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Ask A Vet: Why Does My Cat Bite Me When He Wants Attention?

Image Source: Kniemla Via Flickr
Image Source: Kniemla Via Flickr

If you watch wild cats interact on nature shows, you will see that big cats very often interact by mouthing each other.  In our humanized world, our cats focus on us as their protectors and entertainment.  We hold the keys to the kingdom because we are the source of food and fun. Cats have made the best of this situation by adapting to us where they can. They have learned to meow at us (cats do not use meows to communicate with other cats very often), follow us rubbing our legs and purring. Sometimes, they will even bite us for attention and it works!

It is important to remember that biting can be an aggressive act, ranging from predation to self-defense. You would likely know an aggressive bite because it will be forceful and accompanied by a hostile facial expression (laid back ears and tightened facial features). Growling, hissing or other vocalizations can indicate an aggressive bite. Any true aggressiveness in a pet cat should be investigated by a veterinary behaviorist to protect the cat and the people.

But the kind of bite that cat owners wonder about is a less antagonistic behavior that seems to be an attempt to communicate. If you examine the entire scenario, you might realize that it did not really start out as a bite. It might begin as a more subtle communication, like rubbing or placing themselves right in our line of sight. But if you do not respond to the subtle cues the way your cat wants, he might advance the cue to something more apparent and harder for you to ignore.

Sadly, humans are busy and sometimes we are just quite daft about the subtlety of cat communication. We don’t seem to “get it” the first time and our cats have to ramp it up to a bite to really get our attention. Your cat has learned that he must sometimes be insistent to have his needs met. Look at other ways that your cat has learned to demand what he needs, like asking for food or entrance to certain areas (like yowling at the door to the potty).

Cats seem to know what they want and they have learned ways to make sure we get the message. Think of it as your cat’s way of saying, “Minion, I want you to pet/feed/entertain me now.” Use your common sense and your familiarity with your own cat to help you decide what he wants to communicate and be a good servant and give him what he wants. After all, what else could you possibly have to do that is more important than you cat?!

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