Guest post by Harry Shubin

This stuff always seems to come in clusters. I spent some time counseling the first foster about why his cat was biting him. I spent even more time counseling the second foster. Then I worked with the adopter who had the same issue. It finally took Jackson Galaxy’s My Cat From Hell on Animal Planet doing an episode where every cat bit his or her person, for me to see the, ah, cat scratches on the wall. Or bites on my arm.

Why does my cat attack me?

I  can’t tell you how often I hear “why does my cat attack me?” Let’s start with full disclosure – I have a cat with “petting aggression.” “Aggression” isn’t really the right word, though that’s what it’s generally called. It’s not really aggressive – nor is it mean, nor is the intent to actually hurt someone.

Most people know how sensitive a cat’s whiskers are, and wouldn’t be rough with that spot on their faces. What people don’t realize is that while the muzzle contains the greatest number of whiskers, cats actually have them all over their bodies, on their paws, head, back… They’re smaller and finer, so not as easily seen, but if you look closely, they’re there.

Just as some people aren’t ticklish, some cats aren’t particularly sensitive about their whiskers, or about being touched. For some cats, however, their whiskers are ultra sensitive, and not just on their faces but everywhere. Imagine that you were incredibly ticklish, and that someone – for the sake of argument, someone you even liked a lot – wouldn’t stop tickling you. You’d be screaming “stop, stop,” right? Well, imagine now that you only spoke Urdu, but your tickler spoke only French. And because he didn’t understand, he wouldn’t stop. Eventually, what would you do – if he weighed 10 times what you did and you couldn’t get away? Right. You’d bite him, or hit him.

Cats’ thresholds for being touched vary

Those not-very-ticklish cats, they’re the exception. Those are the ones you can roll over and give belly rubs to. I have one of those, also. He’s a limp dishrag when you handle him, and he loves it. The extremely ticklish cats, they’re the exception, too. Most cats fall somewhere in the middle. The ones that exhibit petting aggression – they’re usually the friendly ones, the ones that seek out petting. And it’s not surprising that fosters and owners are surprised when the affectionate cat suddenly snaps and takes a bite out of the hand they love…

One of the intriguing things about cats is that they’re not dogs. You can pet a dog, all day, and he’ll only bite you if you stop. Cats… the sensitive ones… have a threshold. And, you have to understand how they tick, if you’re going to change their behavior. Dogs, they’ll modify their behavior because they want to please you. Cats, on the other hand, to change their behaviors, you have to convince them that they want to change. And that’s another difference between the species – discipline that works on a dog – is the wrong approach for a cat.

Understanding how cats communicate

Before we talk about changing feline biting behavior, though, you need a little Urdu to French translation. When a cat becomes overstimulated from petting, she is actually telling you that she’s had enough – if you speak her language.

Feline body language

The most obvious sign is the tail. Dogs beat their tails back and forth when they’re happy. Cats give a slow flick of just the tip of the tail. When the whole tail becomes involved, swishing back and forth – that’s a warning. Also, watch the eyes, A calm, relaxed cat’s pupils will be narrow. When they dilate, the stimulation tank is full. Watch also the fur along the back and the back of the head. If a ridge stands up – or her skin ripples – the cat is also telling you, in cat-speak, she’s done. It’s like someone one time said to me after watching the Amityville Horror – you know, when your house tells you “get out…” Get Out! When the cat tells you she’s done – leave her be. If she’s on your lap, stop touching her.

How to pet a cat

When you do touch her, concentrate on her head, the sides of her face, and the back of her neck. Stay away from full body petting – you may get there eventually, but don’t try it in the beginning. Many cats get more sensitive toward their tails – you may have seen a cat who would stick his rump in the air if you petted him at the base of the tail – that’s a high stimulation spot. Also, the closer you are to the back of the head, the harder it is to whip around and bite you.

Correcting petting aggression

Now, that’s behavior modification for you – but I know that you want to change her behavior, too. It can be done.

How to conduct a petting session

Now that you know what to watch for, end the petting sessions before she’s had enough. Send her to the floor – but don’t touch her because she’s building up to a snap. Gently, slowly stand up and she’ll leap down. Then, give her a treat. If she does go too far and bite or swat, put her on the floor – again, by gently standing up. Don’t push her with your hands, and totally ignore her. Don’t push her off, don’t scold, don’t make eye contact, just totally shun her. Especially, don’t use a spray bottle, don’t tap her nose. Those techniques may work to discourage other behaviors, but retraining aggression with aggression is doomed to fail. You’re speaking French again, not Urdu, when you do that.

Patience is key

Don’t be surprised if she wants right back up fairly soon – cats recover quickly, and the petting aggressive ones seem to be the ones that want the contact to begin with. Let her back up and start over. At first, she won’t quite know what she did wrong – but she will quickly make the association between biting, and a “time out.” You may be able to help establish a calming atmosphere which will increase her tolerance by using a pheremone spray or plugins such as Feliway, or a flower essence such as Jackson Galaxy Solutions. Try spraying on a small blanket or towel, on your lap.

The last thing to consider is to embrace what the cat brings to you. She’ll sit with you, she’s affectionate – she just isn’t a cat that can be held, or excessively petted. The house is telling you, “get out” — don’t hold her.

I have a cat with petting aggression – but I haven’t been bitten in a long time. Working with the cat, understanding the cat – goes a long way toward producing desirable behaviors.

Harry Shubin is the newsletter editor for the Feline Foundation of Greater Washington. Harry’s entire family is involved in cat rescue: daughter Rachel writes the blog We Have a Situation, where she shares stories of her cat-related life.

