If your cat bites and holds onto you:
- Teach them bite inhibition
- Provide toys and play with your cat daily
- Don’t overstimulate them, pet too much or in places they dislike
- If your cat won’t let go, push inward to get them to release their jaw
- If the bite breaks skin, watch for signs of infection and consider seeing a doctor
In this article, I’ll discuss how to stop your cat from biting and holding on, how to deal with a cat bite, and why your cat may be behaving this way.
Teach Bite Inhibition
Kittens begin learning bite inhibition from their mother and siblings. It’s crucial that a kitten stays with their siblings and mother until at least 8 weeks of age unless it’s absolutely necessary to remove them (such as for medical or safety reasons).
One reason behind this is that cats are more likely to be hard biters if they don’t get this early socialization.
The learning doesn’t stop when a kitten is adopted, however. This is why many experts suggest adopting two kittens instead of one. I’ve even seen some rescues refuse to adopt kittens out to a single-cat household due to the behavioral and social problems this can cause.
Cats are social animals, and it’s best for them to be around other cats for a variety of reasons. At this age, one of the big ones is that two kittens learn from one another. You’re less likely to have a hard biter if you have two cats, as they will set these boundaries during their interactions.
Still, you’ll likely have to teach your cats that they can’t play with you the same as they do other cats. This means absolutely no biting, even if they’re playing or being gentle.
To teach your cat not to bite:
- Ignore them when they bite. It can be instinctive to scold your cat or maybe even shove them away from you. Avoid this, as it may encourage them to bite more if they think you’re playing. Punishment also just doesn’t work on cats—it’ll damage your relationship and might even make them fearful or aggressive.
- Redirect their biting. The easiest way to do this is to keep a toy on hand that your cat loves. When they seem like they’re going to bite, or have already bitten, toss the toy across the room. This should distract them and send them running after the toy!
- If redirection doesn’t work, distance yourself. Sometimes redirection doesn’t work. If this is the case, distance yourself from your cat and ignore them for a few minutes. If they bite again, repeat the process.
- Reward them for biting toys, scratchers, or cat towers. If you spot your cat biting appropriately, reward them with praise, pets, or a treat—whatever motivates your cat best.
This process can be lengthy, but over time your cat will learn that you expect them to bite their own things, and not to bite you.
Provide a Variety of Toys
Your cat needs something that they’re allowed to bite, because it’s an instinctual behavior for them. Remember that deep down, your cat is a predator that was created to catch prey and tear it apart with their teeth and claws.
I strongly recommend keeping your cat indoors for their health and safety. Cats who are allowed outside unsupervised live shorter lives on average due to the high risk they face daily.
However, indoor cats can’t hunt! Luckily, this can be easily fixed as cat toys are made to stimulate hunting. Kicking a catnip toy or chasing after the feathers at the tip of a wand toy allows them to act out their instincts in a way that doesn’t endanger them or your local wildlife.
I’m a lifelong cat owner with nine cats in my household currently. I’ve tried many cat toys over the years!
I recommend looking for quality toys, which to me means:
- No stuffed toys. Many catnip toys have stuffing inside. If your cat breaks them open, they can eat this—and it’s not meant to be digested! Instead, go for toys that have pure catnip inside. They’re more expensive, but not nearly the cost of a veterinary visit if your cat gets a bowel obstruction.
- No breakable parts. Many cute cat toys have parts that, if broken off, can cause choking hazards. If your cat is anything like mine, they might try to eat these as well.
- Sturdy and easy to use. The best toys are fun for you and your cat, don’t require a bunch of hassle, and don’t need to be replaced every month!
Toys I recommend include:
- Pet Fit For Life Retractable Wand Toy – I went through a lot of dollar store wand toys before I discovered this wand toy with replaceable parts. It’s long, the elastic string bounces in a way my cats love, and I can replace the toy at the end if they tear it up too much. I do recommend giving the feather bits a tug before playing to ensure they aren’t loose enough to come off in your cat’s mouth—they do fall apart with hard use, but supervision prevents this from being a problem.
