Why Do Cats Purr And Then Bite You: Love Or Hate?


Updated: November 4, 2023

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Cats form intricate connections with both humans and fellow felines, but it’s crucial to remember that they have their own unique way of communicating. Unlike humans, cats don’t speak English, and most people can’t understand ‘cat’ language. Purring signals immediate contentment, but like humans, cats can swiftly change their moods. Therefore, it’s vital to remain attentive and observe any shifts in your cat’s behavior, as neglecting this could lead to an unexpected nip!

If your cat suddenly bites you during a session of purring and petting, seemingly without cause, it’s likely because the cat has been trying to convey (in cat terms), “That’s enough petting!” and you may not have picked up on it. This is commonly referred to as ‘over-stimulation’. Following this, the cat will usually hop off your lap and make a quick exit.

The cat may be feeling overstimulated, or maybe they simply don’t enjoy being petted beyond a certain point, much like how humans might find excessive hugging uncomfortable. Cat etiquette has its own set of rules, and becoming proficient at ‘reading’ a cat can be a lengthy process.

Their behavior is distinct from ours. Avoid reprimanding your cat if it nips during a petting session. From the cat’s perspective, you are the one who overstepped, not the other way around.

When your cat is ready for more affection, it will return, seeking it as if nothing untoward happened.

Read also: Why Do Cats Roll in the Dirt? (Good Unclean Fun)

Why Do Cats Bite?

Any cat, regardless of age, that feels threatened and has exhausted other defensive methods (like attempting to move away), may resort to aggression, which can include biting. If you’re peacefully sitting with your cat on your lap and they indicate they’ve had enough petting for the day, it’s crucial to respect their boundaries and allow them to leave. If you try to convince them to stay, they may give a gentle nip as a way of reiterating, “I’ve had my fill now…”

Younger cats may also bite out of fear or uncertainty when faced with something new in their environment. A mother cat may turn aggressive while protecting her kittens, or they may react with a bite if they’re experiencing pain.

Furthermore, playful but non-aggressive biting is a common aspect of kitten playtime! This behavior is entirely normal, so when engaging with kittens, be mindful to keep your hands out of their direct path.

Love Bites

Cats use ‘love bites’ to express affection and establish boundaries, and occasionally your cat may do the same with you. Typically, these bites won’t break the skin. Your cat isn’t trying to harm you; it’s a way of signaling that the activity just before the bite has become a bit too intense.

Put differently, your cat might be having a fantastic time, perhaps a bit too fantastic. Ultimately, whether your cat is saying, “You’re amazing!” or “Ease up a bit,” your role is to dial it back. Bites that occur during play often fall into this category. The cat is enjoying itself, but teeth are involved.

It’s best not to encourage this behavior. So, simply pause, assess the situation, and try not to get upset if you can help it. With time, you’ll develop a good understanding of your cat’s preferences and boundaries.

I Purr, Therefore I Bite

Many people assume that a purring cat is a contented cat, but cats purr for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, a cat purrs to self-soothe or calm itself down. Other times, purring is a territorial display, signaling, “This is my space, I like it here, stay away.”

When a new person visits, a cat might purr to convey both territoriality and a cautionary message. Purring can be an indicator of potential aggression, often loud and unmistakable.

Do you find that your cat’s inner thoughts and outward expressions sometimes seem difficult to grasp? Cats earn their reputation for being enigmatic and changeable for a reason. They adhere to their own set of feline social norms and forms of affection, and trying to ‘train’ them to human standards is unlikely to be effective.

Cats aren’t intentionally trying to confuse or upset you with their purring, nipping, or nuanced communication style. If your cat truly disliked you, it would simply keep its distance. Instead, your cat is inviting you into its feline society.

You and your cat are building a relationship. You’re both learning to comprehend and appreciate each other.

Your Kitty is Unwell

If your cat is both purring and biting you, it’s a signal to pay attention to other potential symptoms. Can cats experience feelings of depression? Are they exhibiting signs of lethargy? Have they been eating less than usual? If any of these apply, your feline companion may be feeling under the weather and attempting to communicate with you.

