Stopping A Cat Biting You

We are reliably told by cat behaviorists that to stop a cat biting you, you should train her when she is a kitten by immediately and gently tapping her on the nose and saying in a firm voice, “No” after she has bitten you. When she grows up she won’t bite you. The idea is to send a clear-cut message to your young cat that your hands or yourself are not an acceptable target for a cat bite.

Stopping a cat biting you

This was a bit of play. Photo by pat00139. The scratches were the admitted fault of the photographer. Sensible bloke.

I have read this before a number of times. And I’ll be honest with you, I have no idea what this technique is based on. If you want to train a cat to do something it has to have its foundations in wild cat behavior. That is natural cat behavior. The motivation for not biting has to come from some sort of natural situation that occurs in the wild. And in the wild a mother cat would never try and train a cub to not bite. Certainly not by a tap on the nose and meowing “No”. Quite the contrary. In any case, kittens learn how hard to bite when playing each other. Biting is very natural for a cat and is nearly always in play. If she bites you hard it is because you have played too hard.

The technique is a rebuke and a mild form of punishment. I don’t think a cat understands any form of punishment because the whole concept of punishment is a based around human behavior and cognizance. However, cats do understand when their owner is unhappy with an aspect of their behavior. This does not have to be punishment but using a voice which indicates annoyance combined with appropriate behavior can work.

For me the best way to stop your cat biting you is to neither encourage your cat to bite you nor put your hand or another part of your anatomy in a position and under circumstances where she might bite you. In short, it is down to us to behave in a way that precludes the cat bite.

It is about (but not 100%) as simple as that and it has always served me well. I have never been bitten other than as a gentle love bite until recently as about four years ago I adopted a kitten who was raised feral by his mom. I domesticated and socialised him but he retained a desire to attack from time to time but rarely. I have trained it out of him by both positive reinforcement and by making it clear that it is unwanted. I explain how I did it (crudely if I am honest) on this page.

The identical rules and common sense applies to getting scratched by your cat. It should never happen. There may be exceptional occasions under emergency conditions when a person may be scratched. But this will be the rare exception. In day to day interactions with a cat neither a bite nor a scratch should ever happen.

One other situation where a person may be bitten is when handling a feral cat. Once again it is down the person handling the cat. If a cat is feral you treat the cat with the respect it deserves. Care should be taken and precautions put in place – common sense again and no punishment not event a tap on the nose and a firm “No”.

Original photo on Flickr

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Stopping A Cat Biting You — 16 Comments

  1. I have a female black kitten..she is a 10 old bobtail kitten. I’m new to cats/kittens..I already have a corgi male dog whos 7 years old. I thought that getting a kitten would be better for our household, than another puppy/dog. Anyway, I don’t know if there’s a big difference BTW a bobtail kitten & any other kittens? & what can I do to get her from biting me around my face area,plus a lick with each bite, lol. Than she takes those bites & licks to my neck area, my arms also. No matter where I’m at she will jump off the floor up in the air for me I think to catch her or hold her. She wants everything I eat & she does this to any and everyone that comes over..this isn’t what I wanted.. But I read a lot and want to learn to show her love, but no matter what I do she’s not having it..I’ve tried a rolled up news paper don’t work..she’s not afraid of anything.. I tried to tap her nose, that’s not good, that pissted her off even more so..I do understand not to do that.. So please help us, I want to keep her for life..oh yes I forgot since bringing her home she keeps her nail out, no matter what’s going on, she is constantly hunting in the house, lol..I do realize she a kitten on her way to be a full grown cat one day, and a lot of things she do is her nature.. But her nature is not good for me or my dog. Please help, I love her wild crazy self, lol.

    • Hi Linda. Thanks for commenting. There is no difference between a bobtailed kitten and a kitten with a tail in terms of the behavior you have described.

      Your cat is showing affection. She has formed the habit with your assistance (no criticism meant) to show her affection through licking and biting (love bite) your neck area and arms. The way forward is to retrain her. In effect she has been trained to do this. Training should be by positive reinforcement only. Never use punishment as a means to train your cat.

      This habit will subside anyway as she becomes more adult. It is a more a baby thing to play bite and lick. Adult cats do this less in my view.

      What I’ll do it is convert your comment to an article and invite comments from experienced cat caretakers to help you get through this phase.

  2. Michael, I think any kind of “negative” training is not at all appropriate for ANY species- We don’t want our kitties (or any other animal in fact) to learn through fear. Tapping – even with the lightest touch- is not appropriate. The cat’s nose is incredibly sensitive, and I feel strongly that causing any pain erodes the cat’s trust of their human.

    Some “unenlightend” people use their hands as toys for kitties and play roughly – which is also very inappropriate.

    Years ago I had a lovely ebony-smoke oriental named Gremlin- she had a habit of nipping at my ankles when she was hungry. This behavior may have been reinforced by the breeder- who knows. I simply ignored it- because I think that paying attention to the behavior only reinforces it- and just walked away and did NOT feed her at that time. I would wait about 15 minutes or so before I gave her any food- (certainly she would not starve to death), and eventually- repeating this pattern, she stopped doing it.