- Yeowww! Catnip Banana Toy – My cats go bananas for these toys! They’re full of catnip with absolutely no stuffing.
- Frisco Latte Gift Box – This is a cheaper catnip toy option. I find my cats like them, but not as much as the banana toy above. Because I have multiple cats, I typically buy these and save the bananas for special occasions.
- Smarty Cat Loco Motion Electronic Cat Toy and Hot Persuit Electronic Concealed Motion Toy – These toys are great for allowing cats to play on their own occasionally—but I’ve found my cats definitely prefer playing together with me using a wand toy, and they get bored of these toys if they’re overused.
- SmartyKat Flash Laser Pointer – I love this laser pointer due to the large button! I can hold onto it a lot longer than others that I’ve tried, which tend to hurt my thumb and wrist after a while.
Some guidelines for toy use:
- Never allow your cat to play with a damaged toy.
- Wand toys and electronic toys should be put away when not in use. Don’t allow your cat to play with them unsupervised.
- Never shine laser lights into your cat’s eyes.
- Toss your cat a treat or toy when they “catch” the laser pointer for a better “hunting” experience!
Play with Your Cat Daily
Now that you’ve provided your cat with plenty of toys, you can’t expect them to play on their own all of the time! Toys that stand still aren’t as fun as moving objects for your cat to chase.
You should actively play with your cat for around 30-45 minutes every day. Break this time into 10-15 minute sessions so that you and your cat don’t get bored.
I like to schedule play before mealtimes, but you can also try playing with your cat before you leave for work or before you go to bed. That way they’ll be tired while you’re away or sleeping!
Playing with your cat daily helps them to act out their hunting reflexes, gives them exercise, and allows the two of you to bond.
It will make your cat less likely to bite because a bored cat is more likely to misbehave! Oftentimes, a cat is biting because they want to play or to get attention from you.
Don’t Overstimulate Your Cat
Another reason that cats bite is due to overstimulation. This means that your cat is feeling overwhelmed. This is most often due to touch, such as you petting them too much.
Biting, in this case, is your cat telling you to stop. They’re establishing a boundary, and you should respect it.
However, it’s not ideal for either of you if you continue petting your cat until they bite you—especially if they’re biting hard and holding on.
Instead, start to look for cues that your cat is about to bite:
- Do their ears tilt backward like they might when your cat is about to pounce during play?
- Does your cat growl or hiss?
- Do they try to move away, but you follow?
Cat body language can be subtle, but there are almost always warning signs. If you can pick up on these, you can stop petting your cat before they bite.
Ideally, you get to know your cat well enough that you can stop before they’re annoyed with you at all. That’s a win-win for you both!
Learn the Right Spots to Pet
People often say, “I start to pet my cat, and they bite me right away. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong!”
Most cats like to be pet, but they tend to be more finicky than dogs about where they’re pet. This causes confusion for inexperienced cat owners who think they’re being affectionate, but the cat isn’t taking it that way.
Every cat is different. My cat Frack will shy away if you try to pet his head, preferring his shoulders or tail to be pet. His brother Frick loves his head pet, and even likes an occasional belly rub!
In general, cats don’t tend to like their stomachs or feet touched. Some cats don’t like their tail pet, while others love it. The same goes for the top of their head.
Some safer spots to pet a cat are their cheeks and back.
You can also let your cat “pet themselves” by holding your hand up to them and letting them rub against it. This can show you where your cat likes to be pet.
Just make sure you aren’t holding your hand up over them with your palm down—this might make them think they’re going to be hit, especially if they’ve been abused in the past.
Contact a Professional Trainer or Behaviorist
If you can’t get your cat to stop biting on their own, contact a professional cat trainer or behaviorist to help you.
They can observe you and your cat’s relationship and give specific advice about why your cat is biting and how to stop it.
Push in to Make Your Cat Let Go
If your cat bites, holds on, and won’t let go, push inward until they release their jaw. Try your best not to hurt your cat in this process by being too rough.
