13 facts about cat love bites

Here are a 13 facts about cat bites. Nearly all cat owners have experienced them.

Love bite
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Love bite. Image: MikeB

  1. The cat love bite is a gentle bite. It is not accompanied by aggression.
  2. Often the cat love bite is carried out using the incisor teeth and not the canine teeth
  3. When a cat does a love bite, it is nearly always on their human caregiver’s hand but it can be the owner’s nose or perhaps ear lobe. Although I have seen cats suckling on ear lobes due to early weaning, an entirely different form of feline behavior.
  4. Sometimes the precursor to a cat love bite is a lick. Sometimes cats like to lick their owner’s hand because it tastes nice (salty sweat) or they are engaged in allogrooming i.e. mutual grooming. Gently biting a hand is also a pleasurable experience for a cat. It is the underlying reason for the cat love bite.
  5. Having licked their owner, it is not uncommon for a cat to become excited enough, either because of the taste of the hand and/or because of the bond between human caregiver, that they bite the hand. This will be a gentle bite but it may on occasions become more aggressive if the cat becomes overexcited even if they have not been provoked into that mood.
  6. But sometimes cat owners provoke their cat into delivering a play bite. This is positively not a love bite. Play for the domestic cat is play-hunting. Hunting involves biting and we frequently see sibling kittens biting each other and the recipient screaming to tell the other to ease back a bit. In this way they learn the limits of how hard to bite when playing.
  7. Humans can generate this play biting instinct when they pet them by, for example, petting the stomach too hard or even gently because some cats will reject any touching of their stomach but most of them accept it as long as it is very gentle.
  8. Touching, stroking and petting those areas that are borderline out of bounds (depending on the cat’s preferences) such as hind legs, the belly and perhaps the forelegs can provoke a nip which is not a love bite.
  9. It is probably fair to say that sometimes cats nip their owner to get their attention if they are being ignored. This is the kind of love bite because it is not meant to be hurtful or harmful.
  10. There is an overlap between petting your cat and playing with your cat with your hands. Sometimes owners can inadvertently drift from petting to playing and at that point the cat might go from a gentle love bite to an aggressive play bite.
  11. The difference is readily apparent because a genuine love bite doesn’t hurt although it depends upon the size of the cat and what the cat thinks of as gentle! And the sensitivity of the cat’s caregiver. But certainly, when a cat bites aggressively the human recipient knows about it and the skin may be broken. Incidentally, you can tell if an infection has set in by checking for inflammation around the puncture wound and I discuss this on the following linked page.
  12. When there is this drift from petting to play the owner should watch their cat’s the body language for signs which indicate that they are becoming agitated and the owner can expect a bite which is going to be stronger than they want to accept. The kind of body language you can see would be the tail swishing slightly or the cat turning their head to look at the hand with a facial expression which shows intent as a preliminary to a bite.
  13. It is perhaps worthwhile reminding ourselves that humans love bite and it is said that people do it to claim possession of the other person. This is not the underlying reason why cats do it! The cat’s reason is far more instinctive and is caused by a moment of excitement resulting in an extension of the lick to a bite which they enjoy and sometimes a transition from a soft bite to a more aggressive one.

Here are some examples of feline love bites:

Photographs of old ladies and their cats

Photo: Pinterest. Believed in public domain.

Feline love bite kitten style

Feline love bite kitten style. The picture appears to be in the public domain.

Useful links
Anxiety - reduce it
FULL Maine Coon guide - lots of pages
Children and cats - important
Cat love bite

Cat love bite. Kitten on mother. Image by Tania Van den Berghen from Pixabay

Can you think of any more facts about cat love bites? If so please comment and I will add the comment to the article.

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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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2 Responses

  1. Sharon says:

    Munchkin cats frequently engage in a habit known as “love biting,” and if you are a cat owner, there is a significant probability that you have strong feelings towards this characteristic of cats.

    However, if this is your first experience with owning a cat and you are only now becoming familiar with these phenomena, the first time you encounter cat love bites, you may feel a little uneasy and maybe a little alarmed.

    You might even start to question whether it’s something you’re doing wrong that’s causing your cat to act aggressively toward you.

  2. Jon Todd says:

    Pretend and gentle chewing is one thing. Several of the “chew-cats” I’ve owned liked to do this. A love bite is completely different. Although well-meant, and not accompanied by any hissing, growling, or any other sign of anger, they are definitely bites and definitely hurt (c. 4 or 5 out of 10 pain, 1 being a scratch and 10 being boiled alive). one of my
    Mother’s cats liked to give these. They were forceful and sharp and he used the incisors between his fangs. I’m sure he meant them as
    expressions of affection. My mother tolerated them, but I did not. He did this out of the blue. I was sitting on a bed near him and he came over bit me without preamble. I very lightly bopped him in the snout in response, and although we remained good friends, he never bit me again, but still liked me to pet him and rubbed against me.

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