Cat Love Bites: 5 Reasons Why They Do It & How To Respond

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Does your snuggly kitty like to nibble on your hands at times? Cat “love bites” mean no harm, and they can be indicative of affection, overstimulation, style of play, or even frustration. If you dislike love nibbles or find them annoying, figuring out the motive behind the behavior can help to prevent it.

Quick Overview

01

Unlike aggressive biting, love bites are gentle. They don’t hurt, pierce the skin, or draw blood.

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No one knows for sure why cats give humans love bites, but it's generally thought to communicate love and affection.

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If you don't enjoy love bites, there are several techniques you can use to prevent your cat from nibbling on your skin.

 

Let’s learn why cats feel the need to mouth human hands and how you should respond.

What Are Cat Love Bites?

Love bites are gentle nibbles, never breaking the skin or drawing blood.

Love bites are a method of communication. They typically start with a lick of the tongue through grooming behavior, and slowly progress to gentle nibbles and nips. Love nips are common in queens that have had litter of kittens. Some cats also display similar behavior toward humans by licking a person’s hand and progressing to tiny nibbles.

Love bites are gentle. They don’t hurt, pierce the skin, draw blood, or require hospitalization. Equally, the cat’s body language is fully relaxed and there aren’t any signs of aggression, although some cats may become slightly jittery prior to nipping.

Also Read: The 13 Most Affectionate Cat Breeds That Love to Cuddle

Cat Love Bite Versus Real Bite

‘Love nips’ are typically common in queens who had litter of kittens.

Some bites are not love bites. Love bites are are gentle mouthing occasionally accompanied by rubbing or purring. Real cat bites are caused by aggression, fear, anxiety, or frustration.

Aggression aimed toward people can vary in its severity, from hostile vocalization like hissing, snarling, or shrieking to piloerection body posture (arched back with hair standing on end). More severe aggression includes clawing and full-strength bites with deep lacerations that require immediate medical treatment and antibiotics.

Also Read: Why Does My Cat Bite Me When I Pet Her?

Reasons Why Cats Give You Love Bites

Love bites are often amusing—they don’t usually hurt, though some people find them annoying.

Although there’s little scientific evidence that explains why cats give humans love bites, here are few hypotheses:

1. Your Cat Is Displaying A Sign Of Affection

Licking and nibbling on your skin is a sign of affection, a behavior that traces back to when your cat was a kitten.

Some kitties nip on your skin to convey their affection. Small, delicate nibbling gestures adopted from kittenhood and transferred into adulthood express the unbreakable bond between the two of you.

2. They Are Overstimulated By Your Petting

For cats, there is often a fine line between finding handling pleasurable and becoming annoyed.

Sometimes your cat can be bitey if they’re overstimulated from an excessive amount of petting. A delicate nibble that intensifies into a firmer bite is a reminder to cease heavy patting. This is when love bites cross the border into real bites.

Also Read: How To Pet A Cat – The 3 Basic Do’s And Don’t’s

3. Your Cat Is Trying To Solicit Your Attention

If love bites have gotten your attention in the past, your cat might repeat the behavior.

Cats are extremely clever; they continuously learn by watching us and our daily routine to achieve the best outcome for themselves. Some cats have grasped that rubbing or nipping on your arm while you’re preparing a meal might solicit your attention and you might provide them with a treat or feed them. If the solicitation doesn’t result in obtaining what they want, they’ll bite harder out of frustration.

Also Read: Do Cats Get Jealous Of Other Cats?

4. Display Of Play/Predatory Behavior

Cat playing

Misdirected play or predatory behavior can turn into love biting.

Another reason your cat might nibble or grip their teeth and hold onto your arm is misdirected play/predatory behavior. This can manifest as pouncing followed by a nip of your hand or feet. Ultimately, it’s a style of rough play that should have been curved during kittenhood.

Also Read: How To Safely Play With A Cat, According To A Cat Behaviorist

5. It Might Be A Comfort Behavior

Since mother cats lick and love bite their kittens, doing this to you could give your cat a feeling of contentment.

Lastly, there might be a comfort element when your cat licks your face and nibbles on your fingers because this is similar to the behavior bestowed by the queen post birth.

Additionally, when your cat grooms, rubs their face against you, or gives you love bites they release pheromones that communicate communal scent. This serves to solidify a positive relationship with each other and might serve as stress-relief during short periods of anxiety.

Also Read: Stress In Cats: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

How To Respond To Love Bites

Simba licks the hand of our very own cat behaviorist, Melian Grin, before he gives her a love bite.

Your response to love bites will vary depending on whether you find the behavior pleasurable or irritating.

Personally, I find the behavior pleasing since my cat Simba usually grooms my hand before and after the nibble, and it’s usually observed while he’s purring. Though if you find this behavior irritating or if it often escalates into a bite, follow the steps outlined below to reduce or stop it all together.

Also Read: Why Is My Cat Purring Constantly?

How To Stop Your Cat Giving You Love Bites

For those people who don’t enjoy ‘love bites’ there are several techniques you can apply to prevent your kitty nibbling on your skin

For those people who don’t enjoy love bites, there are several techniques you can use to prevent your cat from nibbling on your skin. It helps to understand what’s inciting your cat to nip in the first place—the communicative intent behind the behavior.

