Cat owners appreciate that their pets are discerning and do not dole out affection on command (as do certain other domesticated animals). The sweetest moments for a cat owner are when their beloved shows them love by actually seeking them out for touch. Out of nowhere, they rub against your legs, arms, torso, and it is beyond sweet. But then…ouch! Why did they bite?
There are a few reasons why cats bite at such seemingly random, unlikely times. While these times may seem entirely inappropriate to humans, they are actually somewhat adaptive and perfectly sensible for felines. Let’s look at a few of the most common reasons why a cat might bite after rubbing against you.
The Cat Is Overstimulated
One of the simplest explanations for these sudden chomps (which are often quite painful and can cause injury) is that the cat is overstimulated. While receiving a full body rub down would relax most humans, it can sometimes arouse cats, especially if the motion is repetitive and delivered in the same place. The bite is more reflexive than anything and is typically not aggressive. There is not much that cat owners can do to avoid this kind of bite, other than try to change up the motion or direction of the rubbing before the bite occurs.
“That’s Quite Enough Affection, Thank You”
Another reason why a cat might bite in this kind of situation is because they are telling you that they got what they came for and are done with the love. It’s still a little puzzling when they bite after rubbing because, after all, they are the ones actively participating. But to them, you are an equal contributor, and what is more, it is very likely that you responded in some way to their touch by either pushing back with your body to meet their rub or reaching out to pet them.
Or Maybe They Want More Attention
Yes, animal behavior can be puzzling. On the one hand, your cat might bite after rubbing on you because they have had enough, or they might bite because they want more. The cat may have initially sought you out to rub you in order to get your attention in the first place. This is especially likely to be the case if you are standing up and the only part of your body they can access is your legs.
It might be that they want more affection, perhaps a rubdown. Or they might be trying to get your attention because they want something else, especially food. They also may want to play, since biting can also be a playful gesture in cats.
How do you know which it is — whether they have had enough of you or want more? There is not a simple, clear-cut explanation that can be provided here. It really comes down to getting to know your cat (and them getting to know you). You will be amazed how much you can get to know an animal’s nonverbal cues when you pay close attention.
They Are in Pain
Again, puzzling, because they are the ones actively applying pressure here, but the bite might be more of a reflexive reaction to pain than an act of aggression. This might be especially true if your cat has arthritis or other chronic health problems. If you have an older cat who has picked up this habit recently, you may want to schedule a trip to the veterinarian to make sure that nothing else is going on.
The cat may also have an injury that you do not know about, especially if it spends time outdoors. If it happens once and it is not typical behavior from your pet, pay attention to what parts of their body they are rubbing if it happens again. Look for any visible signs of injury as well as behavioral cues, such as compulsive licking on one spot on their body.
The cat could also be responding to a less serious painful stimulus, such as static electricity. This makes a lot of sense; after all, rubbing fur on fabric often results in a shock. Cats do not understand this, though, and their natural reaction to the unfamiliar sensation is to strike out in case it is predatory.
Anger Management, Anyone?
Another reason why a cat may show affection and then suddenly bite is because they are dealing with aggressive tendencies. No, the cat is not being manipulative by seeking affection. They merely reach their own affection threshold and become annoyed and lash out. This is more likely if the owner or recipient of the affectionate gesture has reciprocated in some way.
In order to avoid having an aggressive kitty, it is important to properly train your new cat (and yes, cats can be trained). Kittens should be handled often in order to get used to human touch. If you are welcoming an adult cat into your home, the process will be slower but you can gradually build up their affection tolerance.
There are some things that any cat owner can do to discourage aggressive behavior and encourage positive behavior. One of the best methods is to respond to your cat’s body language appropriately. If they show you their belly, purr, wrap their tail around your leg, or lick your hair or ears, these are signs of love and trust and you should respond positively.
In addition, some painful gestures that cats are prone to doing are actually affectionate. Cats will knead your clothing or blankets covering you, and sometimes when they do this, their claws will extend and cause you pain. In addition, nibbling is also an affectionate behavior in cats, though there is certainly a difference between nibbling and biting. In your quest to become the best cat parent you can be, you must learn not to respond angrily to these behaviors even if they hurt. Instead, redirect your cat by moving them or distracting them with a toy.
If your cat is especially resistant to affection and touch, try feeding them little treats while petting them. This can be an especially useful tactic with older cats or cats who lived part of their lives as feral.
They Bite in Other Areas of Their Lives
A cat who bites while receiving affection might bite at other times as well, and biting as a habit increases the likelihood that he or she will bite while rubbing or being petted. These cats use this behavior to communicate with their owners and get what they want. As discussed above, cats might bite when they are hungry and wanting to be fed. They also might bite because they are bored and want you to play with them.
In the End…
In order to prevent biting, no matter what the circumstances, or in order to know when your cat is likely to bite, it really comes down to getting to know your cat. This is no small feat, since each cat is so unique, but it is also the joy of cat ownership. After all, getting to know your cat means spending lots of time with them and showering them with love. What could be better?