    Ignore is a powerful tool- and no one gets hurt. Just my humble opinion. GREAT post.

    • My cat nibbles my hand sometimes but purely in play without real aggression. Some people think a cat bite in play is real aggression and they punish the cat for it. If it is, it is because the person went too far.

  3. You take responsibility for your cats biting you Marc but many people don’t, they play like that with kittens then expect them as adults to know they shouldn’t bite or scratch. The poor cats become confused at the rules changing and at beng punished and many end up aggressive, attacking first.
    Then they moan ‘My cat is a bad cat, she’s always biting me’ or ‘I’m getting my cat declawed she’s always scratching me’
    Eventually off she goes to a Shelter and the person gets another kitten and it all begins again ……

  4. With my kittens, rather than avoiding their bites I let them. This is because its so much a part of play and I otherwise wouldnt be able to play with them so much. Instead I’ve let them go ahead and bite me but I have taught them how hard they can bit and now everything is fine. I also had to teach them how and when to use claws around me. We have accidents with the claws occasionally but never the teeth. Sometimes they get a claw in my hand by accident. But usually when they grab on my arm for example they never claw too hard. They have learnt that my skin is less hardy and more sensitive to their furry bodies. They are very good about it. It has taken a bit of teaching and learning. When something hurts I just make a sort of crying sound and they stop right away. The biting was easy. In the same way I signal when to stop. But I dont even need to anymore. So the end result is some great play time and I can wrestle with them using my hand and arm and its great fun. I pin them down and then I let them pin my hand/arm down and then I fight to get out of their hold all the while not getting hurt at all. It’s great 🙂
    However I have readit is a bad thing to do. I personally disagree for me and my cats. If I was fostering cats I would not teach them that way because I think most people would be scared to allow them to do what I allow them to do. And if you panic and pull out of the hold or bite you can then get hurt if you are not careful. They can get a claw stuck for example. One has to understand claws and how they work and how cats use them. Actually they are careful not to get them stuck in things they are unsure of. But thats another conversation about claws, not about bites 🙂

  5. Babz and I have tried to educate people for a long time now about the cruelty of tapping kittens or cats on their noses.
    It sickens me that so called cat behaviourists recommend it and the truth is I’d like to punch them on their noses because even a light tap on a cat’s sensitive nose feels like a punch does to us.
    It HURTS the cat, we know how it brings tears to our eyes if we hit or are hit on our nose, imagine being a cat and the person you are supposed to be able to trust hurts you that way.
    Aggression breeds aggression and eventually the cat will attack the person with a serious bite purely in self defence, then be called a ‘bad cat’
    All kittens bite and as Babz says people encourage them to when they are little kittens by playing rough, instead of distracting the kitten with a toy, when the bite hurts they tap the poor creature’s nose.
    I get very annoyed at so called cat experts who advise punishment, tapping, squirting water, ALL punishment is wrong!

    • oh excuse me so you think that it DOESN’T HURT US when the cat BITES us for NO REASON ?? HELLO HOW ARE WE TO TRUST OUR CAT WHEN THE CONSTANTLY BITE FOR NO GOOD REASON ? WHEN i TAP MY 1 YEAR FERAL CAT AND TELL HER NOT she will shake it off and then come back and be FINE ok but I am NOT going to allow her to CONTINUE to BITE me for no good reason and I usually just tell her to LEAVE my apt when I get tired of her attitude, she can then go and get her food some where ELSE if she doesn’t like me ok i am TIRED of LOVING HER and PLAYING with her ONLY TO GET BIT when she FEELS like biting yes I am taking it personally ! I give her a toy and tell her to bite on that toy but she still LIKES to BITE my hand instead ? I seriously think that she NEVER had a cat and I know if she bit her mom in the wild she would SWAT her baby with her PAW for SURE so I am doing the same thing ok

      • I understand the point you are making. With a feral cat who has never really become domesticated it is more difficult to play with them because it degenerates into real hunting quite soon and that is when you get a bite. I guess the only answer is to give her all the space she needs and not to interact beyond the point where she feels like nibbling you. You have done well it seems to care for a feral cat but perhaps you are treating her as a domestic cat.
        Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  6. Furby has bitten me a few times while accepting treats. My fault for not getting my fingers out of the way in time.

    Our feral Renny has also bitten us. We had to handle him with a towel to get him accustomed to humans. He gradually came to trust us.

    One thing we’ve noticed about feral cat biting is they tend to hang on to a bite whereas the straY rescues bite and release. I’m with you in that punishment wouldn’t help. You just have to use caution and have quick reflexes.

  7. Couldn’t agree more Michael, the whole idea of “punishing” a cat for behaving in a natural way seriously gets my goat, in the normal way of things there is no need for a cat to bite his human, it’s the people who play fight with kittens, rolling them around with their hand until they bite, who end up complaining that their adult cat bites. I wanted to have a chuckle at the instructions to tap the nose and say no AFTER the cat has bitten you (bit late then) but it makes me so angry to even think of someone hitting a cat on the nose that I actually saw red!

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