When it comes to cats biting and chewing fingers, there are quite a lot of reasons that do a good job explaining away this common feline behaviour. The same is technically true of why cats bite feet – they do it for a variety of reasons – but to me there’s a massive difference in terms of explaining away why cats chomp on fingers versus why cats chomp on toes.
See, when a cat nibbles a finger, there’s a relatively high chance he or she is doing it for any one of the many reasons that explain away this common cat behaviour. Some explanations are more likely to be the case than others, but overall, you should be looking into all of the explanations as a possibility and narrowing down from the full list.
When cats bite feet, ankles, legs, or toes, however – chances are much higher your cat is gnawing at you due to one very common reason. There’s more of a chance your cat is trying to communicate just that one thing with a bite to any of foot-adjacent body part, so it makes more sense to start with the assumption that the most common reason is the explanation for your kitty’s bite. If you eventually figure out that’s not the reason your particular kitty’s nibbling (which I’ll teach you how to test for), at that point it makes sense to broaden your search and consider other options.
How you find out which explanation describes the reason behind your cat’s behaviour in the moment is often a matter of taking a close look at what is or was happening around the time your cat decided to go in for a nibble of one of your toes. I’ll start with the most common reason cats bite feet, then give you the list of some other possible explanations in case the single most common explanation doesn’t quite sound like it fits your cat’s nibbles.
The Most Common Reason Why Cats Bite Feet, Legs, Ankles, & Toes
Now, this may be a little bit of a cop out, because I’m going to say one word and it’s going to sum up quite a lot in one easy-to-understand package, but I’ll break down the ins and outs of what those are and why I group them together after I say the one word:
Reason #1: Your Cat is in Play Mode
If your cat is biting your foot in particular, there’s a really, really high chance he or she’s hunting you.
Why your cat is hunting you can be broken down into a couple of “sub-explanations” – these are:
1. Your cat is actively trying to tell you he/she wants to play.
My first cat, Avery, has done this in the past, though luckily my new second cat, Bjorn (although he’s more into biting on the whole) has not. At this point, Avery really infrequently if ever, since I trained him out of it. It did used to happen every so often when he was hot and bothered enough about needing to get some of his aggressive hunter energy out and couldn’t figure out how else to tell me the song-and-dance whining he’s done for a hot minute had been about wanting some play time right this instant.
2. Your cat sees your foot as a moving target, and can’t help attacking it.
Again, same sort of idea, because in large part, when your cat gets this crazy burst of energy, he/she’s typically seeing your foot as a moving target the he/she can’t resist attacking (some people call this “ankle attraction“). Thus, at that particular moment, your cat really wants to play/hunt.
How to Tell If Wanting Play Explains Your Cat’s Foot Biting
If your cat takes a bite of your foot and you really want to know whether this behaviour was done for the sake of telling you he/she wants to play, try picking up your cat’s favourite toy and giving an active playtime a whirl. If your cat engages really quickly and easily, or eagerly looks at you as though he or she wants to engage, chances are very high this is why your cat was biting your feet.
Test this two or three times in a row, and if each and every time your cat bit your foot, playfulness explains away your cat’s biting behaviour, assume this accounts for the vast majority, if not all the times your cat has bitten your feet, ankles, legs, and/or toes.
Don’t continue to test past around 3-4 times – as in order to prevent the bite-for-play behaviour from happening, you’ll need to make sure you don’t engage your cat in pay immediately after he/she takes a nibble on one of your limbs. If you get into the habit of playing with your cat just after being bitten, you’ll accidentally train your cat to learn that biting is how he or she can get you to play – not at all what you want in the long run.
How to Prevent Foot Biting for Play
Step 1: Training Your Cat Foot Biting Means Being Ignored
As I said, this is a behaviour Avery used to engage in, but those days are for the most part completely past now. While Avery never really tries to take a bite out of my feet or toes to get me to play, he will sometimes take a swipe at my leg, or hit my ankles with his claws/paws instead of biting, though this too happens infrequently since I discourage it. Personally, I can’t think of a time he’s bitten my ankles where it wasn’t to say, “I want to play – right now!” so if you’re in the same boat as me, you’re likely to have big success pretty darn quickly if you follow the same training path I did.
Basically, the way I trained Avery out of the bite-for-play behaviour was to immediately say, “No!” and ignore him for around 5-10 minutes just after his bite. The “time out” absolutely helped him understand that biting my ankles didn’t get him what he wanted – it only resulted in him being ignored, which is absolutely not what he was after. After the 5-10 minutes, I would try to engage him in play, so his needs were actively being met, but without creating a mental association between leg biting and mommy playing.
Besides scolding him and ignoring him immediately after he bit my foot or ankle, there are a number of preventative measures I’ve learned really help in cases where this kind of biting is recurring.
Step 2: Have More Frequent & More Intensive Playtimes
It’s really important to stay on top of regular, daily playtime sessions when you find your cat is pretty hands on, or aggressive with you. Cats need to play, not just for exercise, but because they have a crazy high predator/hunter drive that helps keep them alive in the wild. If you find your cat needs more playtime, try increasing the number of play sessions you have with him or her, or the amount of time each play session lasts – whatever works for you & kitty!
