How to Stop Your Cat From Biting

Kitten playing and biting a hand
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Cat bites are a normal part of having a pet cat. Because cats mouth and paw objects in order to explore their world, it's natural for them to bite. You can't stop it. But kitties can learn to inhibit the force of the bite and to use soft paws without claws. Your cat can still play-smack you with a soft paw and enjoy a kitty-correct game without drawing blood.

Why Do Cats Bite?

Kittens develop good manners through interaction with other kittens and their mother; other cats won't put up with being hurt. Too often kittens go to new homes before they've learned these important lessons and you need to teach them. Cats won't know that teeth and claws hurt unless you explain to it in kitty language the way a mother would. Begin training as soon as you get your kitten or cat. A well-socialized adult cat teaches the best lessons to kittens.

For adult cats, there may be a few reasons why a cat would bite. It could be an animalistic behavior to assert dominance and respond to a threat. If a cat bites and then doesn't back down, this could be the case. Some cats may bite as a form of communication or looking for attention. Instead of meowing, they may bite. If a cat bites you and then tries to lead you to an action (play with a toy, be let outside, etc.), this could be the reason for the biting.

How to Stop Cat Bites

While you may not be able to prevent your cat from ever biting again, there is some technique you can try. Maintain consistent responses and make sure that all family members and visitors will engage in the same rules. If the cat receives mixed messages, it will be hard to enact your training.

Never allow your kitten or cat to play with your bare hands, fingers, or toes. Kittens and cats should be taught that hands are not toys. If you offer your hands as toys, you are encouraging a risky habit. 

Instead, do offer a legal and interactive toy for the cat to bite and bunny kick. Stuffed animals are a hit with many cats. Continually and gently praise your cat for soft paws (claws withheld) or a soft mouth, saying, "Good paws, good mouth!" If the claws come out or the mouthing hurts, make a noise just as another cat or kitten would to stop the games. Use this as an interruption to stop the behavior, not as a punishment. Used too often, the HISS will stop being effective.

If your cat bites and won't let go, grit your teeth and push your hand and arm IN toward the bite to prompt your cat to release you. Pulling away from the bite stimulates it to bite even more. Additionally, treat your clothing as an extension of your skin and make it off limits, or the kitten won't learn the difference between clawing jeans and nailing your bare legs.

If the kitten bites or claws during play, and doesn't react to a HISS, instead use a very short, loud, high-pitched EEEK! Warn the rest of your family before doing this so they won't call for help. Note, a high-pitched shriek could trigger an aggressive reaction in an adult cat so reserve the EEEK! for kitties under a year of age.

Physical punishment only makes cats more determined to fight back and protect themselves, but they often understand the emotion of hurt feelings. Tell your cat, "You hurt me," with as much angst and tears as you can muster. Very friendly cats understand a "time out." If your pet cat can't contain its teeth and claws, send it into a room alone for five minutes to tell if they exceeded the proper bounds.

Next Steps

Cat bites are dangerous to you and to other cats. A cat bite can cause serious infection and should be treated immediately. All households should have complete first aid kits within easy access in the event of serious cat bites or scratches, as well as other injuries. Teaching bite inhibition to your kitten helps not only today but in the future when it's an adult. And the kitty able to pull its paw-punches and play nice avoids causing injury to others and ultimately keeps the peace.