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328 Comments on Petting Aggression in Cats: Biting the Hand They Love

  1. Hi All!

    I have a Maine Coon that was abandoned. She is fixed, so she cannot become pregnant.
    We get along great, I feed w\her well.
    If I am talking loudly with my neighbor, she will attack me. It’s very strange…almost like…she’s revbenting me from seeking help. I dunno.

    So I was sitting on the front porch, hand on porch, as I* was leaning back on my arms. My Cat slatted to lick my hand, then…she opened all the way up, and pressed her teeth against my skin. As I continued the conversation, she started moaning, whipping her tail, and the biting became stronger. It was so odd.

    She’s a total Apex Predator….i dunno what to think.

    It was dominance…i dunno. The bite became increasing more intense. It was like…I was her kitten, and she was going to pick me up by the back of the neck, and move me, because I was making too much noise?

    I dunnno…she’s so amazing.

    any insight would be awesome! ALSO…SHE DID NOT BREAK THE SKIN, but it was like she knew the breaking point, and she was just sending me a warning. a what?


    Jamie and Chocolate, PacNW

    • What if it’s the Neighbours cat called Jack, and he lives up the road and is on a diet but has come to us for nearly a year now – um he’s lonely and lets us pat him sometimes – we feed him because we have 4 cats between mum and I – So we know our cats my oldest cat is 18 years old – iddysquid is her name hehe – but this cat JACK hes something else – hes here now on my bed at 9pm – UHHHH

  2. My cat is from a Shelter, they had said he is a biter. Bite my husband once when we first git him. But now 2 years later he is attacking me and biting where he draws blood. He is healthy but now I am getting fried of him and thinking of putting him down.. But have no choice.

  3. I am at my wits end with my female cat. She is fixed, has all her shots, has a nice scratching post … toys, 2 litter boxes and anything and everything a cat could want. We’ve had her since a tiny kitten and we have 2 dogs. My yorkie chases the cat and I scold my yorkie and give the cat treats away from the other pets and food away from the other pets and we made her a cat flap to the basement so she can have her own space when needed. She absolutely cannot be held, cannot be pet for longer than 2 seconds or she bites. She attacks a lot. She has caused scars on us all. At first we thought it was because she was so young, she is 2 now. How can we teach her to stop being so aggressive. It’s literally as if she cannot stand humans. The only time she is kind is when I am filling her food bowl or giving her a treat. Otherwise it’s like she’s a feral cat who has never been around humans.

      • My cat would not be held and would growl immediately. I solved this by putting her down gently the very moment she growled, then walked away. Now things have completely changed. She will clamber over anything to get into my arms and has actually attacked me at times when I put her down. Aren’t they lovely though!!!?

  4. My cat does it even after a 30 minute play session where he’ll get tired and rest near my legs. I won’t be rubbing him, I’ll be just leaving him to rest but they he’ll suddenly try to bite my leg and at the end time his claws will be engaged even though he’s not using them. There doesn’t seem to be a reason for it as he’s been stimulated with his favourite game to tire him out and now he chooses to treat beside me but thresh out of nowhere he bites. When I try to lift him away from my leg so I can get away he’ll become aggressive and use his claws. So I punish him by putting him in a small dark room for an hour every time so he’s associating biting me with the dark room. I don’t let it go as acceptable, I will always make sure he associates it with a negative experience for him. After his hour he comes out and he’s affectionate again. He’s only 7 months old but it’s a concern, I don’t see what I could be doing to cause it as he’s not being stimulated and has already had his ‘hunting’ play to expel his energy. Sometimes he can lie there after play and not do it, other times he does. But this random act of aggression puts me off bonding with him. He hasn’t cut me as I’m quick to react but I don’t feel comfortable with it. He’s an expensive pedigree Russian Blue from a very good breeder which is supposed to be a gentle breed. He’s affectionate but he has that aggressive side I don’t understand. You can’t really blame people for abandoning cats sometimes because they’re more random with their aggression than dogs are.

    • Hi! any improvement? My cat is one year and a half. We addopted her from the city shelter. She is super cute, but something similar is happening to us.

      We play a lot with her, we dont use our hands, only toys, and she has her space and everything she needs. But sometimes, she just stares at me and starts biting me very hard. I try to bring her attention to other toys, but it wont work, she wants to bite me. I dont know what to do.

  5. My cat has been getting very aggressive in the middle of the night. She seems to want to snuggle but starts licking my face and pestering me while I’m trying to sleep. It’s like she’s in a trance. When I push her away she’s attacked me – drawing blood and leaving bad bruises. This use to be a big problem but since she started taking a thyroid medicine she’s calmed down a bit. However she’s started doing it again and bit me REALLY bad. We went to the vet less than 6 months ago & had blood done (because he wouldn’t refill her prescription without a visit) and he said everything looked great. I’ve tried the spray bottle but that doesn’t seem to scare her anymore. Any ideas? Thank you in advance!

    • For starters, stop using the spray bottle. It’s not effective, and it will either aggravate the problem or ruin the bond between you and your cat. Here’s more on why spray bottles don’t work: For aggression this extreme, I would recommend working with a feline behaviorist. If you can’t find anyone local to you, I can recommend Mikel Delgado and Dr. Marci Koski Both offer remote consultations.

