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Why Your Kitten Bites and How to Prevent It

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Steps to curb kitten biting behavior.
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Black and white kitten hugging owner’s hand and biting it.

An adorable kitten is hard to resist, but your affection can be tested when they unexpectedly bite you. While it’s easy to assume that biting is just part of having a kitten, you can take several steps to help curb this unpleasant behavior.

Here are some reasons your kitten may bite and what you can do about it.

Why Does My Kitten Bite Me?

Kittens teethe between two weeks and seven months of age, and biting tends to increase during this time. However, several instinctual factors can also lead to kitten biting:

  • Love bites: As many cat owners know, a petting session with your cat or kitten can abruptly end when they nip you seemingly out of nowhere. The term “love bite” is slightly confusing — why would your kitten bite you if they love you so much? Kittens that mouth or love bite their owner are showing affection through facial marking, rubbing their pheromones on their human to claim them as their own.
  • Demand for attention: When a kitten is young, almost everything they do is adorable, including little nibbles, scratches or even full-on bites. It’s easy to laugh these off as sweet and playful demands for attention, but a positive response tells the kitten this type of behavior is acceptable — and could result in continuing biting and scratching behavior in adulthood.
  • Socializing and testing boundaries: It’s normal for kittens to nip among their litter mates. They learn what is and isn’t acceptable from the other kittens’ reactions if they go too far, such as a deep bite in response. But if a kitten is taken from their litter too early, they may not learn what is and isn’t OK.
  • Response to a threat: Some bites are playful, but others are aggressive. Interactions with strange people or unknown animals put cats on edge, and they often nip as a defense mechanism.
  • Pain: No one enjoys being touched when they’re in pain, including kittens. An immediate nip when petting can indicate that your kitten is hurting or that you were too aggressive.
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Gray and white kitten climbing on and biting owner’s shoe.

How to Stop a Kitten from Biting

Fortunately, helping your kitten curb their biting behavior can be simple and straightforward:

  • Provide toys: Kittens are naturally playful and curious, so you don’t want to discourage their normal instincts. Providing other options to nip at besides your fingers and toes teaches them proper play habits. Toss small balls and toy mice, or play with dangling toys to encourage them to play away from your hands.
  • Avoid sensitive spots: It’s tempting to give your cat lots of affection, especially in extremely soft areas such as the belly. But cats are often protective of those places on their body and can respond defensively. As you get to know your kitten, you will learn which areas to avoid.
  • End play sessions immediately if your kitten gets rough: Get up and walk away if your cat bites during a play session. This teaches them that playing rough brings an end to the fun.
  • Don’t respond aggressively: Punishing your kitten for biting by yelling, pushing or spraying them with a water bottle may cause your kitten to become more fearful or aggressive in response. Cats learn through positive reinforcement, not punishment.
  • Don’t respond by quickly pulling your hand away: Though it’s tempting, avoid quickly pulling your hand away when your kitten bites. Being visual predators, cats track movement and are often revved up by a moving hand, foot or ankle. While not pulling your hand away may seem counterintuitive, lack of movement often stops the behavior.
  • Provide treats: Reward your kitten with small treats when they play properly. This helps them learn that positive things happen when they behave.
  • Adopt a second kitten: If your kitten is the only pet and your family is away from home most of the day, your kitten may develop biting issues because they have no outlet for their instinct for rough-and-tumble play. Rather than engaging the kitten in rough play that could lead to behavioral issues down the road, consider adding a second cat around the same age and temperament to your household. Having a feline playmate, plus interesting toys, should satisfy your kitten’s need for active play.

Playing with your kitten is meant to be fun, so be patient but set expectations. As your young cat begins to learn boundaries and finds more positive ways to interact with you, they’re less likely to resort to biting.

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