Why is my kitty biting me?
September 14, 2010 12:49 PM   Subscribe

Why is my cat biting me all of a sudden?

Because of this question, I left my kitty, Mister, with a nearby relative due to the heat. I, myself spent some time with said relative while my motor home was being repaired, so it's not like I abandoned him there for two months. We were separated for about a month and the time we were apart I visited every weekend. Well, it's cooler now so I have him back in the motor home. I noticed a few things since he's returned.

He's gained weight - my son stopped feeding him separately and just fed all three cats at the same time so he's bigger now than he was before. He has acne all over his chin - I thought it was a bruise at first because it seems my son's cat was bullying Mister. But it's acne...

Which brings me to my question - Mister was kneady before - but it's way worse now. He's on my bed all night long, kneading me, head butting me, and biting! The kneading and head butting I'm used to, but the biting, that's new. I've redirected his kneading to the pillows - he's way too heavy to sit on my chest and knead, so I just scoot him to the pillow and pet him. He purrs the entire time and I assume that everything's okay, until he just suddenly bites.

He's not being playful. He's not being aggressive - no hissing, no swatting, no warning whatsoever, he just bites. I woke up in the middle of the night with his teeth on my arm. He doesn't sink his teeth in, I don't have any wounds, it's more like a pinch, but it hurts! Esp in the middle of the night. And he only does it while he's in the middle of kneading & purring. It's not suckling; it's biting. Arms, fingers, feet, legs, any exposed skin, he'll bite it.

I give him plenty of attention during the day. And he doesn't bite me at all during the day. He even sits calmly while I put medicine on his acne though he makes it clear he's not happy with it at all... I have toys and play with him as much as he's able to - and he's getting more playful by the day - he was much more lethargic when I first brought him back home. I give him positive reinforcement when he kneads the pillow and not me.

I've tried hissing and swatting at him when he bites (this is what I usually do). I've tried ignoring him (this is what I've started to do). I've removed him from the bed (when I just get fed up with it). But it's *really* hard to be consistent in the middle of the night when I'm half asleep. I can't remove him from the room since this is the only "room" in the place.

What I really want to understand is why he's doing it in the first place. I've read previous posts, but I didn't see anything where cats bite when they're not playing or being aggressive. Thoughts?
posted by patheral to Pets & Animals (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My cat did this the other night. I usually don't let him sleep in my room because he disturbs my sleep, but it was a weekend and I was feeling altruistic. And I was woken up by him biting my forearm for no reason.

Cats are weird.
posted by elsietheeel at 12:53 PM on September 14, 2010

My cat is doing this too - it started after she was sick and then I was away for a long weekend. Wonder if it is stress related.
posted by gyroscope at 12:58 PM on September 14, 2010

Does he bite you in the middle of being petted? My cat does this too which I've come to interpret as "OK that's enough, stop that now." If he's doing this randomly while you're asleep, I have no clue.
posted by amethysts at 12:58 PM on September 14, 2010

Cats (mine included) are very scent-oriented animals, and their mouths both taste scents very effectively and give off scents from glands near their lips. (This is why they rub the sides of their heads up against things - to mark them with identifiable scents.) Maybe your cat was just trying to make you smell a little more like home?
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 12:58 PM on September 14, 2010

Best answer: My cat licks and bites me both when he's in that glazed-out level of kneading. And not a hard bite, but one just like you describe. I think it means he's happy, actually. I've always thought so at least. I don't even think he knows he's doing it.

posted by Kloryne at 1:00 PM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Some cats, particularly male ones, are very aggressive in their affections. We had a cat (who has since grown old and passed away) who bit affectionately in much the way you describe. I'm afraid we never found a way to break him of this habit. My partner sometimes used to have bruises on her upper arms from where he nipped her.

