When thinking about how to deal with kitten or cat biting, it’s important to understand why it happens - and why, while we may not like it, it is entirely natural, and mostly our fault!
Why Do Kittens Bite?
The problem is that when it comes to interactions, humans and cats have very different opinions as to how these should go. Humans usually like infrequent but prolonged contact that involves cuddles and physical affection, whereas most cats like frequent but brief, low-intensity interactions. So, often, your cat will come to you wanting to interact with you in their way - only for you to overwhelm them with way too much stroking, scratching, and cuddling. Cats have very limited ways to express their disapproval of you taking such liberties, and one of those involves teeth.
Often cats will come to you when they don’t want to be touched; they just want to be close to you. Owners often misinterpret that as their cat wanting to be stroked or touched when very often they are just gaining pleasure or security from your company.
Cats have sensitive spots and no-go areas where they don’t like to be touched (although again, every cat is an individual). These include:
- And for most cats, the base of their tail (although this is where you have to know your cat as some love it)
- Also, cats hate having their fur stroked the wrong way
Some cats also have overly sensitive skin, so stroking is uncomfortable for them, no matter how much they might want to interact with their owner.
How Do I Teach My Kitten Not To Bite?
This isn’t really the right question. You should ask yourself, ‘how can I interact with my kitten in a way where they don’t feel the need to bite?’.
Being stroked and handled isn’t natural behaviour for a cat, and this is something they have to learn. How much they go on to enjoy this kind of contact will be directly related to how much human interaction and safe handling they have received during the sensitive socialisation period between two and seven weeks of age. It can also be dependent on their breed and personality - and on how you handle them.
Whether you have just got your kitten or whether you have an older cat that bites, start by getting them used to your proximity and let them learn that you won’t stroke or grab them without their consent.
Sit on the floor with them and let them approach and retreat as they want. Don’t touch them or stroke them to start with. Once they are relaxed - and this might take a few minutes, or it might take a few weeks - you can offer your hands for them to rub against or even give them a small, tasty treat.
From here, you can stroke them gently but keep to the Three Second rule! After three seconds, stop and see what happens. If they move away, you do not have consent to continue. If they stay, or even better encourage you to continue, you can keep stoking them - for three more seconds only!
By building up slowly, your cat learns that they can always leave at any point, that touch will not get overly intense for them, that you’ll stay away from touching sensitive areas - and you won’t take liberties! By doing this, you will find that your cat will probably solicit more attention as they know they can trust your hands, so not only will they stop biting or scratching you, but they will also become more likely to interact.
Always stop before your cat decides you’ve overstepped the line!
Kittens would rather play than cuddle, so make sure you spend time playing with toys that simulate chasing and hunting. This enrichment and outlet for their predatory behaviour will help their well-being, make them feel more content and confident in general, which will help your relationship.
When to seek help?
If your cat is causing you regular injuries (bites and scratches), if they instigate aggressive encounters, or if they have started to stalk or hunt you, contact a behaviourist experienced and qualified in working with cats for help.
If your cat has only just started to bite, take them for a check-up with your vet to check they are not in pain or have any sore spots.
About the Author
Carolyn is an accredited behaviourist and trainer with over 20 years experience working with dogs and other companion animals. She has written books, over 500 published articles and trains owners and professionals alike both nationally and internationally. Carolyn is also an experienced broadcaster and presenter, has appeared in five TV series’ and countless radio shows. Her passion is for helping owners build a strong and positive relationship with their dogs and fully develop the potential of the bond between them.More articles from Carolyn Menteith
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