    • Try Zylkene.It is very gentle product.You can use it when you think your cat gets a bit more tense.You can buy it on love it.You don’t need to forse them to eat it.Try to play a game with your cat before you fo to sleep .Everytime you get some advice or read some article about what to do with cats,think it through carefully.Every vat is different.They are not 100% advices or navigations.My experience is coming directly from me and cats 🙂 I am 38 y.old now,having cat around all my live and bringing home cats who need home time to time before I find a new home for them.I worked in SPCA,on vet,etc..I met good vets/people and also horrible ones.You have to understand and bond with your fluffy friend.Sometimes it can be a problem of a smell.Cat are smell sensitive.Your cat can love you,but you smell bad for her and it makes her furious.Clara

    • Agree that spray bottles don’t work. My female cat is now 15yrs but I think she was taken away from her mother way too young before learning cat etiquette off her. I grew up myself around many cats on a farm and often watched how mother cats pulled the litter into line when they pushed boundaries. If a kitten turned on them or suddenly lashed out without their mother touching them she would give them a verbal serving the majority of the time or in rare cases physically give them a good clipping. My cat has been taken to an animal behaviourist at 7yrs of age who said she had a sweet loving temperament but very fearful.when I acquired her at 6wks she was clingy, hated being held for more than two minutes, tummy rubs too. She would bring other cats her favourite toys to drop at their feet but they’d hiss and be aggressive which she never understood and would tilt her head to one side as if to say ‘huh? What’s that about?’ As she grew up her other cats in the neighbourhood gave her a hard time but she’d never hiss or growl back just run for her life. I decided to teach her to yell back at them which she has effectively done so ever since. But in her older years she started biting the bed sheets to get my attention for food so into bed cane her food bowl but her behaviour continued which she knows annoys me putting holes in new sheets. I’ve tried everything including gently touching her and saying stop. Now she’s decided to also do the hand bite if I go to pat her as though in fear of what of my hand in the dark so think at times I have mistakenly poked her eye The dark? Anyway ignoring this behaviour hasn’t worked as she gets worse and defensive so I’ve given her a cat yell instead and if she wants to keep it up I pull up the sheets from under her and tell her to get off the bed. She gets off and does the huff and puff as she walks to another room for time out but eventually returns for kisses and cuddles. I do think though she has PTSD from her kitten years before I had though so I try to be firm and not humanly aggressive towards her when training her and she is highly trainable just need to find the balance

  6. Hi. My cat is 2 1/2 years old and is causing me some frustration. He can on one hand be extremely friendly and follows me for a pat, but at other times he will growl and hiss at me, and this confusing behaviour is starting to occur daily. He will do this to other family members too, but mainly me; however, this could be because I have the most to do with him. We did get a new kitten 6 mnths ago which I at first thought was the issue but they get along well and he hisses sometimes when the kitten isn’t even around. He never bites or scratches and is not cruel in any way. He will just get in a grumpy mood afterwards for a while but then can return happily soon after. At first I made the mistake of scolding him (hissing or saying ‘No’ back) but after what I’ve read this is the incorrect way to repair the issue. He seems a smart cat, very intelligent and he loves his outdoor walks (he’s indoors mostly) and his motorised toys. When he is ‘nice kitty’ he is lovely. Begging for a cuddle, or following me to the door when I leave for work and greeting me on return. He even follows me around outside. Something I have noticed is most of the hisses is after a pat or when I pick him up (usually when I am initialising a cuddle/pet), however it can also be if I go to pet him and the kitten is also in the room or I have just petted him, but not all the time. Something to note here is it doesn’t seem to be health related and there are no other health concerns-he is very healthy. Another thing that may help is my families other cats are very friendly, loving pats and so I am used to full body petting. Admittedly, I am a self-confessed softy who likes kitty cuddles (so maybe this is the issue???) 🙂 Any advice would be very appreciated as I am very confused as to what I should do. Thank you!

    • You mention that there are no health issues – has he been checked out by your vet since this behavior started? If not, I’d have him checked out just to be sure. You may want to keep a diary of when he hisses/growls and what the particular circumstances are at each incident to see if you can find a pattern emerging. You may also want to enlist the help of a feline behaviorist.

  7. I have a cat that will be a year old in April. Just this past month or so, she has started attacking my hands/arms and feet and ankles. After I gently scratch her head or ears, she will turn around and bite my hand and kick at my arm with her claws out. Most of the time, her claws get stuck deep in my skin. I don’t pet her back, her legs, and stay away from her back end and stomach at all times. She draws blood every time, and I am ready to re-home her. I have huge scratches all over my arms. Not sure what to do, I got her when she was a kitten. She isn’t feral. I am at my wits end. She can be very loving, but it’s all on her terms, which I understand. I just don’t know when she will attack me.

    • I’m just a cat owner…no expert. That said, we adopted a cat with similar…”unpredictable” behaviors around attention and petting. We went with a “pet pet pet that’s all you get” motto for a while along with using a brush sometimes AND increasing her play time…and number of times per day. That seemed to help quite a bit. With it popping up suddenly – a vet trip does sound like the right move to rule out anything physically wrong. With our cat…we also just let her sit with on and with us without petting.

  8. Thank you so much. I could not understand why our cat grabbed hold of my wrist and bit really hard because I was petting her head and she was leaning into it. We have only had her since she was about a year or two old so do not know her history but she could well be from a feral stock as there are many feral cats here in Cyprus. Our major problem is, she is fixated on my husband, and he has a compromised immune system due to the medication he takes and the last time she playfully went for his leg the scratches caused him to end up in hospital where he was very ill. Therefore we are a bit on knife’s edge that she never does that again, even to the point of considering having her ‘put down’ so your teaching has been most helpful.

