This is a very commonly asked question. You have to ask another question before this question, which is why it is your cat biting you? I would speculate and say that most cat bites on people occur because the person is using their hands to play with their cat. If that is the case then the way to avoid being bitten is to not use your hands to play with your cat. Obvious, yes? You should use something else instead such as a piece of string or a cat tease.
Sometimes a cat might think that you are playing with them when you are in fact petting them with your hands. This can stimulate play and when cats play they play-fight which incorporates biting. Some young kittens don’t know how hard they should bite until they are told by siblings who scream back at them. Cats bite to practice their hunting which is why play always incorporates play-hunting.
If it does happen on your arm or hands then you should stop what you are doing and walk away. You should end the session. A time out. You should not scold your kitten or cat or punish them. They don’t understand this human concept (but see below).
Sometimes when petting leads to overstimulation of a cat which in turn leads to biting, the cat will grasp the hand. Don’t pull away, just stop and let your cat calm down. In addition you can use the other hand to hold your cat by the scruff of the neck. This will certainly trigger your cat into releasing because they are programmed to become passive when the scruff of their neck is held in the jaws of their mother as she carries her kittens to a new den. Don’t be too vigorous in doing this. It does not require force.
It is up to the cat’s caretaker to understand their cat and define the limits of acceptability for petting. Some cats are more tolerant than others. Some cats even like to be hoovered which is unusual because most cats are frightened of the sound of vacuum cleaners. Other cats are going to be more nervous and perhaps quite quickly be stimulated by even modest petting but sometimes in the wrong place. It’s up to the caretaker to gently learn the limits and stay within them. Gentleness is the starting point and make a presumption that certain areas are out of bounds such as the belly, the feet while other areas are definitely inbounds such as around the head, the top of the head, the neck, the back and the flanks.
Most cats will give a warning by showing distinct but subtle signals that they are irritated by petting. People can’t assume that cats have a limitless acceptance of petting. Tail twitching, restlessness and perhaps skin rippling can be signs of irritation and a warning. Termination of the petting session should be immediate on seeing these signs.
So play and petting are the most often situations when people get bitten but what if a cat is aggressive to their owner for no apparent reason. There will be a reason and on one of these is transferred aggression. Your cat has come in from the outside and is wound up because of something that happened. Perhaps he saw another cat and wanted to attack to the defend territory but did not and so when he comes inside he might attack your ankles. That’s transferred aggression and it is hard to detect when it might occur. There’s not much you can do about it except watch the area of the bite for an infection. Click on this link to read about that.
But transferred aggression is just one reason. Cats may attack, scratch and bite human caretakers or visitors for several reasons. You have to find out the reasons.
Sometimes young cats ambush human housemates from behind doors, attacking legs and ankles. This is play and hunting practice and fun for a cat but painful and sometimes distressing for a person. To avoid it you just have to be aware of the possibility. And to redirect the desire to play aggressively towards toys or objects which are not human and therefore don’t feel pain! For example, a toy might be placed near the door from which a cat usually ambushes their caretaker. Plenty of play sessions may be able to release that desire to play aggressively which then eliminates the need for a cat to attack legs and ankles.
There is a difference between punishment and what has been described as positive punishment or acts of God or divine intervention. I have covered this – click here. It is when you deter a cat through making a certain behaviour uncomfortable for the cat and they believe their behavior is the cause. So, for example, if you spray water at a cat to deter bad behaviour, as you perceive it, they must not know that you are spraying the water. They will then associate their behaviour with an uncomfortable outcome, which will help to deter that behaviour, but it will not interfere with the relationship between cat and person. Personally I don’t use this technique as I believe it is tricky to make it work well.
Another reason for biting might be that a cat is defensively aggressive leading to a bite when a person is grooming them in an inappropriate way or in a way that the cat dislikes or when they are undergoing some form of medical treatment. Solution: stop the interaction if grooming. Medical treatment issues are another matter for obvious reasons.
Ultimately, observation, caution and respecting the cat through gentleness are ways to avoid being bitten, together with keeping your arms and hands out of the way!