Does Your Cat "Love Bite?"Published November 10, 2011
Flickr User Taekwonweirdo
Have you ever had a feline give you what some cat owners call a “love bite?” Last week, I received an email from an old friend (with the flattering yet intimidating subject line “Urgent Question for the Cat Whisperer”) that addressed this very issue.
What Are Cat Love Bites?
My friend is owned by a middle-aged black and white neutered male kitty named Sydney, whose disposition is generally sweet and loving; the cat purrs up a storm, kneading and drooling while lying on her lap, exposing his belly to be petted.
But after a few minutes of what she describes as “ecstatic behavior,” he grabs her arm in his teeth and gives her what she refers to as a “love bite.” Since she has never been injured, for years she has tolerated this display of affection. But the other day when his teeth actually broke her skin she became quite concerned. Feeling her distress and confusion, I was compelled to immediately give her a call so we could discuss what Sydney might be communicating with his "love bites,” and find out what exactly they might mean.
What Do Cat Love Bites Mean?
So what does this sudden, unpredictable behavior mean? While many people simply accept what they think as an “over-the-top expression of affection,” feline behaviorists refer to it as “petting-induced aggression.” The behavior is still not fully understood.
According to Feline Behavior expert, Pam Johnson Bennett, petting-induced aggression occurs when the cat’s warning signs letting their human know they have had enough petting are not heeded.
"Cats usually give several warning signs before biting,” Bennett says. “They include tail-lashing or thumping, skin rippling, growling and cessation of purring, ear flicking or rotation sideways, or shifting of body position.”
Additionally some cats do not appreciate being touched on some parts of their bodies, such as the chest, the hind legs, or their bellies even though they appear to invite folks to rub them.
How Can One Avoid Cat Love Bites and Make Petting More Pleasurable?
So what can make petting time more pleasurable for a “love-biting cat” and safer for their owner? Reduce the length of stroking time, and immediately stop petting and put the cat on the floor with no further attempts at interaction should any of these warning signs be observed.
Still, I always recommend a visit to the vet whenever a cat’s behavior radically changes in order to rule out underlying medical conditions that may be at its root. Since cats hide their pain as a survival strategy, it is not always apparent on the surface that something may be bothering them. But no matter the cause of the “love-bite,” Sydney was definitely conveying a message to which my friend needed to pay attention. After an annual wellness examination, Sydney happily received a clean bill of health.
My friend was relieved to know that she was not alone in experiencing the dilemma of a friendly cat suddenly turning on her. Have you been owned by a “love biter?” How did you handle it? Share in a comment.