by Barbara George
Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
A cat bite can be serious as their mouths contain bacteria meant for digesting meat. It is recommended that medical attention be sought for any serious cat bite.
Biting is mainly a defensive action. Cats that bite are often considered aggressive when they are merely carrying out their natural behaviour and instincts. Reasons for biting can loosely be divided into three main categories.
Medical issues. A cat that is in pain and does not want to be disturbed or touched will bite. Cats with pain or injury to their mouths or throats may use biting as a way to relieve pain.
Protection. Cats that are cornered, feel threatened or mothers protecting kittens will bite to keep others away. If a deaf cat is startled from sleep he may bite first then assess the situation.
Warning signal ignored. This is the main reason for cat bites and covers a host of sub-categories. For every bite there is a trigger and a corresponding warning issued by the cat. By not understanding his language and responding accordingly to this warning we invite the bite that follows.
Learning to read your cat’s signals and adjusting your handling and reaction can prevent many bites. Cats use their entire body to communicate; watch mainly their tails, ears and whiskers to determine their level of agitation or arousal.
Kittens that are hand-reared in isolation from other cats or who leave home too early do not always learn the rules of engagement correctly and tend to use their teeth too easily. Sometimes even kittens that are fully socialised will bite.
Play-biting and biting while being groomed are from arousal or pain while grooming.
Seemingly unprovoked attacks may be the result of boredom or redirected aggression where a cat cannot reach the object of his anger or frustration.
Fear-biting often follows very soon after the warning. The fear may be real, anticipated, remembered from previous incidents or imagined. These bites are usually the most serious as the cat is trying to put the ‘enemy’ out of action first.
Learnt behaviour is another cause of biting. When a cat receives a ‘reward’ for biting, usually food or attention, he will continue with the behaviour as long as he receives the reward.
Once we understand the reason and can read the warning signs it is possible to redirect behaviour and avoid being bitten. The cat should always be in control of the situation.
Punishment for any adverse behaviour, including biting, does not work for cats; they merely learn that we can administer punishment, not that there action was unacceptable.