  9. I have twin cats that shared a placenta. In a litter of eight kittens they were by far the smallest at birth. At 13 weeks old one of them, Noodle, weighted the same as the rest of the litter. But the other one, Nacho, was still considerably smaller. Nacho has done well and is now the greedier of the two. Nacho is my bitter. In the morning she nips me out of bed and to the food bowls. In the evening she also nips at my feet until I feed her. She doesn’t bite when we pat her at other times but it is unrelenting at breakfast and dinner. I try to avoid the bites but when she does if it hurts I hiss at her. This usually stops the biting. I am wondering what is happening for her and why she bites. Another little quirk about Nacho is she brings us leaves as presents. Her sister Noodle brings us mice and rabbits. Both come in meowing to alert us to the present, but instead of an animal in her mouth Nacho has a large lead. They are particular ones, not random. What is this about?

  10. this article is good but we got kind of a different problem — yes petting aggression but it starts the very second you touch him no matter where it is but he demands attention then instant go to bite but if stop giving attention then he goes around the house destroying and stealing stuff like prescription pills — putting stuff away just so insane since to put away every little thing he goes around destroying means pack up the house as if moving and lock it away in a rented storage unit so we only got the floors and walls left

  11. Just applied a 3 yr old female. I think you answered my question. She’ll be super lovable, begging for attention, then as I’m petting her she becomes full on attack, wrapping around my around and biting me hard! Shes drawn blood a few times.

    At first I thought maybe she saw me as prey. But now that you point out the signs, her tail does go all crazy.

    I was throwing a sheet over her when she gets that look in her eye, because she scares me. Walking away doesn’t always seem like an option. Is that too aggressive to hide her with a sheet?

    • So my case is different long story short we had some neighbors that let their kids get two kittens and after watching these kids pack these kittens around for weeks the saddest thing happened and one got hit and killed then the next few weeks the family moves to leave the last baby to fend for itself now its a year and a half two years later someones bought said house that owns a dog and till recently the cats just ran wild scavenging food I suspect but I couldn’t take how thin this cat got and started feeding it. It’s not me. House but I do live the and my mother in law is a softy like me and is ok with me feeding him but my uncertainty of how she might take it I feel I waited longer to feed him then I wanted to but I fear he may have health issues that need to be addressed so I’ve tried befriending it. But after tonight I just am not sure he finally started rubbing on me at feeding in the past if he saw my hand he clawed and bite me but tonight he let me rub his head for at least two minutes but once I stopped and he saw my hand he attacked me and drew lots of blood. I really feel it’s hands that trigger him. Later as I sat talking to him and he rubbed on me rolling over to his back like a pretty kitty and rubbing other things as if he wanted pets the out of the blue attacked my foot what can I do I fear his ears have mites and only want to win his trust and love to help him its just sad to me I feel he’s been abused and is scared the world let him down. But how can I help him

  12. We’ve noticed an issue with “love bites” with our 4 year old male kitty. I’m not certain that it’s petting aggression, but I think at times it might be. The strange thing is that he only ever bites me – nobody else in the house. He usually will comes to me for affection – if I don’t pet him right away when I come home from work he will follow me around and nip at my legs. Other times he’ll be cuddling up to me before bedtime and will rub his head against my hand and bite me. A lot of the time I won’t even be petting him, so I don’t know what’s causing him to bite. He hasn’t broken skin and he’s never truly viscious with it. But it’s a bit concerning to me because he will only ever bite me, but I don’t treat him any differently than anyone else in the house. I don’t rough-house with him and I try not to pet him too much because he is a very sensitive kitty, but it doesn’t make a difference. I’m at a loss and I am becoming more and more concerned as he seems to be doing it more and more often.

  13. We adopted a year old domestic, she was fostered out in that year. she was attacked by another cat so it was recommended no other pets around. Shes fixed. She follows me around all the time, in the morning when i go to the toilet & when i go to the kitchen to start the day. ill reach out to pet her & then she will nip at me. Sometimes when im still trying to get out of bed she will jump at my feet or hand & have a nip. ill top up her food & she will go outside, come back in follow me again, Ill reach to pet her as shes rubbing on me & meowing. then nip again. she doent like to be picked up, although i do sometimes, but not for long. she will lick me & then ill put her down. My younger son wanted a cat & he wants to give her some cuddles & pet her, shes not into it. He bent down to her level to give her a pet & she lugged at him & bit his head, he was so upset. it was a small nip no blood. but she had drawn blood on me a few times. Ive given her all typed of toys, she has snubbed them all? shes free to go in & out & stays inside at night? Im not sure what else to do to make her feel more at home & its starting to make us uncomfortable as we dont know when she will try to bit us or scratch at us again. My son is sad “she doesnt like him”. What else is there to do?

    • We adopted a six year old female with similar habits. Her bites were not nips…but she had the same sorts of desire for attention then a bite. We cut back on petting “pet, pet, pet that’s all you get” and increased it ever so gradually over time. Also, we used a brush for a while so we could get a better (and safer) read on her. Lots of regular play helped…bouncy, dangly toys with us. And we also plugged Feliway in all over the house. It’s costly…Amazon and Chewy have the best prices. With patience, time and reaching out to experts….she is settled and a wonderful furry friend. Your local shelter may have some great ideas too.

  14. I wonder why the cat doesn’t just leave if he has had enough petting. My cat seeks me out, makes me pet him, and then will suddenly grab and bite my arm hard.

