Why Do Cats Bite When You Pet Them?

Have you ever been in the middle of a petting session with your cat, when suddenly they snap and bite you? Find out why this happens here.

Some cats bite when you pet them because of these three reasons: petting on the wrong spot, overstimulation, or pet-induced aggression. One or more of these reasons can explain why a cat might bite someone petting them.

In this piece, I’ll be discussing the three reasons why cats bite when you pet them. I’ll also tell you all about what you can do to keep your cat from biting you when you pet them and how you can respond to when your cat bites while you pet them. Finally, I’ll discuss my own thoughts on the so-called love bites.

Sensitive Spots

The first thing to understand that different cats have different sensitive spots. Sensitive spots are the areas on a cat’s body that trigger negative responses when touched. It’s different for every cat but the most common sensitive spot is the belly.

Most cats don’t like having their bellies rubbed because they’re hypersensitive to touch. The same goes for their tails. Unlike dogs, cats don’t like to be touched just anywhere so you have to be careful when petting your cat.

If you’ve ever been bit by your cat while petting them, you might have touched a sensitive spot without knowing. When this happens, take note of where you were petting your cat to avoid touching that spot again.

You can tell that you’re treading on a sensitive spot when your cat flinches away when you try to touch a certain part of its body. To play it safe, you can start with petting around your cat’s head and rump. These parts of a cat’s body are the least likely to be sensitive spots.


Most people are used to dogs and know that dogs can and will accept pets for as long as possible. Even if you pet your dog for several hours straight, it won’t mind and even enjoy it. On the other hand, cats can be stimulated too much.

Overstimulation happens you pet your cat too much or for too long. Cats will usually communicate that enough is enough by walking away or by biting when the person petting them is too persistent. Your kitty might enjoy a rub now and then but it has its limits.

There are a few signs that you can keep an eye out for to know when your cat is overstimulated. These are some of the most common signs that a cat is overstimulated:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Flattened ears
  • Tail waving or thumping
  • Twitching skin

Your cat will try to take control of the situation by biting you when you ignore any signs of overstimulation. Even if you’re the owner, most cats prefer to be in charge of their bodies. Remember to listen to your cat’s body language. Take note of how long it usually takes until your cat gets overstimulated to avoid any biting incidents.

Pet-induced Aggression

Cats experience different kinds of aggression such as food aggression, territorial aggression, redirected aggression, play aggression, and pet-induced aggression. Pet-induced aggression, also known as love biting, is when a cat expresses aggressive behavior because of petting.

Pet-induced aggression can be caused by two things: fear and confidence. Feral cats or rescued cats usually become aggressive when receiving pets because they have residual trauma from living in harsh conditions. It can also be caused by unfamiliarity with the concept of receiving affection.

On the other hand, house cats can give you love bites to get you to do what they want. This is pet-induced aggression caused by confidence. You might have a cat that bites you when it wants food or chases you around the house to bite your ankles. The term “love-bite” came up when cat owners started realizing that their cat’s bites were a means of communication.

Just like with overstimulation, the key to understanding pet-induced aggression is learning your cat’s warning signs. Be mindful of your cat’s body language while you’re petting them. If your cat is a rescue, you may want to start with short petting sessions until they get used to longer ones. You can also condition house cats to lessen their love-bites by ignoring them when it happens. This way your cat will know that biting isn’t the right way to get what it wants.

Preventing Cat Bites

The first thing you can do to prevent cat bites is by noting your cat’s warning signs and sensitive spots. As I mentioned earlier, each cat has its own warning signs and sensitive spots. Your cat will have a different way of communicating when it doesn’t want to be rubbed than other cats.

You can also try associating pets with things that your cat enjoys. Give your cat treats while you pet them or let them hold onto their favorite toy. The pleasant association will help your cat understand that petting is a good thing.

Another way to prevent cat bites is by redirecting them. Give your cat other outlets for its aggression like teasers, scratching posts, and catnip toys. Avoid playing with your cat with your hands so that it doesn’t view your hands as something it can bite or scratch. This way your cat will be less likely to take its aggression out on you.

If you’re raising a rescue or caring for a formerly feral cat, you might want to use protective gear like anti-bite gloves. It might take a while for your cat to get used to being handled and pet so you should keep yourself safe.

Responding to Cat Bites

Whatever you do, don’t punish your cat for biting you when you pet them. It can be instinctive to respond by yelling at your cat or swatting it but this will only make your cat’s aggression worse. It can also negatively affect your relationship.

If your cat bites you because you pet them, simply let it go and give it space. You likely missed some signs that were telling you that it was time to stop petting them. Eventually, your cat will recover and you can try again.

When it comes to petting, too much of a good thing can be bad. It should be a pleasant experience not just for you, but for your cat as well. Remember that cats don’t want to bite you either. They just want you to know that no means no.

Final Thoughts

When my cat was still a kitten, she had a lot of aggression. Most of it was play aggression but pet-induced aggression was part of it too. I often played with my cat by having her chase my hands across the couch but it eventually became a bad situation because she started wanting to bite my hands all the time.

After the biting incidents became more frequent, I stopped using my hands to play with her. I switched to using toys. I also learned all her warning signs of overstimulation. It’s not been almost a year since the last time that she bit me.

If your cat has bitten you or is prone to biting you, don’t worry too much. It’s a completely normal response that can happen from time to time. Your cat doesn’t love you any less when it bites but it will definitely love you even more when you get to know how to deal with its biting the right way.