If you find your cat is ridiculously insatiable, and seemingly has an unlimited supply of energy, try switching to some of high-energy consuming exercise cat toys. Basically, hyperactive cats typically need more playtime, and more intensive, high-energy play than the average cat, but if you wear them down during regular, daily sessions, they’re much, much less likely to have behavioral issues like attacking you, furniture, other pets, or whatever else they may be behaving aggressively toward.
Step 3: Make Sure Your Cat Is Able to Self-Play & Keep Kitty’s Environment Stimulating
In my experience, the best way to make sure your cat is able to get its predator drive on whenever he or she wants is by investing in a bunch of cat toys cats can play with on their own and scattering these across your entire house or apartment, or at least in places kitty frequents. Honest to goodness, I rarely play with Avery actively anymore because of how much he prefers to play on his own, specifically with his Spot Ethical Pet Cat Springs.
Haven’t found something that your cat actually enjoys playing with by him or herself yet? Keep at it! There’s bound to be a self-play toy that strikes your cat’s fancy. I’ve found electronic sound cat toys like the Our Pets Mouse Hunter do wonders for hard-to-please cats, as well as the cat springs I mentioned. Avery actually stopped playing with his springs for a long while, when my husband, him, and I lived together in a studio apartment for a couple years, but now that he has hallways all to himself, he’s back to chasing these things down on his own, and no longer cares to have me play with him even if I try.
There’s plenty else you can do besides having a slew of toys cats can play with on their own at home to keep cats passively entertained – and when I mean passively, I mean that for the most part, you have to do absolutely nothing after you’ve initially set the suggestion up. I’ve outlined a bunch of tips like this in my article about how to keep a bored cat passively entertained, so take a peek there if you find your cat could use a little help in the home entertainment department.
Other Reasons Cats Bite Feet, Legs, Toes & Ankles
I’m going to speed run through all of these since they’re really not as likely as the most popular reason why cats typically bite ankles, feet, and toes in particular. I’ve tried to organize these by most likely to least likely to be the explanation – let me know in the comments if these explain your cat’s behaviours sometimes, and how frequently one of these reasons explains your cat’s behaviours vs another explanation!
Reason #2: Your Cat Wants Attention
Some cats really need a lot more attention than others – and there are cats out there who crave one heck of a lot of attention. If this sounds like your cat, and he or she doesn’t really care about playing right after biting your toes, the whole, “No!” then ignore-your-cat-for-five-minutes should work to help you solve this behavioural issue just as well as if he or she was trying to get you to play. Try upping the attention you give your cat when he or she is being good – not whining, crying, biting, or doing anything you dislike – to see if this behavioural issue goes away with some added attention. But if you know this is the issue and your cat seems insatiable, do yourself a favour and check out my article on cats who want a heck of a lot of attention, and what you can do for them.
Reason #3: Your Cat Wants Something Else & Is Using a Bite to Get Your Attention
Some cats use biting as a method of grabbing your attention to demand something completely unrelated to play or affection. One pet owner mentioned this was why her cat bit her feet in a Quora answer to the OP question “Why is my cat biting my feet all the time?”
Mine is, too. He runs towards me at breakneck speed and bites my feet! Obviously, he wants something, and this is his bossy way of demanding it. If I’m not feeding him fast enough or if I’m not bending down to pet him, he nails me. My theory as to why he bites my feet is that biting is a cat’s way of grabbing something. I feel like he is trying to grab me and make a point, as if to say, “Stop ignoring me!” He especially does this if I’m walking too quickly. If I’m lucky enough to see him coming, I slow down and sternly say his name a few times. It seems to break his spell.
I definitely think saying, “No!” and ignoring will solve this problem long term, but Donya’s technique of slowing down and sternly saying her cat’s name if she sees him coming in for a bite is also pretty genius and helpful. Give it a try!
These Reasons Not Really Cutting It? Could It Be One of These?
Basically, I’m going to run you through a few of the reasons why cats sometimes bite fingers, as this may explain why your cat is sometimes biting your toes if none of the other more common reasons seem to be doing the trick explaining:
- Your cat enjoys the sensation of biting your toes.
- Your kitten is teething.
- You got a bit of food on your foot and your cat can’t resist a nibble.
- Your cat is giving a love bite – showing affection.
- Your cat is giving a warning bite – telling you he/she is overstimulated.
Any of those explanations seem like they’ll fit? Head on over to my article on why cats chew on fingers to learn how to test & stop the biting from happening with any one of those explanations.
Your Thoughts on Cats Biting Feet?
Have you ever had a cat bite your foot, ankle, leg, or toes? Did you ever figure out why your cat was doing this? Ever figure out how to get him or her to stop?
Do you have any tips for those in this boat? Did you head over here because it’s a behaviour your cat actively engages in, and if so, do you have an idea of which reason explains why your cat is biting your feet?
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments down below!