Feline experts are not fond of the term “love bite” when it comes to the nips cats sometimes give during petting or play. The behavior indicates the cat is overstimulated, making “petting-induced aggression” a more accurate label.
“When cats bite in this context, it’s not a sign of affection, but rather a signal that the cat is done with the interaction,” Dr. Kelly Ballantyne, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist at the University of Illinois tells PetMD. “If the petting continues despite the cat’s efforts to signal that he or she is done with being petted, the cat may escalate to a [real] bite.”
Cat Love Bites vs. Aggressive Biting
Love bites are unique in that they are not intended to harm the recipient. They may hurt a little or even leave teeth marks, but they rarely break the skin. This is intentional. It is your cat’s way of saying, “Okay, I’m over it. You need to stop petting me now.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum are aggressive bites delivered out of fear or territoriality. These bites are meant to defend themselves and can certainly draw blood.
Aggressive bites are also different in that they are typically accompanied by warning signs such as growling, hissing, and tense body language. A cat love bite starts with licking or grooming behavior and escalates to a nip. There is no warning and they may not even be intentional as cats often use their teeth during grooming.
How To Prevent Love Biting
Some people, such as young children and the elderly, may be especially sensitive to cat love bites. To prevent this behavior, try the following tips:
Monitor Body Language
Some cats simply do not like being petted while others have specific “no-fly zones” such as their bellies or near their tails. Learn where and how your cat likes to be touched and watch for tell-tale body language signs. Flat ears and a twitching tail are good indicators your cat is over your interaction!
Trial & Error
Learn how long and with how much pressure to pet your cat by testing the limits. If your cat grows tense or begins licking after 30 seconds you’ll know to expect a love bite if you keep going for 45. From there you can work on establishing a new routine.
Let Them Come To You
It is always best to wait for your cat to initiate a petting session rather than seeking them out. You can try calling them over or wait for them to come to you, but avoid bothering a sleeping or disinterested cat.
If you do receive a love bite, resist the urge to yell at, scruff, spray, or otherwise punish your cat. These reactions can frighten them and send them into a state of true aggression.
Be sure to thoroughly wash any cat bite that breaks the skin and seek medical attention if you experience signs of infection.
Petting-induced aggression is one of the most common behavior problems cat owners report, but it is also relatively easy to manage. Take the time to learn your cat’s likes and dislikes. Respect their boundaries and listen to what their body language is telling you. With a little effort you can make your home a cat-bite-free zone!