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Why Does My Cat Lick Me Then Bite Me?

Ever wonder why your cat licks and then bites you? Is this aggression or is Fluffers just showing you some love? We look at the different reasons behind this behavior and discuss what owners need to know in this quick overview.

Danielle DeGroot

Last Updated: January 18, 2024 | 9 min read

A woman hugging kissing with a Burmese cat trying to bite her face.

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Cats are wonderful companions and will bring many joys to our lives. Many cats, though not all, are very affectionate with their owners. They commonly curl up, rub against, play with, and lick their trusted people. Sometimes this licking can lead to biting, which is not behavior owners appreciate. In some cases, it may cause owners concern and discomfort. There are many questions surrounding this particular behavior. Why do cats lick and then bite people? Is this normal behavior for a feline, or a sign something is wrong?

Many cat owners have had a pleasant afternoon ruined when a cat’s affectionate lick turns into a sharp bite. It is hard to know what to do in these situations, as feline behavior is tricky to interpret. Felines communicate with us through their actions, but sometimes it can take a lot of work for owners to get the appropriate message.

We look into some of the different reasons why cats might lick, then bite their owners. We also discuss ways owners can handle this behavior and answer some commonly asked questions. Let’s find some answers about this quirky feline behavior without further ado.

Why Does My Cat Lick Me?

Close up of cat licking human arm
Cats may lick their owners as a sign of affection and to show that they feel safe and secure around them.

Licking is a natural behavior for cats, and it serves several purposes. Cats sometimes lick people as a sign of fondness, grooming behavior, or to show their dominance. Licking is also a way for cats to mark their territory or to show their trust in their owner. Some kitties lick people more frequently than others, and it is essential to recognize that this action is not necessarily a sign of love but a sign of their natural grooming habit. Licking can signify trust and a bond between a cat and its owner.

Licking releases hormones called endorphins in felines that make them feel good, and they may associate grooming with those positive feelings. This feeling is often described as a natural high, and cats may start to do it all the time to feel that way. Sometimes, this licking can become excessive.

Cat Licking And Then Biting

Cats may lick as a sign of affection, but biting after licking can signify excessive stimulation or a change in temper. It is also possible that your purr baby is simply playing or testing boundaries. Pay attention to your cat’s body language and behavior to understand their intentions. Is this behavior aggressive? Is it becoming worse? Observe what is going on around you at the time to discover what might be triggering these actions. If the toothy stuff becomes a problem or causes injury, consult a veterinarian or a professional animal behaviorist for further advice. Below are some common reasons cats lick and then bite.

7 Reasons Cats Lick Then Bite

Here are some of the most common reasons kitties lick and then bite their people.

Play & Affection

Seeking play and affection is very common. Wanting to play is a big reason kitties lick and then bite. If the bite is soft, it is frequently playful in nature. Pay attention to what is going on around you. If there is a new toy or something you are doing, this behavior can signal that your cat wants a turn.

Licking and biting is also a way cats show affection to other felines and sometimes to people. It is essential to redirect this behavior if you do not like it, so it does not become a habit. These actions are a way to get your attention, as most purr parents know some kitties can be very demanding when they want to be the center of focus.

Overstimulation

Overstimulation is one of the most prevalent reasons felines lick and then bite. They enjoy being petted and given attention, but sometimes it can become too much. They may lick and then softly bite to send a message of “that’s enough.” Overstimulation can lead to aggressive actions. Pay attention to how your cat licks and then bites, as well as other signs of aggression such as hissing, growling, dilated pupils, flat whiskers or tail, and hair standing up at the back of the neck. These are all signs your purr baby is experiencing something triggering aggression. It may not be you. They may sense a perceived danger and try to get your attention to alert you. Reading the room and looking for environmental clues or triggers is very important.

Grooming

Grooming is an instinct for felines. They groom themselves and the kitties close to them. Felines also groom the people close to them. So, a kitty licking your nose and then nipping at it might mean they want to groom you. Think of the way a mother kitty acts toward her kittens. It is the same instinct. They also show you affection and that you are part of the pack. This is similar to how cats lick human beards.

Stress & Anxiety

Felines who are experiencing anxiety or stress may start to behave this way. They may start to do this to express that something is off. Kitties get stressed out for many reasons, including feeling ignored or scared. Separation anxiety is a genuine issue for many pets, and they may try to communicate this through licking and then biting. Sometimes even boredom can cause cats to act out and seek attention. If being cute and trying silly stuff like sitting like a human does not work, your purr baby might get physical.

Petting-Induced Aggression

Petting-induced aggression occurs when a cat or a dog finds petting so overstimulating it may even feel painful. Felines are far less tolerant of human touch and petting than dogs, so petting aggression is more common with cats. Also called overstimulation aggression, it can come on suddenly. One moment a kitty can seem perfectly content in your lap, and the next moment it may lash out at you and suddenly bolt from the room. Bites spurned by petting aggression can be painful, and owners must take precautions to ensure they treat the bites properly and do not develop an infection themselves.

There are a few different ways to treat petting-induced aggression if it becomes problematic or causes harm. Start by learning to interpret your cat’s warning signs that they are uncomfortable or starting to be intolerant of attention. Consulting with your veterinarian or a feline behavior specialist is an excellent idea to get things started on the right foot. Using a pheromone diffuser can also help reduce this behavior. In some cases, petting aggression may indicate an underlying medical or behavioral illness, so it is essential to discuss this with your veterinarian and rule out any underlying causes.

Marking Territory

Cats like to mark their territory as a way of laying claim to specific spaces, objects, or people. Felines communicate heavily through scent, and by rubbing up on their humans, they spread their pheromones and let other animals know that this is their turf. Licking their humans and then biting them is another way of showing this is their territory. Sometimes, it can also mean a cat is trying to assert their leadership role. Felines licking and nipping as a mother does to her kittens show affection and dominance. So, it makes sense that our feline family members want to make it known that they are in charge.