Pulling yourself away will do more damage and can make the cat latch onto you harder.
Watch for Infection if Skin Breaks
If you have a cat bite that’s broken the skin, clean it thoroughly and watch for signs of infection. It might be best to have a doctor check the wound, especially if the bite is deep.
Cat bites have a high risk of infection because they are puncture wounds that tend to heal over quickly. Once your skin heals over the wound, any bacteria is trapped inside.
There is even an infection called Cat Scratch Disease that can develop after a cat bite or scratch.
If your cat goes outdoors and is unvaccinated, you should talk to your doctor, who will probably recommend a rabies vaccine.
Symptoms of an infected cat bite include:
- Swelling or inflammation
- Redness or discoloration on or near the wound
- The wound is warm to the touch
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Fever or chills
- Muscle weakness
Reasons Cats Bite and Hold On
People often say that a cat or other animal bites for no reason. I’ve always disagreed with this statement—I think it comes from people who don’t understand animals well.
A biting cat always has a reason. It may seem trivial to you and me, or maybe we can’t even pinpoint why they are biting, but the reason is always there.
Even a cat who has a neurological condition and bites at random still has a reason to bite: the neurological condition!
Below are some common reasons a cat might bite and hold on to you.
Most biting stems from play. Your cat isn’t trying to hurt you, but to get your attention and let you know that it’s playtime!
Maybe your cat is hyper, hasn’t learned bite inhibition yet, or has been taught that biting is a good way to play with people.
First, make sure your cat is getting at least 30-45 minutes of play daily and that they have plenty of toys, as I discussed above.
Next, never let your cat bite you while playing. Teach them that the playing stops when they bite by walking away.
I discussed more about ignoring cats for biting in the “Teach Bite Inhibition” section above.
If your cat is still a kitten under six months old, they might still be teething. Teething kittens explore the world with their mouths just like human babies do. This means they’re bound to bite you and anything else they can sink their little teeth into!
Provide your kitten with toys made for teething. When they bite you, pull away and give them a toy to chew on instead.
Sometimes a biting cat just wants attention. Maybe they are looking for playtime or just a reaction from you!
Remember that even yelling at your cat is a reaction.
Teach your cat that this isn’t the way to get attention from you by ignoring them and walking away for a few minutes every time they bite.
Also be sure that you’re spending enough time with them throughout the day.
A cat who bites and holds on might be fearful. This is more likely in cats than true aggression.
The most obvious example of this is someone who picks on their cat or does things to scare them on purpose. Of course, a scared cat might react to this by biting!
But we also do things all of the time that scare our cats, without actually meaning to. My cats fear the vacuum, the shredder, thunder… The list goes on and on.
Cats might even be afraid if you go to pet them from above, especially if they’ve been hit in the past. Or maybe they’re fearful of being picked up or touched in a certain area.
When possible, it’s best to stop the activity that scares your cat or to approach them in another way. Sometimes, though, this isn’t possible. We need to be able to handle our cats for safety and medical reasons.
In those cases, try desensitizing your cat to whatever they’re afraid of. I had to do this with one of my cats when it came to nail trims.
Our minds often jump to aggression when a cat bites, but it’s definitely not the most likely reason your cat is biting you and holding on. Even hard biters often aren’t aggressive biters; they may be trying to play without having learned bite inhibition, for example.
However, some cats truly are aggressive. If this is the case and your cat is biting hard, I recommend seeking help from a professional. They can confirm that your cat is showing aggression and help you to make them stop biting.
You can also try following the instructions above for teaching bite inhibition.
Medical Issues or Pain
Lastly, your cat might be biting you because of medical issues or because they’re in pain.
Think about it like this: If you break your leg and someone tries to touch it, you might yell or slap their hand away to stop them. That’s what your cat is doing when they bite due to pain.
Injury or various medical conditions can cause this pain.
More rarely, your cat might be suffering from a neurological condition that causes them to bite, such as dementia in older felines.
I am a freelance writer who specializes in the pet industry. My full bio