Why Do Cats Rub Against You Then Bite?

Have you ever had a cat that rubs against your leg then tries to sink its teeth into your ankle? Or perhaps your cat rubs against your hands while being pet, then suddenly gives your fingers a nip. Any cat owner understands that cats often exhibit strange behavior, but why do cats rub against you then bite?

Why would a cat bite you in the first place?

cat biting fingers

Cats need to be involved in predatory play on a regular basis. Pouncing, grabbing, and biting is how they simulate their natural killing behavior. “A happy cat is one who thinks he’s killed something every day,” said Sally J. Foote, DVM and International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) certified feline behavior consultant. Because of this, the movement of your arm or leg brushing up against your cat as they rub against you can sometimes trigger their predatory play behavior.

 

Why do cats like to rub up against you though?

Misty and my legs

When a cat rubs up against you, or the furniture, it stimulates glands in the cat to release pheromones. Pheromones are a form of chemical communication, and for cats this is one of their main forms of communication. They use it to familiarize themselves with territory, and comfort etc. When your cat rubs up against something and releases pheromones, it lets other felines know your cat was in that spot. When a cat recognizes its own scent, it helps the cat to feel calm and relaxed. So it’s understood that when cats rub up against us, we also pick up their scent allowing them to feel secure and familiar with us too. 

 

Other Common Reasons a Cat Would Rub Against You Then Bite

Affection

Sounds a bit crazy but one of the most common reasons a cat would display this kind of behavior is to show you affection. Believe it or not, some cats like to give you a “love bite”. These bites rarely draw blood, and are just meant as a gesture of love. A strange way to show it, I know, but cats are famous for being strange animals! You would know this isn’t a love bite if your cat seems agitated. Signs to look out for are ears back, and wide dilated pupils. Your cat may also growl or hiss, in this case it’s obviously not a love bite. 

Bad Habits

Did you frequently used to play with your cat using your hands or feet while they were a kitten? I know it’s practically irresistible to wiggle your fingers and watch your cute little kitten pounce, but making a habit of this can lead to similar behavior in an adult cat, which isn’t so cute as it tends to hurt! To avoid this you must use toys, or something like string to play with your cat throughout their upbringing. 

Here’s a video of a typical cat that has been raised to play with body parts:

Notice the human tries to pet the cat and the cat is trying to bite or scratch, but in a playful way. When you notice your cat is in a playful mood like that it’s important to use a toy of some kind to interact. The owner should have picked up the string in the background and used that to play with the cat. 

Redirected Aggression

Cats will also bite their humans sometimes due to “redirected aggression” which is a behavior humans display too. It just means they are frustrated by something and are taking their anger out in the form of a bite. Have you ever been so angry you would get satisfaction from laying into a punching bag? Well this is pretty much the same thing. 

Is Your Cat in Pain?

Some cats can be very expressive, but it’s also their natural behavior to hide pain. This is instinctual behavior that resides in their DNA. Simply put, a cat in the wild would seem vulnerable to predators if it was displaying signs of pain. If a cat starts to bite due to pain, it means the pain has gotten quite severe. If you suspect this is the case, visit a vet immediately to ensure your cat gets the care it needs. 

Over Stimulation

Is your cat suddenly biting when you’re petting them? One minute your cat is loving a scratch behind the ear, the next you receive a warning bite to the back of the hand and the cat runs off. An all too familiar scenario for cat owners. Some cats can become over stimulated. You may be scratching too hard for example, or they may be some kind of static irritation while your petting. Try to take note of when these bites occur, and what you’re doing at the time. Eliminate any kind of petting that leads to bites. 

 

How to Stop Your Cat Biting You

Once you rule out any medical reasons for being bitten, you need to make sure your cat is getting its fix of predatory play every day. A minimum of 10 minutes a day should do the trick. If you’re cat doesn’t seem interested in playing perhaps you have the wrong toy? Experiment with different kinds of toys. My cat yoshi loves a string with feathers. Throw him a toy mouse sprayed with catnip, and the next thing you know, hes rolling about trying to rip it to shreds!

Kittens should be played with appropriately using toys. This will do the best to prevent unwanted biting behavior as an adult cat. When kittens try to bite you, and most will, don’t try to tell them off or anything of the sort. You need to simply walk away and stop playing. This is exactly what a mother cat would do if playtime got a little on the aggressive side. It’s teaching the cat that being aggressive is not socially acceptable. 

This type of behavioral reinforcement is also used by parents with children, simply because it works well. This can also be done with adult cats. It’s recommended that if they bite you, you should stop what you were doing and leave the room briefly and then come back a few moments later. 

If your cat is continuously biting you aggressively and your vet can’t find a reason, you should consult with a vet who specializes in feline behavior. Your cat may need a diet change, a special daily regime or a combination of all of the above. A feline behavior specialist will be able to advise you best on how to treat the problem.

Sources:

https://www.petmd.com/cat/training/evr_ct_how-to-stop-cat-from-biting

https://www.care.com/c/stories/6328/cat-love-bites-a-unique-form-of-communicatio/

Hi, I’m Lucie, welcome to my website! Life simply wouldn’t be complete without cats… I’ve had a cat in the family for over 30 years now, plus I care for them as qualified vet nurse in a busy animal hospital. You can read more about me here.