There are many times a cat may bite you and you aren’t entirely sure why. It’s why a lot of the articles I have on feline behaviours revolve around the topic of biting, chomping, chewing, and nibbling on humans from our feline friends.
I’ve spoken about why cats may take to biting feet, ankles, or legs at times, why cats chew fingers, why cats in general nibble on humans, and even more peculiar insofar as it’s an odd-seeming combination of two behaviours: why cats lick then bite, or bite then lick us humans sometimes.
There absolutely are a plethora of other explanations for these types of behaviours – from wanting to play, wanting to grab your attention so you can do something for him/her being hungry, heck, even smelling food on you fingers. At the same time, one explanation that seems to come up every single time I write one of these articles is how it’s often just a way cats show affection. And if you’re here, chances are you’ve got a crazy strong hunch that’s what it’s been about all along with your cat’s particular form of biting.
So why do cats bite when they’re being affectionate? If your cat is indeed giving you a “love bite” – what the heck does that entail from the perspective of a cat? Why do they choose to bite us when we choose to show our affection through actions like petting or holding instead? What makes biting so natural to them as a sign of affection? And does it have something to do with why these bites are typically so incredibly gentle – certainly not hard enough to pierce skin, and barely hard enough to hurt a fly?
I don’t have concrete answers myself, because I’m not sure if this behaviour has been studied well enough by scientists to make a list based on studies alone. At the same time, there are a lot of good guesses out there, some that may have been proven already (let me know in the comments section if you can think of related studies please!), others that may be studied and confirmed as true one day, and even some that may turn out to be false. These are theories you may find likely to be true, likely to be false, or a mixed bag. In any case, let me know which you believe make more sense than others and are more likely to be the true explanations of these feline love bites of affection in the comments down below.
Have a story about a cat who affectionately bites? Please take a moment to share at as well. While we may not have the answers worked out by science, we can still talk about behaviours like this and try to come up with reasonable theories that satiate our curiosity about quirky feline behaviours like affectionate biting.
Now let’s get into the theories.
12 Theoretical Reasons That May Explain Why Cats Bite Humans Affectionately
1. Kittens play rough with siblings & mothers; cats may be continuing that form of rough affection with love bites to humans.
There’s a lot of rough play that goes on while a kitten progresses into adulthood. This rough play is an important part of a kitten’s development – teaching them to stalk, pounce, and hunt in a safe environment before they’re able to take on the world.
Since kittens grow up playing rough with their feline family members, this type of rough affection may be something specific cats never really grow out of.
2. Since kittens grow up play fighting with their mothers & siblings, this may lead them to mentally associate affection with play.
A lot of humans (myself included!) grow up with grandparents and parents obsessed with making sure they’ve eaten enough and their stomachs are always full. To an extent, this fussing over us, showing they care, while simultaneously filling our bellies makes us associate food and affection together.
There’s a similar thing going on with cats, in my opinion, who associate being fed (by their mothers’, then by their humans) with food. But there’s also in my opinion the same kind of mental association with play fighting and affection. When cats grow up, they spend so many hours “practice hunting” with their mums and siblings, it’s almost impossible, in my mind, that most of them wouldn’t begin to associate play with affection, companionship, and comradery. Thus, maybe their bites during affectionate moments are a bit of proof that those two are intermingled in their minds.
3. Since cats play fight (which includes gently biting) only cats they are very close with, your cat may be treating you like a feline family member.
Cats aren’t going to play fight with any old cat around the block. When two cats who are not friends meet and have a physical altercation, real nails come out and real bites get used if things are bad enough.
Among friends, something completely different happens, and gentle bites are used – ones nothing like the aggressive bites of a cat fight. If your cat is biting you while being affectionate, it’s the same type of thing he or she would do to a feline friend or family member, thus in my mind, it’s a bit like saying, “You’re family,” although we may not prefer the message to be sent that way as humans.
4. Gentle bites are frequently used by cats to get attention; love bites might be used to grab your attention while being affectionate.
Many cats like attention, but some cats seem to be obsessed with it – even to the point where the desire for attention seems to be too much for humans to handle. Yes, maybe you were affectionately petting your cat when a little bite happened and you weren’t sure why – but were you really paying attention when that happened? If not, maybe the bite is a cute to pay more attention, and not just cuddle while paying attention to the TV or the computer instead.