    I’ll follow the tips in this article to see if I can change things. I wish he would just walk away when he’s had enough, though!

    Thank you.

  15. My 8 year old female cat bit me three months ago and yesterday and drew blood. My finger is red and swollen,and I probably will have to go to the doctor again. She is an inside cat. Both bites have been when I have had to leave her for several hours a day, for about a week. She comes to me begging for petting. While I was petting her, she bit me. I pushed her away and yelled ‘NO’! She hid out for at least 6 hours.

  16. I am currently fostering a spayed adult female cat for my aunt. She had to move quickly and is staying with a relative who is afraid of cats. To help out I offered to care for her until my aunt gets settled. I live alone so I welcomed the company. My aunt rescued the her from a storm drain and raised her by hand. Bottle fed and everything. The cat has had issues with aggression as long as I can remember. I used to stay with her pets at her home when she went on trips. I know the cat and the cat knows me. She has always been aggressive towards me. In her home there were 2 dogs and another cat, so w stayed out of each other way. The occasional treat, (only when giving to everyone), and moist food when she wanted it. Other than that we avoided each other. She would let me pet her occasionally, (which flung her into full blown petting aggression), but normally if I got to close she would hiss and growl at me until I moved away. Even when giving her treats. If I didn’t move my hand away fast enough she would snap. I didn’t know much about cats, so when she did manage to get a hold of me I disciplined her incorrectly and we avoided each other. I had cats in the past, but none like this. And dogs, but as I know now the same form of discipline doesn’t work. Fast forward to present, the cat has bitten me 4 times, 3 drew blood, 1 left marks, and has tried dozens of times in the 3 weeks she’s been here. The aggression toward me has gotten worse. Mind you before I started searching the internet, I disciplined her as in the past. Usually by chasing her away. She would come to the main areas of the house for attention, play time and food. I always obliged trying to build a relationship, knowing that it was probably going to end with her biting and me chasing her away. My reaction is what startled her at first. These are not love bites, or even leave me alone bites. These are I’m a cornered animal bites and they hurt. At first she would go, but then it became a power struggle. She would snap, I would leave her alone. No real reaction, just walk away. This meant she stayed in the main area of the house. She would come back over and over again for attention. Purring, rubbing her head and body against my legs, jumping up paws on my lap to get attention. I would start to interact with her. She would push her head into my hands a few times, I would scratch her ears and pet her. Then all of the sudden the same reaction. One MEAN cat. 4 or 5 times of this in one evening and I’d had enough, so the attention stopped. She would stay in the same room, even right by my feet, continuing her pursuit for attention. Eventually she would go lay on the rug in front of my fireplace, her favorite spot in the living room and also the main walkway through the room. This meant every time I would walk through the room she would hiss and growl and go after my pants. This led me to chase her away just to get some peace. Then the cycle would start again. A week or so of this and I started looking for solutions. I have currently be trying the shunning technique mentioned in the blog. Watch for signs, leave her be, reward for good behavior. She has since latched onto the back of my arm as I was walking by her cat tree getting ready for work. Had to actually get a tissues and apply pressure to stop the bleeding. And bitten me twice trying to give her moist food. Tried using toys and play time as a distraction, but she stays focused on my hands, tail going and dilated pupils. So now we are completely avoiding each other. When she is out laying somewhere, I move right by and don’t acknowledge her at all. She stays focused on me for a bit, but moves on to something else if I go about my business. I put moist food out when I go to work, come home and it’s gone, put more out, wake up, it’s gone and so on.

    Is there anyway to repair the relationship? Should I continue to keep my distance or try to interact? I have no problem letting her come to me, but I am not sure how to handle her aggression?

    She was evaluated by her vet for the aggression. Currently no health issues to speak of. According to the vet it is done out of frustration, irritation, over stimulation, or as a way to get attention. That was the only answer that was given to my aunt. She nibbles at my aunt also. Nothing like what she does to me. My aunt taps her nose and says “no bite.” That agitates her more with more with me.

    I know the cat is stressed too, with all of the changes but I am honestly at my wits end. I just don’t want to give up on her and I don’t want my aunt to have to re-home her permanently.

  17. I have a four year old female cat, calico tortoise shell and she is very generally loving and follows me everywhere for affection. She very occasionally gets upset if I pet her too much but that’s not really what the problem is. When she gets aggressive with me she MEANS it it’s very clearly not play but I have never found a consistent reason for her triggers. We have a sort of tradition where she jumps up onto my shoulders and wraps herself around my neck. She will purr and nudge my head and loves it when I carry her around the house. Today she did it when I was sitting in my bed on my computer and she out of the blue was purring into my neck, drew her head back and sunk her teeth into my neck. She did not draw blood as I shook her off immediately when I felt her body tense up. I am not sure if it’s because she felt I was not paying attention to her? She is very possessive and when she will knead on me she will try to bit my arm or shoulder not hard but hold it there- I feel like it’s a dominating gesture for a female? What do you think? Does anyone else have a SUPER loving cat always in your face and then these specific instances she seems SO happy and turns to bite. I usually don’t feel like she means it but today was quite aggressive 🙁 bums me out.

    • I’d like an answer to this too. My cat snuggles up and buries his head in my neck. Today for no reason he lashed out and bit me around my eye. Luckily he only drew blood by my eyebrow but I’m really freaked out by it. He’s bitten me loads of times on the arm but has never gotten in my face.