Here are few suggestions to discourage love bites:

1. Keep Your Hand Still

Try not to move your hand around when your cat bites so they give up and let go.

Although it’s going to sound illogical and tricky, keep your hand still and don’t pull it away. Innately, cats are a predator species, so lack of movement will often stop the bitey behavior.

2. Learn How To Read Your Cat’s Body Language

Cat flicking tip of tail

If little bites are happening because your cat is feeling overstimulated, try to stop petting before this happens.

Watch out for your cat’s subtle warning signs of discomfort while stroking them, particularly pupil dilation, tense body, tail twitching, skin rippling, ear flattening, and a sudden head turn. Avoid extended petting in parts of their body they feel most vulnerable like their belly. Some cats have low tolerance levels and only enjoy short, low-intensity petting sessions.

Also Read: 12 Cat Breeds With Adorable Big Ears

3. Redirect Your Cat To A Toy

Redirecting your cat’s bite onto a more acceptable object is a very effective strategy.

In cases of play nipping, redirect your cat’s attention by tossing a toy away from your body or divert their attention to a feather teaser wand cat toy. Most important, don’t encourage your cat to play with human body parts, and don’t hold small toys in your hand then tease your cat to grab for them.

Similarly, redirection to cat chew toys might offer a good outlet for cats that nip excessively.

4. Never Punish Your Cat

Offer treats when your cat is not love biting, and remove attention if they start nipping.

Never punish a cat who gives you love bites. Don’t hit, shout, scruff, or use spray bottles on a cat—this might only agitate your cat further, which could escalate into real aggression. Instead, use positive reinforcement with a reward when your cat displays desired behavior.

Also Read: How Do You Train A Cat That Won’t Listen?

5. Boost Indoor Sensory Stimulation

Keeping your cat busy and engaged can help ward off love bites.

For those people with indoor-only cats who work long hours and find feline mouthing unpleasant, boost species-specific sensory stimulation in the form of bird or prey animal watching (cat videos in the television or bird feeders), classical music, food puzzles, Matatabi chew sticks, and cat-safe plants like silvervine, valerian, and honeysuckle.

Also Read: 5 Reasons Puzzle Feeders Are Good For Cats

Final Thoughts

Love biting is a normal cat behaviour that serves to communicate a specific purpose.

Love biting is a normal cat behavior that’s usually used to communicate your cat’s love and affection toward you. If your cat suddenly starts biting you out of nowhere or if the love biting becomes a problem, consult your veterinarian. If you don’t mind occasional tiny hand nibbling, you’ll be glad to know that your feline companion is letting you know how much you’re loved.

Also Read: How To Train Your Cat Not To Bite?

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do cats love bite?

Generally, when a cat gives you love bites, it’s an indication of affection. However, love bites can also arise because of overstimulation, frustration, and misdirected play aggression.

Why does my cat bite me gently?

Your cat bites you gently either to deposit their scent, communicate their love, get your attention, or cease interaction once they had enough.

Why do cats bite you affectionately?

Cats bite you affectionately to communicate your everlasting bond similar to the relationship and behavior displayed by their mum when she used to groom and care for her kittens.

Why does my cat cuddle then bite me?

Your cat cuddles then bites you most likely due to fondness; however, your cat can also snuggle then nip you after they had enough due to petting induced aggression.

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About Melina Grin

Melina’s love of animals began in childhood, when she would care for sick or stray dogs and cats while dreaming of becoming a Vet. While working in the Veterinary field she found a distinct interest and passion in Feline Behaviour and Small Animal Rehabilitation. Melina is the proud director of Pet Nurture in Sydney, Australia (Unique Mobile Animal Wellness Centre specializing in Cats). Melina contributes to various animal publications in the United States, Australia & NZ and also the founder and admin of the Facebook group: Feline Courses, Seminars, Webinars & Events.

4 thoughts on “Cat Love Bites: 5 Reasons Why They Do It & How To Respond

    1. Avatar photoMelina Grin Post author

      Hi JoAnn

      I love your question!

      When Mama picks her offspring with her mouth, she doesn’t bite down or hurt them. She usually picks them by the scruff of their neck and carries them. Kittens possess a reflex which is present from birth. The kitten’s limbs become limp, and the tail curls while being scruffed. This reflex is usually present for the first few weeks enabling the kitten to correct its body to a normal upright position once mama puts them inside the nest.

      Aren’t cats amazing?

      All the best
      Melina

      Reply
  1. Scott

    Getting my first cat in decades, but if needed I gather a good way to let the cat know I don’t like what it has done is to turn away and ignore it for ? 15 min. Thoughts?

    Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Avatar photoMelina

      Hi Scott

      I’m so excited for you, and that’s a great question.
      Ignoring your cat for a short period when it does something wrong is one way to discipline it.

      There are numerous ways to discipline a cat, depending on the type of undesirable behavior it displays. You can redirect your cat onto another surface, use positive reinforcement techniques, or use the word ‘No’. Most important, don’t use aversive techniques like spray bottles.

      I will discuss several options in my upcoming article, so please watch this space.

      All the best
      Melina

      Reply

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