Why Does My Cat Bite When I Pet Her?

Here's how to avoid getting bitten by your kitten.

Kitty, please don't bite me. oliviermartins/flickr

Does your cat seem to enjoy getting pet one moment, and then hate them the next? What are the warning signs that can mean a scratch or a bite is coming soon? Kristen Collins of the ASPCA's Animal Behavior Center provides steps to address your cuddle bug’s bouts of petting-induced aggression.

Don’t take it personally.

“It’s not unusual for a cat to walk up and purr and rub against your legs, then when you pet them, they turn and bite or scratch, making people feel betrayed or confused,” Collins says. Try not to get frustrated. She notes that repetitive stroking causes sudden arousal in some cats, and that feeling can be unpleasant — like a shock from static electricity. “It’s an individual cat thing that can happen at varying ages,” she says.

Take things slowly.

Find the stage when your cat becomes uncomfortable with petting — some warning signs can include a switching tail or ears that are laid back. If you notice these or any other cues, stop before things get ugly. Forcing her to endure cuddle time will only make the problem worse, Collins says.

“If at stroke four they get tense, you know you have a three-stroke cat,” she says. “When the cat approaches and asks for petting, stroke it three times and give it a treat or toy, but don’t force it over the threshold.”

After about a week of offering three strokes followed by a treat, try to sneak in a fourth stroke. Eventually, your cat will tolerate the additional affection.

“She learns good things happen when petting happens,” Collins says. “Slowly increase the number of strokes. Over time, you can build a liking of that kind of touch.”

Beware of the belly.

Cats often roll over and show you their tummy when they're feeling playful. It might seem like an invitation for belly rubs, but touching your cat's underside when they're in play mode can often result in a bite or scratch because your hand seems like a toy. If this is your cat, try engaging them with a kicker toy or wand toy instead.

Some cats do enjoy belly rubs, but it's best to test this when your cat is relaxed and to proceed slowly.

Understand your cat’s limitations.

While the positive training method discussed above can help improve your cat’s response to petting, it’s important to note that some cats may never embrace full-blown cuddle time. “Stop when you know she’s ready to stop,” Collins says. “Accept your cat for who she is.”

It's also important for cats to have access to a quiet place where they can hide if they feel stressed or scared. For example, creating a kid-free zone may also create a stress-free zone for your cat. Even just a spot under the bed or similar nook to hide may do the trick. Don't chase your cat to extend petting time. Instead, let them come to you when they're feeling social.

Why Pets Matter to Treehugger

At Treehugger, we are advocates of animal welfare, including our pets and other domestic animals. The better we understand our cats, the better we can support and protect their wellbeing. We hope our readers will adopt rescue pets instead of shopping from breeders or pet stores, and will also consider supporting local animal shelters.