  18. So I have been wondering a few things about my cat, she is about 2 years old and not fixed, she really only likes me and is kind to me she seems to scratch or “attack” others really for no reason. I was wondering why she does that as well as why she seems to only be nice to me never attacks me always lays on me and comes to me when I call her name she honestly is a sweetheart with a mean side, the only time she ever gives me a warning meow is when she is on my lap and I get up to move and she gets really upset, she does not attack me but she will act like she will and will touch me but does not have her claws out, but with others if she is sitting near them and they get up to leave and it messes with where she is laying or if she is on them and they get up to move she attacks them and hisses. What is causing that behavior as well as the one I mentioned in the beginning of this.

  19. Is this considered petting aggression? One of my cats loves to lay against me in bed and wants to be petted. Sometimes she will suddenly turn and grab my hand with her 4 paws with claws sheathed and sort of nip at my hand. It’s never painful as it never breaks the skin and it seems like there’s no intention to actually hurt me. There’s no warning sign either as she just likes to just lay completely still against me (I checked the list in the post and she doesn’t exhibit any of those signs). Anyone know what this behavior means?

    • Yes, that is petting aggression. I’d use the tips provided in the article to discourage and redirect it. Have a toy handy, and as soon as she turns toward you, distract her with the toy.

  20. I have a male kitten I found back in August as a newborn. As he has gotten bigger his behaviors have changed, his playful bites are hard and painful. He climbs on my arms while I’m sleeping wrapping himself around my forearm and bites my wrist or back of hand pulling and twisting the skin. When I reach for him with my other hand he wails, lets go, and jumps down from the bed. I’ve started keeping limbs under the covers and he actually tricked me into freeing one just so he could bite me by purring and rubbing against me I thought he was trying to get comfortable in the space between my neck and armpit he shifted around so much I thought he wanted his old sleeping spot and before I knew it he snatched up my hand a.d bit down. It also is unproductive to lock him out of the room at night. He simply scratched and cries to come in.

    • Sounds like he might want to snuggle up with you but not be petted. My cat is similar. He’ll snuggle up, but if I try to pet, he bites.

  21. Cats seem similar to raising a teenager – no experience doing – as behaviour is temperamental and sometimes baffling. I have a lovely girl feline, but tips on websites often mention a lot of ways to curb behaviour, but getting cat to do this is frustrating as all cats are different.
    Anyway, she is lovely, apart from some biting and scratching if I stroke her tummy below halfway line.
    Had dogs when growing up and they were a lot easier to deal with. Not all dogs, though, as parents current dog has epilepsy, still has fits and is on lot of medication. He is also incredibly needy and.nervous, which I believe is a symptom of the epilepsy.

    Cheers nick

  22. I know that this article was published a little while ago. But my younger brother finds kittens in his area all the time. He usually takes them to the shelter. Well, he decided to keep one and raise it. My brother is in the military so he is barley ever home. Well, I decided to take the little slugger in since my daughter fell in love with the cat, I am guessing that this particular kitten is about 2-4 months old. Well we have had the cat for about a month now, and she bites and scratches anything and everything. I have gotten a small cat tree and many toys for her to play with. My daughter and I try to have 30-45 min of play after school/work everyday but it barley gets past 5 min before she is biting one of us. You try to pet her and she bites, you try to sit on the couch she gets up and looks innocent and lays there with you and she bites. She has already scratched through my couch and all the molding on the walks and you cannot leave anything (coats, shoes, etc) at her level because she will try to tear them apart or bites through your shoes. I really do not want to take the kitten to the shelter but my daughter is terrified of her and refuses to go near her. But I am at my wits end. What can I do?

    • You may want to try to increase the number of play sessions with her to two or three a day to help her burn off more energy. You may also want to consider getting a companion for your kitten. Kittens tend to do better with a companion the same age, because, as you’re finding out, it’s pretty hard to keep up with kitten energy for humans. You may also want to consider working with a feline behaviorist. If you can’t find anyone local to you, I can recommend Mikel Delgado and Daniel Quagliozzi Both offer remote consultations.

    • You seem to have quite normal kitten that is starving for play and attention. I agree with the below comment that a playmate would do wonders. cats play very rough with one another and thru this play, learn to temper their biting and scratching. To her, you are another playmate.
      What I have done to help temper rough play is to halt all movement as the animal latches on. Followed by my own cat-like crying. this seems to be similar to what cats and kittens themselves do when they are being played with too roughly by their mates.
      Good luck…it sounds like you have chance to be adopted by a great kitty.

  23. My cat is usually very sweet, I’ve only had him about 6 months and I noticed fairly quickly that he bites when he’s getting pet. I usually pet him until he turns his head to bite me then I stop, but the other night he was sitting on my chest while I was sleeping and he kept biting me in different places even though I wasn’t touching him. After the fourth bite, he bit me on the cheek and I reacted by throwing him off of me (not the best move I know). How can I prevent this in the future? I have like mini PTSD and I can’t sleep anymore when my other cat tries to cuddle with me.

    • That sounds like extreme attention getting behavior, Erin. Try structured playtime with him to help him burn off excess energy. Two or three session a day, 10-15 minutes each. Really get him tired out. Make the last session just before you go to bed.

    • Note the type of bite the Kit is giving you. Is it a vicious bite…or a special love nip? The latter is your Kit bonding and showing love.
      There are some rare cats that seem to be a bit autistic. And altho they love you clearly…they will lash out incredibly viciously with a severe bite and deep scratch. I have one. It has taken years of modified interaction to civilize her. The drawbacks to adopting ferals are always tho outweighed by their returned love.