Illness

Remembering that felines communicate with us through their actions also means that your cat licking and biting you might mean they are experiencing some sort of illness or discomfort. Stomach pain, nausea, inflammatory bowel disease, compulsive issues, allergies, skin irritation or wound, skin infection, or even painful mats in the coat can cause these actions. There may be something more serious going on, and your kitty is trying to tell you they do not feel well. If you cannot find a cause for it and are concerned, do not be afraid to consult your vet. They are a resource and partner in keeping your purr baby healthy, happy, and safe.

Why Does My Cat Bite Then Lick Me?

Close up of a kitten biting a man's nose
Some kitties may be more prone to nippiness than others.

Biting can be a sign of playfulness, especially when a young kitten, but it can also be a sign of overstimulation or a change in mood. Felines may also bite as a form of communication to show dominance or express dissatisfaction or discomfort with a particular situation. It’s important to understand that this is not necessarily aggressive but a form of communication.

A cat getting toothy first and then licking may show affection, aggression, trying to play, or trying to communicate that something is wrong. Pay attention to the force behind the bite and environmental factors that may be stimulating your kitty to do this. Have you changed their food recently? Is there a new addition to the family? Try to think if something happened to change the routine that could be triggering this behavior.

It’s essential to pay attention to your pet’s body language and behavior to understand their intentions and to teach appropriate interaction. For example, when your kitty is nipping you in play, you can redirect their energy with a toy or a scratching post. If your kitty is biting due to overstimulation, providing them an escape route or a quiet place to retreat is crucial. If these actions become a problem or cause injury, consult a veterinarian or a professional animal behaviorist for further advice.

Things To Consider

Along with remembering that felines communicate through their actions, it is important to note that all kitties and breeds are different. Some are more prone to aggressive actions than others. Certain breeds, like the Ragdoll, are incredibly docile and make wonderful pets, while a hybrid like the Bengal or Savannah has a higher prey drive and may not do well in multi-pet households. Feline breed, as well as the home environment, all influence how they behave. Biting does not always mean they are looking to cause harm. Pay attention to the bite and get proper treatment if your kitty’s teeth or nails have broken the skin.

People who have been bitten or scratched by a cat and it has broken their skin, or those who have had an open wound licked, are at risk for developing something called cat scratch disease (CSD) or a Bartonella henselae infection. Symptoms range from mild to severe, so it is crucial to keep these areas clean with soap and water and not allow your kitty to lick open wounds on your skin. A kitty showing biting aggression will need to be seen by the vet, and owners will want to seek assistance from a professional pet trainer to redirect this.

How To Discourage Cat Biting

Owners who have a nibbly cat and want to stop it will need to take steps to retrain and redirect it. This is especially important with young kittens as they are learning appropriate behavior. Try the following methods to discourage biting behavior.

  1. Turn away from your pet when they bite. Refrain from giving them the attention they seek to show that this action is not working.
  2. Provide alternatives like chew toys, puzzle feeders, and physical exercise. Chew toys will help get out that instinct to chew and bite and keep human family members from getting hurt.
  3. Keep your pet active and stimulated through positive reinforcement and redirection. Say, “No biting!” and gently turn their head away towards something else.
  4. Give kitties a positive reward, like a treat, when they stop themselves from biting. You can even say things like “Good cat” or ‘Soft mouth” as you praise them.
  5. Try CBD treats, oil, or catnip to calm your pet.
  6. If your kitty does bite, do not give in to your instinct to pull away. Pulling away triggers your kitty to chomp down even harder. Instead, push your hand or arm inwards towards the bite, as this will actually prevent them from biting you any harder.
  7. Set strong boundary limits with your pet early on, and communicate that no part of your body is acceptable to be used as a scratching post or to be bitten.
  8. Remember not to counter back with physical punishment when and if your cat bites you. This will only trigger more aggressive actions. If possible, respond in a calm, firm voice rather than yelling, which frightens your pet and may prompt them to act out even further.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does my cat lick me aggressively?

Most of the time, feline licking is an affectionate, affirmative behavior. Felines are used to licking each other and being groomed by others from a very young age. What you perceive as aggressive may be enthusiastic on your kitty’s part.

Is biting always spurned by aggression?

No, biting is not always, or even very often, spurned by aggression. Felines will bite if they feel threatened, scared, or need to defend themselves. Soft biting is most often a form of communication or affection.

What feline breeds bite the most?

There are a few breeds that are known to bite more than others. The Siamese is said to be the most aggressive of all domestic feline breeds and highly likely to bite. They have a very jealous nature and tend to act out on it. Along with the Siamese, the Sphynx, Bengal, Pixie Bob, Scottish Fold, Egyptian Mao, American Wirehair, and Korat are often listed as the most aggressive breeds.

Final Thoughts

It is no secret that felines are curious creatures and behave in some very odd ways. From mimicking our moves to stealing our food, all the many ways felines interact with us are forms of communication. Licking and biting are two behaviors that kitties employ when they want to communicate with us. Specifically, licking, followed by biting, can mean a few different things. Cats are trying to show affection or get attention, be anxious, be trying to mark their territory, or even be trying to communicate that they are overstimulated. Purr parents must remember to always pay attention to the things happening around the home and in their pet’s environment.

Kitties licking and then biting can mean many things, but it is rarely aggressive. Anytime a cat bites a person paying attention and receiving proper treatment is essential. Remember that the information we provide here is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for a veterinarian or feline training professional. Always consult your veterinarian on specific concerns about your pet.

A playful calico cat rolling in the dirt and leaves, enjoying the midday sun shine

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