5. Gently biting also seems to be a form of feline communication; possibly communicating the message: “More cuddles please!”
Think about all the ways we as humans communicate without words: we use hand motions, facial expressions, gestures, even the act of touching another human being on the knee is used to show comfort.
Gently biting could also be used as a form of communicating quite a few different things. If you’re being affectionate toward your kitty and cuddling when the bite happens, but you stop and another bite takes place, then when you pet your cat, your cat stops biting, it may be a somewhat clear indication your cat is using the bite to ask for more cuddles.
6. Gently biting while being affectionate could also be used to express feelings of happiness, calmness, & security as well.
When we are happy, calm, comforted, at peace, and all those other positive emotions, we smile. Cats don’t smile, and while they sometimes purr to show that they’re happy, they could also be using gentle bites during cuddle time to show that they’re content with the snuggles.
7. Cats also seem to use nips to say that, while the cuddle session was lovely, they’re done with pets for now.
These types of bites seem to happen a lot in my household with my second cat, Bjorn. He’s quite a biter to begin with, and will, in my opinion, be incredibly tempted to bite while we’re petting him in ways he likes – though he usually holds back as he knows we don’t like it since we scold him for doing it. These days, he really only goes in for a bite visually and usually when he’s had too much stimulation through petting and is ready for a break.
He’ll not show his teeth like some cats will, instead, he’ll slowly go in to bite, slow enough that you can take your hand away, and if you don’t get the message, will gently bite to clarify.
8. Cats may like the sensation of chewing or nibbling fingers & get enjoyment out of doing so when being affectionate with humans.
I do think a lot of cats like the sensation of biting, chewing, or nibbling, especially on fingers, and that’s a reason why some cats nibble while being affectionate.
My cats both like chewing on plastic, especially thicker, soft plastic like the types that keep tissue boxes together in packs of 6 or 12. One of my cats, Bjorn, likes chewing so much I bought him a slew of cat chew toys to try out.
I absolutely wouldn’t be surprised to learn that cats like nibbling on squishy, fleshy human fingers, as they seem like the perfect texture for that kind of thing.
9. Cats may nibble on humans while being affectionate as a form of stress relief, like kneading.
Cats knead for a lot of reasons, one major one being that it’s a form of stress relief for them, something like stretching, tapping a foot on the ground, or sucking a thumb are for adult and children humans.
Cats nibbling in general may be a form of stress relief as well, adding to the calm, relaxing feelings they have when they’re being affectionate with their humans.
10. Biting is a part of grooming for cats; your cat biting you while being affectionate may be something like grooming you.
If you have a short haired indoor cat, there’s a chance you’ve never seen a cat bite while grooming before, but it is part of the ritual during specific moments: when a cat can’t get what he or she wants cleaned by licking. When sticky things find their way into fur, when cats have pieces of debris stuck in their nails, when there are mats of hair that need to be pulled apart, the teeth come out and biting becomes as natural a part of the grooming session as licking.
Your cat biting you while being affectionate may be – to him or her – something like grooming you. If your cat often licks you as well, seems to me to be a stronger possibility.
11. Cats groom cats of lesser status in their colonies; your cat may be showing dominance over you with his or her bites.
When cats allogroom, or lick and groom one another, research seems to be showing they do it not just for hygiene reasons, and not even mainly for hygiene. It appears to be a socialization behaviour, one that a dominant cat does to a less dominant cat, that reduces their stress and keeps the peace of the colony.
When your cat bites you, if it is a sort of grooming, this may be an indication that he or she thinks of you as less dominant, and more submissive – pretty interesting to ponder isn’t it?
12. Your cat’s affectionate nibbles may be a form of scenting, marking you as their territory to show other cats you’re theirs.
Cats love getting their scents all over things they feel are theirs – and that includes people. If your cat is biting you, it leaves their scent on the places he or she nibbles on, and thus this type of marking you as their territory may be a part of why cats nibble and bite when they’re being affectionate.
Your Thoughts on Cats Biting Affectionately?
Why do you think cats bite when they’re being affectionate?
Do you have a cat who does this – have multiple cats who do this? Do they all sort of bite in the same way or have different quirks about their love bites?
What do you think are theories likely to be true? Which theories do you feel are unlikely to be accurate?
Do you have any ideas not on this list that could explain why cats bite when they’re affectionate? Have any stories related to share?
Love to hear your thoughts & stories in the comments down below!