The main thing I would make sure of is that he's not biting because of sensitivity in a particular spot on his body, because that could be a medical symptom. But what you describe does sound like affectionate biting.
posted by aught at 1:03 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

My cat bites when he gets overstimulated. Tummy rubs, for example -- he loves tummy rubs, and he gets so happy that eventually he bites. He definitely doesn't mean stop rubbing him. It's more like The Too Much Fun Alarm. It could be that your cat is relieved that the unusual living situation is over, so relieved that he's kneading himself into a bit of a frenzy.
posted by JanetLand at 1:05 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I suppose then I shouldn't react negatively to it anymore? But there has to be a way to get him to stop because I'm not getting any sleep! I'm in grad school and kinda need my sleep. Do y'all think he'll settle down eventually? Maybe?
posted by patheral at 1:08 PM on September 14, 2010

A friend of mine claims to have stopped his bitey cat by putting her in time out in the bathroom. I've started trying this with mine, but haven't been doing it long enough to be able to tell if it works. Maybe try putting him in the bathroom for a couple of minutes every time he bites.
posted by Mavri at 1:10 PM on September 14, 2010

My jerkass cat sometimes chews on my scalp when it's time for breakfast. I think he knows I'm made of meat. Could it be he got used to the extra food and wants you to feed him?
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:14 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Spritzing him with a water bottle may help discourage the behavior. My cat used to be an aggressive biter and even now that he is not aggressive he'd rather use his teeth than his meow to get attention. One thing that does help is his lovvie (the subject of an AskMe from me) - by giving him his stuffed bear I can often point the attention onto Mr. Bear who will get kneaded and his ears bitten (among other things).
posted by pointystick at 1:14 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is he neutered? Male cats will bite during mating. This is more like the type of biting that you seem to describe. If this is a cat just becoming fully mature, it could be he's acting out of sexual frustration, so to speak. He'll probably start spraying everywhere, too. I would recommend getting him fixed and that should stop the problem.

If he has already been neutered, it could still be residual hormones that are causing it. The kneading is causing a similar pleasure response to mating so he goes for the bite hold. Will he stop the behavior? Maybe. But I would firmly correct him when he does it. You might have to keep him out of the bedroom for a short while to help break the habit.

Either way, a vet checkup is in order because a sudden weight and behavior change could indicate a medical problem- and cats do not normally get acne! I'd get that checked out.
posted by Eicats at 1:19 PM on September 14, 2010

He just misses you. Cats can't express their emotions like humans. Ignore the love-biting and he'll stop.
posted by whiskeyspider at 1:28 PM on September 14, 2010

Best answer: It does sound to me like it's I'm sooooooo happy to be back with you biting, not angry biting. I suggest biting him back and/or shoving your hand all the way in his mouth when he starts biting. Not to hurt him of course, just to escalate the biting game to where it's as unpleasant for him as it is for you.

My cat developed chin acne, and it turned out it was from the plastic bowl I had been using for her kibble. I switched to stainless steel and the acne cleared right up.
posted by Balonious Assault at 1:32 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Eicats - he's neutered, has been for quite some time from what I understand (I'm not his first owner). As for keeping him out of the bedroom, remember I live in an 18' motor home, there is no other room.

I worried about the acne at first, but previous ask.me questions like this one and other web searches have me in a "wait and see" approach. It doesn't seem to be bothering him, and I assume he acquired it because of the bullying and the stress of moving. It seems to be clearing up so I'm not too worried about it. If it gets worse, I'll definitely take him to the vet.

Of course he hasn't gained a ton of weight, just enough to be noticeable to me. But I was slimming him down before, so it could be perspective. I don't have a scale.
posted by patheral at 1:39 PM on September 14, 2010

If he's getting less food that he had been, perhaps he wants you to feed him.

I'm not saying to do it, I'm just saying if I was put on a forced diet, there would probably be some biting.
posted by maryr at 1:41 PM on September 14, 2010

If he has already been neutered, it could still be residual hormones that are causing it.

I'm gonna second this. I have a male cat, around 4 years old, who has been neutered. Last summer he started doing exactly as you described with one of my pillows... the kneading, the intense purring and the biting down on the pillow.

At first I thought he was just doing the kneading thing that all cats do when they're relaxed. But after a while his back legs started wiggling and twitching and... uh... yeah, he was definitely trying to hump my pillow. No doubt about it. I tried to shoo him off but he was in such a trance I literally had to prise his mouth open to get him off the pillow.

