Can cats show affection by biting?

I’m discussing domestic cats because the question must be asking about domestic cats. It is an interesting question and it seems to be hinting at the possibility that domestic cats can sometimes deliver a “love bite” as happens in human relationships!

There is nothing to suggest in all the research that I have read that domestic cats bite each other as a direct expression of their love. Cats do not participate in love bites in the human way. That is my conclusion. But that is not the end of the discussion although it’s almost the end.

Feline love bite kitten style
Feline love bite kitten style. The picture appears to be in the public domain.
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There is no doubt that cats paw and bite at each other playfully. In play they bite each other and I’m referring mainly to kittens during social play. It may take place between littermates, a mother and her kittens, or unrelated kittens as part of a social group. It is fair to say that under these circumstances, where there is affection, one for the other, a playful bite is indirectly showing affection.

As a cat owner, you may have experienced the situation when your cat is perhaps on your lap and content. He licks your hand which is a sign of affection because it is your cat grooming you. He may then begin to gently bite your finger. The gentle bite may get harder and it needs to be stopped. I don’t know whether anybody else has experienced this but my cat certainly does this to me.

It’s as if he feels emotionally connected to me and is showing affection towards me but the emotion develops and builds to a point where he has to bite rather than lick. The lick becomes a bite. My interpretation is that this is an extension of affection leading to perhaps the beginnings of play. Perhaps the bite is a request to play and roughhouse.

I’ve seen a video in which a dog, who very much liked his cat companion, gently bites the cat with his incisor teeth. It was quite clear and the intention was to provoke the cat to play. And we know that kittens who are very friendly with each other like to play and play incorporates biting so biting and affection can go together but it is distinctly different from the human variety of expressing love through a bite. And as adult cats are kept in a state of permanent youth because of their relationship with us, as their provider of everything, they can act as kittens towards us, their surrogate mother.

Arguably, the human love bite is merging affection with aggression demonstrating that love and aggression can go together in the same way that a cat biting and loving can go together. But the human love bite is perhaps a reflection of the underlying tension between people in love. It is not the same for cats. That’s my best answer as there is nothing in the books which helps. What do you think?

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