This isn’t an aggressive behavior, and your cat isn’t trying to hurt you! It’s their only way to communicate, especially if you’ve ignored other signs like a twitching tail, other annoyed body language, or even them walking away.
In this article, we’ll talk all about love bites and cat nibbles, from why they do these things to how to stop them!
Table of Contents:
What is a Cat Love Bite?
Love bites are warnings from your cat, not actually a way of saying they love you! A cat might nip while you’re petting them, for instance, to say they’d like you to stop.
Cats can become overstimulated and even feel pain from too much petting. Rubbing the same area over and over is overwhelming for them, especially if you’re running your hand repetitively down their back.
Try petting your cat with short scratches or strokes and varying the place you’re petting. For instance, scratch their head, chin, and cheeks instead of just running your hand from head to tail.
Even better, ask for consent before petting them. I like to hold my hand out to my cats and let them “pet themselves” to see what they want.
Most of them will press the top or side of their head into my hand for me to scratch. One of my cats doesn’t like being pet on the head much and prefers a good shoulder rub instead!
Lastly, be sure to heed the less obvious signals of frustration from your cat, like a twitching tail or if they become still rather than leaning into your hand.
How to Stop “Love Bites”
Personally, I don’t tolerate any amount of biting from my pets. Even if it doesn’t hurt, I discourage it strongly!
With love bites, it’s also important to address your cat’s underlying issue. They’re overstimulated and need to be left alone.
Here’s how to stop them from biting you:
- Respect their boundaries. Learn your cat’s body language and stop when you see signs of discomfort. Ask for permission before petting them—after all, the point of petting is to make your cat happy, not to irritate them.
- Freeze during the bite. Pulling away can cause your cat to chase you like prey! Keep still until they disengage.
- Walk away. Leave the situation entirely and stop doing what you were doing with your cat, whether it was cuddles, pets, or play. This teaches them they don’t get attention for biting.
You might think this gives your cat their way when what they wanted was for you not to pet them—and it absolutely does!
Your cat is allowed to have boundaries, and respecting them is incredibly important to your relationship. They don’t get to choose to live with us, even if we do provide for them fully. We should give our cats the respect, at least, to stop petting them when they don’t want to be touched.
It also solves the problem for both you and your cat in the easiest way possible. By not giving them a reason to bite, you cut out the behavior—and your cat will be happier for it.
Related article: How to Crate Train a Cat or Kitten
What not to do
You should never do any of the following:
- Scruff your cat or shake them
- Yell at your cat
- Yank your hand away from the cat
- Hit your cat
- Spray them with water
Punishing your cat for love bites can lead to harder, aggressive biting.
Keep in mind that your cat is doing you a favor by warning you rather than going straight in for a hard bite. If you don’t listen, or you escalate the situation, they might skip straight to biting hard in the future.
Punishing your cat won’t stop the biting, despite what you expect. They don’t see it as a consequence, and it might even harm your relationship by making your cat fear you.
Love Bites vs Aggressive Biting
Love bites are a warning sign and may come before a hard bite. However, they aren’t the same as your cat trying to hurt you. When they’re trying, they’re going to draw blood!
The difference is your cat’s intent and the severity of the bite. One reason cats might bite hard is if they were separated from their siblings too young or are the only cat in the household. I recommend adopting kittens in pairs so they can teach each other bite inhibition.
Why do Cats Nibble on You While You Pet Them?
Aside from love bites, cats might also nibble and lick at your skin while you pet them. This is affectionate behavior: they’re grooming you like they would a fellow cat!
This means your cat trusts and loves you. They see that petting them is how you two bond and they want to return the affection in the way they know how.
You don’t need to stop this behavior and it might hurt your cat’s feelings to try! If it really bothers you, though, simply move away when they start grooming you. In time, they’ll learn you dislike it and will stop.
Why do Cats Nibble on You While You’re Sleeping?
Your cat might nibble on you while you sleep for a few reasons:
Your cat might be bored in the night and want to play! Or maybe they’ve decided it’s breakfast time, or they simply want to be pet.
They nibble to wake you up so that you pay attention to them. The best way to deal with this is to ignore them and refuse them that attention. Over time, they’ll learn to let you sleep.
Also, ensure you’re addressing their needs throughout the day. Is your cat getting 30-45 minutes of daily play? Have you tried playing with them right before bed to tire them out before you sleep?
You could try feeding your cat directly before bed as well and ensuring you give them cuddles and pets while you’re awake.
To Groom You
Your cat might cuddle up, nibble, and lick you at night. This is just them grooming you. They likely aren’t trying to wake you up but to bond with you.
If it bothers you, gently push your cat away, roll over, or put the body part that they’re licking beneath a blanket to stop them. They’ll eventually learn that you don’t need to be groomed in your sleep!
Related article: Why Does My Cat Sleep On My Head?
To Alert You
If your cat has heard a scary sound or noticed something is off, they might nibble to wake you up. They don’t want to bite you, just to get your attention!
In this case, your cat might try to lead you toward the problem or act restless like they just can’t settle.
If this is unusual for them, it’s likely worth getting up to check what the fuss is about.