As mentioned earlier, cats often resort to purring as a self-soothing mechanism when they’re not feeling well. The biting occurs when you attempt to touch them, indicating they’d prefer not to be bothered. Consider how you would feel if you were unwell—would you want to be constantly bothered?

However, it’s important to note that an isolated instance of your cat biting you doesn’t necessarily imply illness. Look for additional indicators such as changes in their sleeping patterns when unwell or a decrease in appetite. Over time, if biting becomes a consistent behavior alongside these symptoms, it may be a sign that your cat isn’t feeling well. So, if your cat purrs and then bites, it could be a good time to schedule a visit to the vet.

Cats Gone Wild

In the wild, cats use bites and nips in ways that humans might not anticipate. Male cats engage in serious fights using their claws and teeth, causing substantial harm in the process. Even though your pet cat may appear gentle and affectionate, it can inflict significant harm if it wants to.

The fact that your cat typically resorts to gentle nipping without breaking the skin indicates that the cat respects and cares for you.

During mating, cats bite as well. The male cat seizes the female by the back of her neck and holds on firmly, not particularly gently either. This induces a reflexive relaxation, ensuring that some kittens will be the result of their union. This is why veterinarians or vet techs often grasp a nervous cat by the scruff of its neck when handling it; it triggers this reflexive calming response.

Naturally, mother cats carry their babies by the scruff of their necks. However, refrain from attempting this at home; your cat won’t appreciate it, and it is seldom necessary.

Cats also employ their teeth when playing with toys or interacting with other felines. You’ve likely observed your cat biting into a toy or another cat and kicking its hind legs against its playmate. This is a normal feline behavior.

While cats do bite when they kill, if you’ve ever had a mouse, you’re aware that the cat often engages in prolonged play with the mouse before delivering the final blow. It’s advisable not to allow your cat to consume mice, as they can carry germs and worms. Remove the mouse as soon as it’s safe to do so.

Unlike humans, who don’t use biting as a form of communication, cats do. The stereotype of cats as aloof loners, detached from society, is inaccurate. In the wild, cats form intricate social structures and establish strong connections with their fellow felines.

When a cat shares its living space with a human, it desires harmony. While cats communicate in a different language, they do communicate. Learn to understand what your cat is expressing when it purrs, nips, or retreats, and rest assured that your cat will hold a deep appreciation for you.

Cat Personalities

In a particular study, researchers attributed human personality traits to cats, identifying five fundamental feline types: Neurotic, extroverted, dominant, impulsive, and agreeable. Understanding which personality type aligns most closely with your own cat can facilitate better rapport and help prevent unwelcome biting incidents.

Neurotic cats are the ones that swiftly retreat and seek hiding spots at the slightest provocation. Respect your cat’s disposition and provide enjoyable hiding spots like cat tunnels, cushioned enclosures, cardboard boxes, paper bags, and other inventive spaces. Avoid imposing human interactions on your cat without invitation. Once your neurotic cat feels secure in your home and with you, you’ll likely see it more frequently.

Extroverted cats are curious and sociable, always eager to investigate anything new. Your extroverted cat is the one likely to leap onto the lap of the person in the room who is apprehensive about cats, determined to change their mind. Offer plenty of toys and relish in playtime with your extroverted cat.

Dominant cats may intimidate other pets, monopolizing toys and food. If your cat exhibits this personality, ensure it has its own toys, designated food dish, and an ample share of your attention. The dog may never fully adjust, but you can’t have it all.

Impulsive cats tend to be on edge and anxious. They may be responding to a stressful environment, so consider your living space and the cat’s daily routine and aim for a calmer atmosphere. Some cats can’t handle a lot of commotion, so avoid pushing them and refrain from raising your voice, as it may exacerbate the situation.

Agreeable cats are fond of people and simply crave love and attention. Most cats tend to become more agreeable as they acclimate to a household over time. Additionally, cats often ‘outgrow’ troublesome behaviors and become more composed as they mature, allowing any cat to develop in agreeableness the longer they reside with you.

