too fast, this can startle your cat and trigger a bite response.

Why Does My Cat Think I’m a Toy?

Hands and feet are small relative to a cat and tend to move in ways that evoke a predator response. This is unfortunate because it means that some cats may tend to pounce on you unless it’s trained out of them. And training a cat is very difficult. Pulling your limb away with a sharp “No!” (or just a loud “ouch!”, depending on your emotions at the time) will get the message across that you’re not happy with what he’s just done.

Do not play games with your cat where a foot or hand is used in place of a toy. If you get a cat used to pounce on your hand or foot, he will tend to keep doing it. Only use teaser toys or items such as string or ribbon when playing with your cat. It might be funny when your cat bites your boot, but it won’t be nearly as amusing when it’s your barefoot.

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It’s very important that you don’t physically punish your cat when he bites you. You need to communicate your distress with the situation in a way that he can understand. If a playfight between cats goes too far, the injured party will give a sharp cry and back off from the fight. You need to do the same thing. Yelling (just once) and moving away from your cat will get the point across.

Why is My Cat Aggressive?

Assuming that your cat is desexed, I’d look first for health issues. A sick or injured cat may hide his pain or another discomfort very effectively, but be unable to completely conceal the effect it has on his stress levels.

Older cats can often become aggressive in their twilight years. It’s not the cat’s fault. He’s simply becoming confused and disoriented, and possibly losing visual acuity and hearing. This is very distressing for the cat, and he may respond by lashing out. Your vet can help here, by prescribing kitty tranquilisers or antidepressants.

In a young, healthy cat with no other issues, I would look at stressors in the home environment. The idea that your pampered pet could possibly be suffering from stress might be counter-intuitive, but you need to look at the world from his point of view. There might be lots of perfectly normal things happening that your cat finds absolutely baffling. New pets, new members of the household, even new furniture, can throw off a cat’s sense of security. Even if nothing has changed in your home, there may be some external factor that’s upsetting him. If your neighbour gets a new dog or an outdoor cat, your indoor cat might feel that his territory is threatened.

As well as resolving stressors in the home, you also need to give your cat a constructive outlet for his energy. I like to spend at least 15 minutes twice a day playing games with my cats, letting them chase a teaser toy so that they get all those predatory instincts out of their systems