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Why Does My Cat Lick Me, Then Bite Me? 5 Reasons for This Behavior

Written by: Emma Stenhouse

Last Updated on January 9, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

playing with cat

Why Does My Cat Lick Me, Then Bite Me? 5 Reasons for This Behavior

Sometimes our cats do slightly strange things that can leave us scratching our heads. One example is when they give us a sweet lick on our hands—and then go in for a bite! What’s up with that?

Some cats might give you a tiny bite that is barely painful. Others will move in for a full tooth-sinking experience, which isn’t pleasant. If your cat often does the latter, it can be worth finding out exactly why they’re doing it and what you can do to stop them from leaving tooth marks on your hand!

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The 5 Reasons Your Cat Is Licking and Biting You

1. Your Cat Is Overstimulated

Cats love being petted, but sometimes, an extended petting session takes them over their threshold. When this happens, our sweet and laidback kitties can experience something called “petting-induced aggression.”

It’s thought that this has something to do with the nerve endings connected to your cat’s fur, and too much petting can actually start to become uncomfortable. If your cat has been giving you a gentle lick as you’re petting them, and they suddenly bite you, this is likely the reason.

Signs that your cat is becoming overstimulated include dilated eyes, turned-back ears, and a flicking tail. Take the time to notice if your cat is showing these signs as you pet them, and end the petting session before your cat reaches the point of overstimulation.

Certain cats will have areas on their coat that they can tolerate being petted for longer than other places. By staying alert to your cat’s body language, you can keep those petting sessions pleasant for both of you.

tabby cat licking a man's hand
Image Credit: congerdesign, Pixabay

2. Your Cat Is Initiating Play

Some cats may try to encourage their owners to start playing with them by coming over and giving you a little lick and then a soft bite. If you haven’t been petting your cat and they come up to you like this, they’re likely ready to play!

Playful cats will have pricked ears, a raised tail, and slightly dilated pupils.

3. Your Cat Is Grooming You

If you watch your cat grooming themselves, you’ll see that sometimes, they intersperse licking their coat with nibbling their skin. While for some cats, this can be a standard part of their grooming routine, for others, it can be a sign of a skin infection or irritation from flea bites, so make sure you know what’s normal for your cat.

For cats that regularly nibble as part of their grooming routine, they’re just doing the same to their human owners! Your cat might not realize that this can hurt you!

If your cat gets into the habit of biting you after giving you a cleaning lick, start gently moving your hand out of the way before they move in for a bite. You could distract them with a toy or a treat, to signal that their grooming session is over.

Never scold your cat for biting you; after all, they don’t necessarily understand what they’ve done wrong. Remember that mutual grooming (which includes biting!) is a bonding behavior in cats. By extending the offer to you, your cat is letting you know that they consider you to be a part of their social group. By offering to lick and “groom” you, they’re trying to strengthen the bond between the two of you—which is pretty cute!

Close up of cat licking human arm
Image Credit: sophiecat, Shutterstock

4. Your Cat Is Stressed

Cats are sensitive creatures, and sometimes, their stress can be shown by licking and biting. Some cats will indulge in excessive grooming, even pulling out hairs. If your hand happens to be close to your cat, they may end up licking and then biting your hand instead.

Plenty of things can stress our cats out, including moving to a new house, introducing a new pet, or having strangers visit. If your cat does seem stressed, ask your vet for advice. Using a pheromone diffuser can also help your cat feel soothed.

5. Your Cat Is Showing You Affection

It might not be your preferred choice, but small bites can be a sign of affection between cats. This is a normal behavioral interaction, particularly between kittens. Some cats will extend this same behavior toward their owners!

If your cat is behaving affectionately and then moves in for a lick and bite, this is probably what’s happening. While there’s no malice behind it, sometimes you don’t want to be bitten! In that case, pay attention to your cat’s behavior before they move in for a nip, and distract them before it gets to that point. You can still show and accept plenty of affection from your cat—just draw the line at the love bites!

cat bites the woman's hand
Image Credit: Luis Echeverri Urrea, Shutterstock

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Additional Information

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Wrapping It Up

Cats don’t lick and bite for no reason, so if this is a behavior that your cat seems to be carrying out with regularity, it’s worth taking the time to figure out why. If it simply seems to be affection or play, you can either let them carry on (if you don’t mind your hand getting chomped) or find ways to distract your cat before they nip you.

If you think that your cat’s biting behavior is linked to overstimulation, it’s important to let everyone in the house know to keep petting sessions on the short side and to look out for the signs that your cat is becoming overstimulated. Petting-induced aggression isn’t your cat’s fault; it’s just an automatic reaction to an unpleasant feeling. By paying attention to your cat’s body language, you can make sure you don’t put them in a position of feeling uncomfortable.

If your cat’s biting behavior seems to be linked to stress, it’s important to speak to your vet and ask them for advice on how you can minimize this. Long-term stress is bad for cats and can lead them to develop health problems.

If your cat ever licks and then bites you, have you figured out why? What did you do to stop them? We’d love to hear from you!

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Featured Image Credit by: Vika Hova, Shutterstock

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