The Real Reason Cats Often Bite You When You Pet Them

Cats have a rep for being mysterious — a trait that their people often find appealing. There's one mystery, however, that baffles and frustrates even the most devoted cat lover: their biting habit. Owners know this scenario well: Your kitty is cuddled on your lap, purring contentedly as you scratch them behind the ears, and then — WHAM. Those needle-sharp teeth sink into your hand, and the sweet moment is over. What just happened? Has your pet suddenly become a furry little hellbeast? 

Understanding and knowing how to deal with your pet's behavior is key to developing a long and happy relationship with it. According to a study by the ASPCA on the reasons pets are re-homed to shelters or other owners, cats with behavioral problems are more likely to be given up than kitties who are more chill. If you're worried about your cat's biting, it may help to know what's behind it.

A cat's bite can be aggressive, playful, or loving

One of the most common causes of biting is what's known as petting-induced aggression. As animal behaviorist Amy Shojai tells The Spruce Pets, cats aren't like dogs when it comes to being petted. Whereas most dogs will soak up your love like sponges, cats are more sensitive; after a few strokes, the petting can feel uncomfortable, and the pet delivers a nip to signal "that's enough." Shojai adds that you can prevent this by taking note of your cat's biting patterns. If Fluffster goes for your hand after six strokes, then stop at four or five. Many cats also prefer being petted on the head or behind the ears, rather than on the body. If your cat's back begins to ripple when you pet it, that's a signal to back off. Some cats give gentle "love nips" during petting, but those can escalate to harder bites. The best way to discourage hard biting is to keep your hand still until Kitty disengages (via Meowingtons). Never hit or yell at a cat for biting.

If your cat goes for the bite during playtime, that's part of its natural instinct, explains Hill's Pet. Cats love to play "predator" with anything from their fellow littermates to a catnip toy to ... you. To save your skin, don't offer your hand or foot as a target; use a toy instead. If your pet still tries to pounce on you, walk away or distract it by tossing its toy away from you.