A cat bite is not always an act of aggression or hostility. After all, kittens and young cats are famously known for their adoration of rough play -- essentially a type of interactive rough and tumble with their litter mates that involves everything from biting and pouncing to surprise attacks.
If your cat is biting or "nipping" at you playfully, take it as a sign of affection. He is doing to you what he might have done with his litter mates as a wee kitten. Rough play is a crucial developmental stage in a kitten's life. It teaches cats how to play and have fun without taking things too far. A kitten learns early on that if he bites his sibling a tad too hard, the other may either completely stop the game or worse, seek revenge -- yikes. Because of this important social and interactive "schooling" in a cat's early months, he usually learns how to harmlessly chase, pounce, bite and use his claws.
Due to the early training, most playful cat bites don't hurt very much. However, this isn't true in all cases. If your kitten or adult cat bites you to the point of pain, it may be because he was separated from his mother cat and litter mates at an especially early age. With insufficient play training, it's no surprise when a cat doesn't know how to "properly" bite as an adult. The hard bite doesn't mean your cat is trying to be aggressive with you. Your cat likely still is engaging you in a loving and playful game.
Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, a cat bite is not always a sign of endearment or affection. In fact, it is often quite the opposite. Cats also bite when they're angry, scared, nervous and in attack or defense mode. Though it's usually pretty easy to discern the difference between a loving nip and an actual bite, look out for telling indications that a cat is genuinely upset with something or someone -- think hissing, growling, a violently thrashing tail and flattened ears.
Whether a cat bites you with affection or with anger, it is important to exercise the utmost caution, especially if he hasn't yet been vaccinated. Be smart and play it safe. Go the doctor immediately to get your bite checked out. The last thing you want is to experience a dangerous infection like rabies -- ugh. Never scrimp on your health -- or the health of your fluffy pal, for that matter.
- The Humane Society of the United States: Understanding Feline Language
- ASPCA: Cats Who Play Rough
- San Francisco SPCA: Adopting a Play Aggressive Kitten or Cat
- The Humane Society of the United States: Kittens at Play
- Nebraska Humane Society: Rough Play in Cats
- Nevada Humane Society: Understanding Cat Aggression Toward People