      • Thank for that one for I think I have one that is Bipolar! I have been working with this drop off cat n got him fixed. He stays outdoor. But he has slashed n wrap his front paw on me n I bled like a stuck pig. Didn’t give up n wks later still trying spend time with him each day. However, tonight when I turned on porch light, I talked n greeted him n pet him once on the head n turned around to pet him with my other hand n wham! I have a low immune system so I have to be careful. It may be time for this cat to go for I have 4 more n 2 r outdoor n 2 indoor they don’t like him.

        • Just update on Marble. He is getting much better on his behavior. Been trying to spend time with him inside n outside the house by playing with a pole n a string-ribbon. It helps get a lot of hyperness he had n sometimes u can see the kitty in him when he plays. Still cautious with the petting but he is talking to us now. 🙂

  24. We have a fully grown cat (had him for just over a year now. He was obtained through the local cattery and originally, the cat was a stray cat) and he is always biting and scratching when we pet him (not enough to draw blood however, he can really dig his claws in sometimes so you have to watch how you withdraw your hand away otherwise it will draw blood!).

    He’s not a very affectionate cat, he does his own thing and is 100% not a ‘lap’ cat (he’ll jump off within 30 seconds of putting him on your lap). He’ll even bite and scratch when you go to stroke him on his body for the first time on any given day (so in the morning, when I go downstairs to feed him, before he follows me down the stairs, he’ll be lying on the landing upstairs. If I go to stroke him before we go down, he’ll take one or two strokes before biting my fist and going for my hand with his claws, all the while whilst still purring loudly?!?). He’s been like this since the day we got him…..!

    • I’m pretty sure your cat is doing that because he doesn’t know when to unsheathed and sheath his claws which at a young age usually the Mom cat teachers her young ones. Best thing to do is to trim your cats nails professionally and contact a cat trainer or a vet behavioralist.

  25. My cat just came up for a pat. Put his face to my hand. I pet her head twice then she bit me hard while simultaneously scratching me and ran off. No time for tell signs.

  26. I do foster care for cats and the new one perplexes me. He is a hug flufft 10 year old cats. Had been an indoor neutored cat, but owner had started forcing him outside. He was part of a largs cat population. He loves to be petted then attacks the petter and draws blood. One bite sent me go the doctors. I have him isolated and safe. Not sure if we can salvage him. Any suggestions?

    • Since you don’t know his history, it’s hard to tell what’s causing the aggression. My guess is that he was pretty traumatized by being forced outside and having to live with a lot of other cats. You may want to consider working with a feline behaviorist.

    • Lynette…First off, THANK YOU for being a foster mom to senior cats. We have adopted seniors and like you – we know some but not all of what they have been through in their lives. Imagine that, being forced outside and be part of a cat “population”. I too had to go to an urgent care with a bad cat bite from our rescue. We followed the suggestions in this original article…so helpful. After we both got bit (not nipped, BIT) we shifted to a small amount of hand petting (pet pet pet, that’s all you get) each visit into her space, then built it up over time. If she wanted more love…we used a brush and were ever mindful of her clues – and where our hands were. We kept her in a bedroom with frequent human visits for two months (we figured compared to her cage at the rescue – it was heavenly…bed, window seat, fleece blankets, toys, visits, Feliway) then introduced her to the house and our other cat. It has taken her some time to build up trust…but now she is a lover and quite settled in. It’s worth the effort and time. You’re doing something not many folks do. So many want to foster or rescue kittens. So again, I thank you…keep up the good work.

      Ingrid – do you know if Harry Shubin reads these?….I know you do. Maybe he could do a followup. There seems to be so much need!

  27. I know this is an old post but just came across it today and thought it might shed some insight. My 3 year old female cat bites me. It is never aggressive or violent and she never draws blood but it is becoming very frequent. The type of biting is exactly the same as this article with one very glaring difference- im not petting her when she bites. Clear example; the other morning my partner and I were lying in bed having a well earned lie in. We were both semi sitting up watching TV. I was lying with my head on his shoulder and arm across his chest. Our cat came and sat on him and sat with her bottom towards his legs and head towards his chest. He didn’t stroke her and neither did i because we were eating breakfast at the time. She sat there for 5 minutes then just bit my arm that was across his chest. No petting involved. She then just went to sleep. My boyfriend sat up causing her to slip down the bed and jump off. What can i do to prevent this? This is a common occurrence of me not touching her but her being close to me then just nipping at random. Another example was when I was working at my desk. She came and sat on the bookcase next to my desk and without warning or any physical contact lent over and nipped my elbow. I’m not touching her she’s getting closer to me then biting me. Any ideas how i can discourage this or what i might be doing that aggravating her?

    • Hi Jane, your cat is probably nipping to get your attention! Biting from being over stimulated carries very different intentions, and usually it’s more apparent when that is the case. The bites from over stimulated cats tends to be more intense vs. a little love nip. Nips are usually to get your attention or ask for pets or even just a little hello. You can try ignoring the nipping to see if she stops/looks for other ways to get your attention. But really it’s the fact that she comes to you and closes the distance that makes me think she just wants attention. My cat also nips me, but she’s also an oddball because I’ll pet her a little and then she’ll nip me to tell me to keep petting her. How do I know she wants more attention? Proximity mostly. She gets in my face and nudges at my hand and headbutts me. It’s just about learning their individual signs.

