The Real Reason Cats Might Bite You When You Pet Them

Over half of the world's population are pet owners, with some sources (such as Petfood Industry) estimating that 57% of the people in the world have a pet. Of that percentage, approximately 23% of the pet owners have cats.

For a lot of people, cats are delightful beasts to have around. Cats are quite easy pets to have, especially when compared to dogs — it's easy to keep them inside, outside, or both, and cats adapt well to small spaces just as easily as they do to larger homes. Cats are also significantly more quiet than most dogs (unless they're hungry), and many pet owners report that relaxing with their pet cat helps lower their own anxiety and stress levels (via The Spruce Pets).

In fact, there's evidence out there that suggests a cat's purr can even lower one's blood pressure, in addition to calming the nervous system as a whole (via One way many cat owners derive a sense of peace from their cats is by petting them ... but sometimes, a cat can react negatively to exactly that attention.

Why cats bite when you pet them

While cats can be amazing pets, they can also be super confusing. For instance, one second you're sitting there, petting your cat and watching "Lupin" on Netflix, and the next, your cat has flown into full rage mode and is trying to bite you as you pet her. What??

Many cat owners refer to these nips as "love bites," but people who study cats and their behavior have a much more formal name for it: petting-induced aggression (via Vetstreet). If you find the behavior confusing, you're not the only one — experts themselves are still trying to figure it out.

According to Vetstreet, there are three possible reasons why a cat might bite back while you're petting them: your cat is trying to control the interaction (via status-induced aggression); your cat has a negative association with being pet for a long time; or your cat is unhappy, but has been subtle in expressing it up until that point (and bite).

Other reasons cats might bite in response to being petted

Other sources are quick to point out that not all cats have this negative reaction to being petted, which can make it even more confusing for cat owners. As Feline Engineering points out, if you're experiencing petting aggression from a cat for the first time, "it can feel like a very personal attack when your cat bites you for just trying to provide love."

Feline Engineering has posited that cats who nip back after being petted are trying to communicate their own preferences, which cats do have, just like nearly every other being on this planet. Luckily, the site says there are typically warning signs that indicate your cat is getting tired of your behavior, including flicking their tail, vocalizing instead of purring, trying to walk away, grooming themselves, and raising a paw to get you to stop.

Of course, sometimes cat owners have the best ideas for how to deal with undesirable behaviors from cats. Sometimes, that's exactly the kind of expert advice you really need.

Cat owners offer strategies for when a cat bites

If you've been worried about why your cat is demonstrating this kind of behavior in response to being petted, you're not alone. Cat owners the world over have taken to discussion forums, such as Reddit, to get advice for what they should (and should not) do in response. One cat owner, for example, offered a suggestion that hasn't been mentioned yet: the cat could have hormonal reasons that explain their behavior. "Hormones wreak havoc on a cat's mood and being spayed has a whole host of health benefits" (via Reddit).

Another person added that while the behavior might have an explanation, it shouldn't be tolerated. "Cats don't really realize that nips and bites hurt us. The way cats teach each other not to bite is pretty easy for humans to mimic." Happily, the same person has a solid idea for how to respond to the nips and bites if they bother you, suggesting a "loud and high-pitched yelp" to associate with the bite and then walking away, so the cat understands it's not OK.

PetMD, meanwhile, says that "love bite" and cats can indeed be a misnomer, depending on the context, and that there just isn't a lot of concrete research at this time into why cats bite sometimes when they're petted, resulting in a lot of theories. The outlet also notes that, simply, some cats do not enjoy getting petted, even if they are perfectly content with resting in your lap.