A cat may grab and bite your arm for many reasons, including:
- They haven’t been taught bite inhibition
- You’ve touched their stomach
- They’re done being pet
- They’re grooming you
- They’re feeling playful
You can stop your cat from biting your arm by redirecting them to a toy when they bite. Simply keep a toy on hand.
When your cat goes to bite, pull away from them and give them the toy instead.
I’ll further explain this process below, as well as the reasons why your cat is grabbing and biting your arm.
Your Cat hasn’t Learned Bite Inhibition
Cats typically learn bite inhibition as kittens while still with their siblings. When you adopt a kitten, it’s a good idea to adopt two so that they can socialize with another animal of their species and they can continue learning from one another.
Cats separated from their mother and siblings too early (before 8 weeks of age) are more likely to be hard biters, and those in a single-cat household are more likely to bite you as well.
When your cat goes to their first home, it’s up to the people in the household to continue their training. Kittens will bite because they don’t know better, but they can be easily taught to chew on toys or scratching posts instead of your arm through redirection.
You should never allow a cat to bite you for any reason, even in play or while they’re young.
If you or even someone at your adopted cat’s first home has allowed them to bite, they’re going to continue this behavior!
The longer they’re allowed to bite, the harder it will be to train them to stop.
I’ll talk more about training your cat bite inhibition below, but the main things to remember are:
- Never punish your cat for biting—don’t yell, hit them, or hold their mouth shut. This only damages your relationship and might even make them fearful or aggressive.
- Redirect your cat’s biting by giving them a toy, or ignore them completely by walking away for a few minutes when they bite.
- Provide plenty of toys for your cat so that they have something to bite that isn’t you!
You’ve Touched their Tummy
I’ll bet cats have been performing this trick since they were first domesticated in ancient times: roll over, show off that round little tummy, and then chomp down the moment someone touches it!
Most cats aren’t like dogs—they don’t really want their stomachs scratched when they roll onto their backs. If you give into temptation and rub that cute belly, you’ll likely have a cat attached to your arm in no time.
This is where it pays off to know your cat, since each one has different preferences. A couple of my cats really do enjoy tummy rubs, but most of them will latch onto someone’s arm and bite them for attempting it.
It’s just like how some cats like their head and shoulders scratched, while others will offer up their tail for pets.
Adhere to your cat’s preferences, and don’t try to push them outside of their comfort zone unless medically necessary. It’s okay for them to have boundaries!
They’re Done Being Pet
My cat Dusty will beg to be pet, but he’s also the quickest to bite when he’s finished with us! I’ve noticed that for some reason, he almost always grabs my arm before biting me.
Sometimes it’s when I look away, as he doesn’t want any of my attention if he can’t have all of it! Other times he just seems to be done with the petting.
He hasn’t bitten me in a long time because I now watch for signs that he’s going to. When his expression changes and his paw goes up, I pull back and give him his space.
Don’t try to teach your cat to tolerate petting when they don’t want it. This is unfair to them, and will make them less trusting of you. They might also begin to bite harder since you didn’t listen when they warned you the first time!
Give your cat some alone time, and make sure other family members (especially children!) also know to leave your cat alone when they’ve had enough.
My cat Mama (aptly named after we took her in from the cold and she gave birth to five babies!) loves to groom everyone, including the humans in my household.
It’s normal for her to grab someone’s arm and begin licking, then sometimes biting gently at their skin. While we don’t allow this, it doesn’t seem to make her less determined!
The only thing we can do is pull away when she begins to lick before the biting happens.
Your cat might be grabbing your arm and biting you in an attempt to groom you, too. This is how cats clean one another, and it’s a sign that they love you enough to try and care for you.
The reason it’s so important to play with our cats is because they don’t get to hunt while living the pampered indoor life. While I strongly recommended keeping your cat indoors for their health and safety (as well as your local wildlife!), it does mean that we need to give cats another way to act out their hunting instincts.
When your cat grabs your arm and bites, they’re trying to play! They’re also imitating how they’d interact with prey.
When cats catch prey, they hold it with their front paws, bite it, and kick it with their back legs to tear it apart. This may sound like your cat is being violent toward you, but it’s not quite that simple.
Cats also play with one another this way. They’re not trying to harm one another; they’re just learning and having fun. It’s like children play-fighting by wrestling each other.
You have to teach your cat that it isn’t right to play with your arm in this way, because it hurts you! Even if your cat is being gentle, I recommend not allowing this type of play. It’s for the best that your cat learns that biting humans is not allowed no matter what.
Instead, stop your cat when they grab your arm. Pull away before they bite and replace your arm with a toy. Try a long kicker toy filled with catnip to fit your cat’s play style.
How to Stop a Cat Biting and Grabbing Your Arm
Before you Start: Exercise
Many cat behavioral problems stem from them not getting enough exercise. If you aren’t playing interactively with your cat for at least 30-45 minutes a day, start there.
Cats have short attention spans, and you likely do too (playing with a wand toy can be mind-numbing, as I know from doing it so often!).
So, break this play down into short 10-15 minute sessions. I like to play with my cats right before mealtimes, but other great times to play with your cat are before you leave for work or before bedtime.
It’s best to get into a steady play routine, but if this isn’t possible for you that’s okay. Any play at all is better than none!
Method One: Redirection
I recommend redirecting your cat whenever possible. This is because you aren’t only saying, “No, don’t bite me!” You’re also saying, “This is what you can bite instead.”
Your cat needs something to bite and scratch at, and this is the most immediate way to teach them exactly what you want them to do.
To redirect your cat from biting your arm:
- Learn the signs your cat is about to bite. In this case, luckily, they’re grabbing your arm before biting. This gives you time to pull away before their teeth actually touch you. Also look for other changes in their expression and body language.
- Pull away before they bite. Once you know the signs, you can pull your arm back before your cat bites you. Put as much distance as you need between the two of you to stop your cat from biting.
- Give them a toy that they can chew on. Maybe it’s a rubber chew toy or a plush catnip toy (my cats are a big fan of these banana toys). Choose whatever your cat likes best and give it to them.
- Praise them for biting other things. Whether it’s the toy you give them or something else appropriate, like the edge of their cat tower, praise your cat when they bite what they’re allowed to. Maybe even give them a little treat!
However, redirection doesn’t always work. Sometimes a cat sees the toy as a reward or will just continue biting you, even after they’ve been given a toy to gnaw on instead.
If this is the case for your cat, you can move onto method two.
Method Two: Ignore Unwanted Behavior
I think some people get confused when it comes to ignoring behavior they dislike in their animals. How will that teach them anything? Are you just supposed to sit around and let your cat bite you?
I was also confused about this method before I understood how it worked. It’s definitely not about letting your cat do whatever they want!
Here’s how this method really works:
- Learn the signs your cat is about to bite. Just like above, the first step is to learn the signs your cat is about to bite. They grab your arm, the look in their eyes changes, or their ears pull backward like they’re about to pounce on their favorite toy. Know the signs so that you can catch the biting before it happens!
- Stop paying attention to your cat when they’re about to bite. Now that you know the signs your cat is about to bite, pull away and ignore your cat when they occur. Walk away if you have to so that they don’t bite. Give your cat a few minutes to calm down before you pay any attention to them again.
- When your cat does bite, pull away immediately. Sometimes you might not be able to catch your cat before they bite. This is okay! Just pull away, walk away if you need, and proceed to ignore them for a couple of minutes.
- Reward them for appropriate biting. Lastly, it’s still very important that your cat has something to chew on and that they know what is okay to bite. When you see them biting appropriately, reward them with praise, pets, or a treat—whatever they respond to best.
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