  28. My cat has been the sweetest most loving and affectionate cat in the world . She is almost 3 . The last year she has progressively been getting more “petting aggression” it never draws blood and at first I thought she was play biting cause it didn’t hurt.. she always wants attention and we give her so much. But the last 2 or so weeks she started to swat at my husband as he walks by .. so he will pet her and she will our and be happy. But she has begun to be more aggressive with him when he doesn’t give her attention (he works at home a lot so he can’t spend the whole day petting her) I do spend more time with her when I am home but she gives us almost equal snuggles. She has swat at me once or twice when I walk by but usually him. I don’t like that she is being so demanding with her attention and I am worried her swats and aggression will get worse. She is sooo sweet and loving it just don’t want her to be mean.. I always thought she was just a bit moody but I came across this article and she is the perfect time definition.

  29. What a great site! I have an old (17 years) orang, male cat and for the past several years he does this biting thing, seemingly randomly, while I pet only his head. So, this article is helpful. However, I genuinely believe my cat just has a bad, mean attitude. He frequently hisses and will sometimes reach out and scratch me or anyone else, simply for walking past him. He will also walk in front of you and stop, daring you to try to get by him. He does this to my dog, too and was very mean to my lab who recently passed. He would just go up to her and swat her nose and my lab never, ever showed any sign of aggression. Back to Cecil the cat from hell…when I need him to move, he ALWAYS will bite, drawing blood, usually holding the bite to make it hurt me more. I frequently am bruised as well. His attacks are quite violent. So, to get him to move off the bed or couch where he knows I sit – it’s my spot and that’s where he’ll go as if to taunt me to dare him to move – I’ll have to get a pillow and gently bring it up to him, coaxing him in the direction I want him to go. He wasn’t always mean. Just since he got old. I also have little grandkids over about once a week and am terrified he will seriously hurt him. I love him, but hate him, also. Ready to put him down. He also pisses on beds, rugs and has costs me thousands of dollars in replacing items. I detest his behavior but there is one person in the family who doesn’t want me to put him down. Any suggestions? Thanks. I’m t wits end.

    • I doubt that your cat is mean, Wanda. From the cat’s perspective, there’s always a reason for behavioral issues, it can just be extremely challenging to figure out, and it sounds like you’ve been through a lot with him. Since you mention that he only started doing these things since “he got old,” I’m concerned that there is a medical reason for his behavior. He may be in pain, and he’s lashing out because it’s the only way he knows how to cope. Has he been checked out by your vet to rule out any medical issues since this behavior started? If not, I’d take him to a vet as soon as you can. I would also urge you to consider working with a feline behaviorist. If you can’t find anyone local to you, I can recommend Mikel Delgado and Daniel Quagliozzi Both offer remote consultations.

      All my best,

  30. Thank you!!! This is amazing, it describes my cat. He’s super loving with me and will actively seek out attention. However, when he does bite during a petting session he kind of latches on and bites. Like not a nip or anything, full on bite, find a new spot do it again. I’ve noticed he does this mainly when I try to pet him on his head with the palm of my hand kind of on top of him. Or when he lays down and shows me his belly during a pet session. It hasn’t happened often but it does hurt (thankfully no blood). Not sure if it’s really this petting aggression or if he’s trying to “play” as my dad will play with him with his hands.

  31. Hi, I’ve thankfully just found your website and this article is completely spot on about my 2 year old female cat. I had started to read the signs myself but couldn’t understand why she was biting until I read your article and now it all falls into place, particularly as she hates the brush and behaves exactly as you have described when petting. She is very unpredictable in that the length of petting can vary immensely from a few seconds to quite a long session before an attempted bite. I am quite good about moving my hand in time but she recently attacked my mother (after petting) and my mother needed hospital treatment as a result. I also have two young children and am worried about them being bitten as they cannot read the signs as well as I can. I have recently started considering re-homing the cat after the bite on my mother but before doing so – as we are very attached to her – in an attempt to bring out her maternal side, we have just bought a ragdoll/persian mix who is the complete opposite and loves to be petted. I introduced them very slowly and carefully and now my 2 year old has become less interested in human interaction but, my new concern is that her ‘playful’ biting with the kitten is now also teaching the kitten that biting is OK. When they are playing the kitten is clearly being bitten and occasionally squealing but, she is the one seeking attention from the 2 year old and going back for more! I break them up and separate them in different rooms when it gets noisy though there hasn’t been any hissing since their very early interactions which were chaperoned closely. My cat also loves licking the kitten so I can’t tell if this is just rough play or she is genuinely harming the kitten when she bites her. However, the last thing I want is for the kitten to learn that biting is OK. Up until now the kitten has been more than happy being petted and has never bitten when being petted but she has bitten (gently) when we have picked her up during a ‘play’ session. Your advice would be greatly appreciated!

    • Some rough play between cats is normal – the way to be able to tell is to watch for other signs: are their tails up in the air when they chase, are their ears straight up instead of flat against the head? I doubt that the rough play will teach your kitten to learn that biting is okay – if anything, it will teach the kitten that biting hurts and is not a good thing to do.

      While the play between the cats is a great way for both cats to burn off excess energy, I would also try structured play therapy for both cats. Play with them two or three times a day, 10 to 15 minutes each. Use interactive wand toys, and really get them tired out. This will also help them discharge energy.

      • Katie I have a seven month old from our humane society and 2 weeks later got a 8 year old from the animal protective Association they are learning to get along but have noticed if i have been rubbing on the 8 year old the kitten hisses and growls if i touch her with the same hand i was using to rub the 8 year old. That could be your problem.

        • Thanks RA. Actually that sounds similar to what’s happening. I notice every time I patted him after patting the kitten he is hissing and growling. Thank you. 🙂

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