How to keep my cat from biting me

phish_gwSeptember 13, 2012

When I cuddle with and pet my cat, he first purrs and seems to like it but quickly starts to bite me. He doesn't bite hard, but it's still annoying. From what I've read, it seems like he is stuck in some oral-fixated stage, and he never learned not to bite when he was a kitten. I sense he bites me out of "love" not hate.

I know many of the ways to try to train a cat (loud noises, squirt guy, ect.). But it's hard enough to train him not to jump on the kitchen counter. This is even more complicated because I don't want to think it's the cuddling that is the problem. THe problem is that his cuddling turns into biting. If I impose a punishment as soon as he bites, I'm afraid he'll misinterpret and will never want to cuddle at all.

Any advice on how to prevent the biting but encourage the cuddling?

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Some cats are easily overstimulated - particularly male cats. When that happens, they often bite. The trick is NOT to overstimulate him, or to read his physical cues so that you'll know when he's becoming overstimulated and stop petting him before he reaches the biting point. If his cues are too subtle for you to read easily, then simply don't pet him when he cuddles up next to you. Just enjoy the closeness without any actual petting.

If you can't resist petting him, and you can't read his cues before he bites, then you'll need to address the biting when it happens. In that case, blow HARD directly into his face at the exact moment when he bites. Cats aren't stupid. If you time the blow correctly, he'll easily make the connection between his bite and your blow.


    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 3:12PM
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Here is some information from a veterinary journal:

Petting-induced aggression

Some cats that are not fearful, in pain, or exhibiting any of the other emotional states described in this article bite while being petted. This problem can be disconcerting for the family. Such cats often seek attention, crawl into laps, or rub against legs and seem to enjoy the initial physical contact. But after a certain amount of petting occurs, the cats suddenly bite and run off. It seems that these cats have a threshold for how much physical interaction they can tolerate and cannot communicate that they have had enough in an acceptable manner. However, an observant owner knows when a cat is about to bite since the cat usually shows signs, including fidgeting, tail twitching, tenseness, leaning away, flattened ears, horizontal retraction of the lips, and hissing.

Treatment. Instruct the family to never absentmindedly pet the cat. Desensitization and counterconditioning should be attempted only when the cat voluntarily approaches. The threshold for the bite behavior must be determined, and petting should stop well before the threshold is reached. For example, if a cat always tolerates five seconds of petting but may bite after that time, then petting sessions should initially be three or four seconds. If the cat shows no sign of anxiety or aggression, it should be offered a tasty food treat. The owner should consistently say "good kitty" or some similar phrase every time the cat takes the treat. To encourage the cat's participation in the petting sessions, the sessions should be held just before feeding time and food treats should be withheld except during training. If the sessions take place on an owner's lap, the cat should not be restrained and should be allowed or encouraged to jump down (a treat can be tossed to the floor if necessary) as soon as each session is complete.

Sessions with the cat in someone's lap or next to someone on the sofa should be frequent, and, gradually, the length of the petting sessions should be increased. With time, the cat will learn to tolerate longer and longer petting sessions in anticipation of a food reward. Eventually, the treats can be phased out, and the cue words good kitty can be used without food to promote a relaxed state.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 3:25PM
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I took in a stray cat who did the biting while being petted thing. He never broke the skin, but he'd leave bruises on my hand. He also couldn't sit on my lap for more than a few seconds; he'd jump up, sit on my lap, and immediately jump down.

What I did was to stop petting him. Then I played with him a lot. A lot of interactive play, dangling things on strings, playing tug of war with strips of fleece, throwing things for him to chase. Whenever he'd want to sit near me, I'd talk to him, but not touch him.

It took 11 months before he jumped up and sat on my lap--and stayed there. I tell you, I was holding my breath. He stayed for 35 seconds (yes, I was counting) and jumped down. But from there, he got more and more brave, and would sit in my lap for up to half an hour.

After he was used to sitting in my lap, then I started petting him. Very slowly, very gently, only a few strokes at a time.

After two years from the day I took him in, he loved to be petted, particularly getting his ears smooshed down and rubbed hard. I'd wake up in the morning to find him shoving his head into my hand, wanting his ears rubbed.

Every evening, I'd sit in one particular chair and read for half an hour. He'd see me coming with a cup of tea and a book and he'd start jumping on and off the chair in excitement, because he knew that was his lap time. (He had to compete with 2 other cats.)

This all took way more patience than I knew I possessed.

The sad thing was that he almost never purred out loud. If you put your finger on his throat, you could feel him purring. But I think in the 10 years I had him, I only heard him purr 4 or 5 times. But he turned out to be a very loving cat and I still miss him.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2012 at 3:41PM
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Physical punishment has a high chance of backfiring, isn't conducive to trusting relationships, doesn't address the root issue (only the symptoms of it) and isn't even necessary. There are kinder ways to deal with behavior modification.

The goal is to find out why he's biting. Cyalexa and Camlam both gave very good advice. It sounds like he either becomes fearful or becomes over stimulated. Reading his body language should determine which and you can work on addressing the problem. If he's fearful, work on counter conditioning and building trust and confidence. If he's over stimulated, try to drain some extra energy before engaging in petting him and promote calm behaviors and short sessions.

Another thing you can do is keep a toy handy. When he becomes nippy, redirect him to the toy. Either a soft one for biting or a lure toy. He can learn bite inhibition this way. Rough play or stress is directed to the toy as an outlet, not to you.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 1:52AM
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I think this all makes sense about him being overstimulated and me having to stop just before he starts biting. I've already observed his behaviour a little after reading these posts and I agree that this is what is going on. It's tough because I'd want to cuddle 24/7 with my pets if it were up to me!

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 7:37AM
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My cat likes to bite or swat, but she gets a certain look in her eyes when she's reached that point. I try to limit the petting when she is in a playful mood or when she's on high alert from watching birds and squirrels through the window. It's best to pet her when she's relaxed and sleepy, or first thing in the morning.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 10:34AM
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phish my cat does the same, one minute she's enjoying the petting and then it just gets to a point where she'll start biting, although I can usually tell before it gets to that stage. If she starts biting, I just slowly pull my hand away and stop petting her. It's like a fine line sometimes with cats between pleasure and annoyance, and as laurie said, if you sense that the biting is about to start, then you need to just stop with the touching and just let them be near you. I wouldn't scold her for it, just back off with the affection and let her just be there at that point.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2012 at 11:43AM
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