Kids and Cat Bites

If you have young children and a new cat, it’s not a matter of if the cat will bite them, but when. Make sure your children understand that the cat is not a plaything, and closely supervise them whenever they interact with the cat. Cats will signal when they’ve reached their limit and may retreat to a hiding spot until the kids are occupied elsewhere, such as outside or at school.

Stress the importance of allowing the cat to initiate interactions with the kids. The more the children allow the cat to approach them, the more likely the cat will be open to forming a friendship. While some cats may tolerate being carried around by small children, most prefer not to. It’s advisable to discourage this type of play.

If a cat bites and breaks the skin, promptly clean and disinfect the wound, and reflect on the circumstances leading up to the incident. Cats generally don’t bite with excessive force. The cat may have been physically uncomfortable or hurt by something the child was doing.

Purring and Biting as a Sign of Illness

If your cat exhibits loud purring followed by frequent biting, it may be a sign that the cat is feeling unwell and attempting to self-soothe. If biting becomes a recurring issue and your cat shows signs of lethargy, depression, loss of appetite, or weight loss, it’s time to schedule a visit to the vet. The cat may not be severely ill, but catching a problem early can save both money and unnecessary suffering, and help get your cat back on the road to recovery.

Just like dogs, cats greatly benefit from regular veterinary check-ups, despite the more laid-back approach some people may have towards feline care. There are various issues a vet can address that can impact your cat’s behavior and lead to biting, including common problems like ear mites, dental issues (cats with dental pain experience discomfort much like humans), and urinary tract infections (which are prevalent in older male cats and can be related to their diet).

If your cat is experiencing chronic pain, it’s only natural that it may resort to biting more frequently. Since the cat can’t verbally communicate what’s wrong, a visit to the vet is the best course of action. Healthy cats are happy cats.

Is it normal for cats to bite during play?

Yes, it’s normal for cats to engage in play-biting. This behavior is a way for them to mimic hunting and practice their hunting skills.

What should I do if my cat purrs and then bites me?

If your cat exhibits this behavior, it’s important to pay attention to their body language. If they seem overstimulated, give them some space. If it happens frequently, consider consulting a veterinarian to rule out any underlying health issues.

Can purring and biting be a sign of illness in cats?

Yes, it can be. Cats may purr to self-soothe when they’re not feeling well, and biting may be a way of expressing discomfort. If this behavior is persistent, a visit to the vet is recommended.

How can I prevent my cat from biting during play?

Provide appropriate toys for your cat to play with, and avoid using your hands as play objects. If your cat starts to bite too hard, stop playtime and give them a break.

Why do some cats bite after being petted for a while?

Some cats may become overstimulated during petting, which can lead to biting. Pay attention to your cat’s body language and stop petting if they start to show signs of discomfort.

Should I discipline my cat if it bites me?

It’s generally not recommended to discipline a cat for biting. Instead, focus on understanding their behavior and finding ways to prevent it from happening in the first place.

When should I seek professional help for my cat’s biting behavior?

If your cat’s biting behavior becomes aggressive, and frequent, or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, it’s best to consult with a veterinarian or a professional animal behaviorist for guidance.

Conclusion

Cats, especially when it comes to purring and biting, are essential for maintaining a healthy and harmonious relationship with our feline companions. While purring is often associated with contentment, it can also have various other meanings, and when followed by biting, it may indicate overstimulation or discomfort. It’s important to pay close attention to our cat’s body language and respond accordingly.

Recognizing that cats have their unique ways of communicating and interacting with us is crucial. They may not express themselves in the same way humans do, but they do have their language that we can learn to interpret. This understanding allows us to better meet their needs and ensure their well-being.


Michael R

Michael R

I'm a publisher and editor at Cat Guide 101. I imagine that since you’re here, you likely own a cat — or two! — so helping you better understand them is my aim. I'd like to invite you to check out our about page to learn more about the Cat Guide 101 story.

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