Cats engage in some pretty peculiar behaviours: they have an almost insatiable itch to scratch, they love kneading things (and even people!) with their claws, they sleep through a very large portion of each day, and they purr – which is adorable, but still a very strange behaviour when you really think about it.
Like with almost any cat behaviour, and frankly almost anything to do with cats in general, the cat behaviour of biting then licking, or licking then biting, is a bit of an enigma.
This isn’t just because cats are hard to understand and we haven’t yet studied them quite as well as we should have yet. It’s also because the things cats do sometimes mean one thing, while other times they mean quite another.
Take purring for instance. Yes, purring signifies a cat’s happy – but that’s only true most of the time. It’s not a hard and fast rule.
You see there are plenty of other reasons cats purr, and if you assume your cat is purring because he or she is happy, when really in that moment your cat is purring because he or she is stressed, you’ve got quite another thing coming if you reach over to pet him or her.
Getting an accurate picture that explains why your cat bites and licks you needs to encompass multiple possible reasons as well.
It’s up to you to determine whether, at any particular moment, your cat means one thing or some other through it’s behaviour.
The issue? The behaviour of biting then licking can mean nearly polar opposite things.
There is good news, however, as there are some tell-tale signs that should help you determine which message your cat is trying to send with his or her biting or licking behaviour in that moment.
Why Cats Bite Then Lick, or Lick Then Bite
Option #1: It’s a love bite! Your cat is showing you affection.
In a typical self-grooming session, a cat will sometimes gently bite his or her fur first, in order to remove something hard to get off or to untangle fur, then lick to finish off the cleaning process.
Obviously, if a cat is grooming another cat, it will often do the very same thing.
If your cat bites then licks you, this could simply be part of the grooming habit he or she has developed, and the equivalent of simply licking you to get you clean.
Cats do sometimes gently bite to show affection – as a love bite of sorts.
Licking, too often signifies affection, as when a cat grooms another person or cat, it’s usually a sign that he or she is comfortable and happy enough with that individual to groom him or her.
Ultimately, it’s completely plausible that the only reason your cat is biting then licking you, or licking you then biting you is because he or she is showing you affection.
If your cat doesn’t seem bothered at all by anything that’s currently happening (sitting close together, petting, etc.), a message of affection may be the only thing behind the action.
How You Can Tell If It’s Just an Affectionate Love Bite
If you continue to do what you were doing before the bite and the lick happened and your cat shows no signs of increased aggression or agitation, chances are high you’re just being given a little love bite.
But if there is some increased aggression after the bite, you’re likely looking at either option #2 or option #3 as the explanation behind your cat’s current bite-lick behaviour.
Option #2: Your cat is telling you it’s done with physical attention.
Since cats can’t communicate with us using words, they find other ways to communicate with us through the actions they take.
If your cat is done being stroked and pet, one of the easiest ways he or she can communicate this to you is by giving you a gentle little bite to signify he or she needs a break.
Of course, there’s that little lick accompanying the bite, too, but this is probably meant to dull the blow. A way of saying, “Yeah I want you to stop now, but I still love you!”
How to Tell If Your Cat Is Done With Physical Attention
If you happened to be petting your cat when he or she licked you, and you notice your cat is a little aggressive if you continue to pet him or her after the lick and bite, chances are high you’re looking at this as the most likely explanation for the bite-lick/lick-bite behaviour.
Once you stop petting, if your cat makes an effort to get your attention, however, it’s more likely option #3 describes your cat’s current behaviour…
Option #3: Your cat is in a playful mood, and bite and licked to ask you to play with him/her.
Again, communication through words just isn’t on the table for a cat. When your feline wants to play, he or she’s got to come up with a non-verbal way to tell you.
Some cats whine. Other cats pounce or even scratch at you. Some cats will sit staring until you approach them.
There are so many ways cats can try to communicate to us they’re ready for playtime, and certainly, the bite-lick combo including the play bite can be one of them.
How to Tell If Your Cat Is Trying to Ask You to Play
If your cat is using the bite lick combo to ask you to play, the easiest way to test this theory is to try playing with your cat immediately after the bite and lick.
If he or she seems happy to see you making the effort to play and/or actively engages in playtime straight away, that’s almost certainly the message your cat was trying to convey.
Cat indifferent to your effort starting playtime? If there was aggression from your kitty after the bite, you’re looking at option #2 instead.
No aggression whatsoever after the bite? Your kitty was probably just giving you a little love bite of affection and not wanting anything to change at all.
Cat Behaviours That Relate to Licking Then Biting
There are quite a number of feline behaviours that have to do with licking or biting – and I really do mean quite a lot.
I haven’t managed to write about all of the ones I’ve heard about before, but I’ve done my best to cover as many of the topics as I could and will continue to discuss more on this blog over time.
Some licking related feline behaviours I’ve written about include:
- Licking their humans’ faces,
- Licking human hands and fingers,
- Barbering, or excessively licking/over-grooming, &
- Licking/grooming other cats, also called allogrooming.
Some biting related cat behaviours I’ve discussed include:
- Biting their humans while being affectionate,
- Bite human feet, toes, and ankles,
- Chew on human fingers, &
- Nibble on humans in general.
Does your cat happen to do any of these licking and biting related behaviours as well? Which ones does your cat engage in?
Has Your Cat Ever Done the Bite + Lick Combo On You?
Have you ever had a cat who bit, then licked you, or licked, then bit you? Which order did he or she do it in, or was it a different order each time?
Did you ever discover what your kitty meant by this behaviour? Was it one of the ones listed above?
Do you think a cat could mean something besides the three options listed above by this odd behavioural sequence?
Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!