Frank is now banned from my bedroom.
posted by afx237vi at 1:57 PM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

My younger cat used to do this a LOT until I finally put my foot down and kicked her off of my lap/the bed/whatever whenever she started to bite. She really meant no harm, but it hurts and it's not ok.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:58 PM on September 14, 2010

The acne is probably from sharing a bowl or having a bowl less clean than he would at home. (My cat had this after extended cat sitting once too.) Keep his bowl washed and the acne will go.
posted by Cuppatea at 2:07 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Both of my neutered male cats like to bite in exactly the way you describe, my two female cats only bite to bite (aggressively). I think of it as a feature not a bug, to keep me from rubbing my cat's belly with my foot.

But there has to be a way to get him to stop because I'm not getting any sleep!

I've resorted to moving them on the bed to where there is no exposed skin or kicking them out completely. With mine, it's more of a conditional thing; the cat has to be relaxed, feeling playful. and sitting right next to me. Change one of those states and you'll get a reprieve.
posted by quin at 2:22 PM on September 14, 2010

Both my cats get bitey when they are affectionate, and I've had a lot of success letting out high pitched yelps when they do it too hard. Even the really ... not bright... one has figured it out for the most part.
posted by sepviva at 2:28 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yep, it sounds like you're describing the "I'm so happy and in love with you, I need to taste you!" type of love bites. My cat does this - has since she was a kitten. It gets 'worse' (i.e., she bites harder) after a period of stress, whether that means a time period when I've been away or for a day or so after a trip to her doctor. Once she's calmed down again, her bites turn softer (she used to love to 'gnaw' lightly on my fingers).

My youngest does this also, but he's a bit more aggressive about it and his bites are harder. Or, they were. I started withdrawing from him whenever he bit me - I'd just remove my arm/finger/leg from the biting zone without saying a word and turn away from him. He got the message and now he just kneads me every morning. Speviva's advice is good, too, the high-pitched yelp might surprise him enough to get him to stop.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 3:06 PM on September 14, 2010

Acne on the chin apparently can come from a reaction to a food bowl, and take a while to go away. Perhaps it was the bowls there, perhaps he's developed a sensitivity to whatever you're using. You could try cleaning his bowl really, really well and making sure it gets thoroughly cleaned every couple of days; that might help too.

My ferals, when they deign to demand attention, start out biting out of excitement when they get into the petting. They've never bitten to hurt (for which I'm glad; a mostly-wild animal is a lot less predictable). I have fixed it by simply ending the petting session on the spot, each time, and refusing to do anything with them for the rest of the night. Since they *really* want to be petted by the time they get brave enough to hold still for it, this seems to work well; it only takes a few times for them to get the idea.

Your cat is happy, he's back with you, maybe he's kind of excited or getting over stress of multiple changes in the past coupla months. It sounds like he's biting out of excitement or excess of happy. It's still not acceptable; teeth on skin is never acceptable. But hey, at least it's not aggression. I think if a housecat were biting me in bed he'd no longer be in bed with me as soon as teeth touched me. If it took more than 4 or 5 instances for the cat to get the idea that biting leads to eviction from the bed, I'd probably move towards a watergun.
posted by galadriel at 3:23 PM on September 14, 2010

Late night shenanigans are usually the sign your cat wants more attention. He missed you and wants to remind you he's still here.

Cats hate loud sounds, keep a cola can with a small handful of pennies in it. Shake it when he's biting you, a bit easier than fumbling for a squirt gun and getting your bed wet.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 4:01 PM on September 14, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I have a clearer picture now and hopefully he'll settle down soon. I'll implement some of these suggestions and see which works. I'm glad it's because he's happy to be back and not because he's suddenly become aggressive or neurotic (i mean, cats are neurotic anyway, but...)
posted by patheral at 5:56 PM on September 14, 2010

Funny, just this morning my male cat jumped onto the bed with me and was being unusually affectionate, purring, kneading, and he started biting me. Usually I take this as a sign he's done with affection, but it was different than usual and he seemed to really want love. So now I'm going to assume he was being affectionate. Cool. Thanks Mefi.
posted by threeturtles at 10:35 PM on September 14, 2010

It's affection, yeah.

Cats are weird.
posted by InsanePenguin at 8:17 AM on September 15, 2010

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