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Why do cats give “love bites?”

Have you ever loved someone so much you couldn’t stop biting them? If your answer is “no,” then you probably aren’t a cat. However, it’s not uncommon for purring, happy cats to gently chew on their owners’ fingers. This behavior is known as “love-biting.” Let’s explore why love bites happens.

What is a “love bite?”

Love bites occur when your cat is enjoying being petted. It’s an affectionate behavior, and it’s usually not intended to hurt you. Experts believe that this behavior goes back to kittenhood. In their natal litters, kittens will play and bite each other as a way of bonding and practicing for adulthood.

Love-biting may also have to do with restoring dominance. Cats who are related or very friendly with one another will engage in mutual grooming, called allogrooming. Allogrooming is a social activity that not only shows affection, but also reinforces a hierarchy. All of the grooming attention is usually focused around the head and neck, and the “groomee” will usually turn his or her head toward the affection, much like when being petted. The groomer may nip the groomee as a gentle reminder of who’s in charge.

How is it different from other bites?

You can tell the difference between a love bite and other bites because usually your cat is still purring when he or she nips you. The bite may hurt a little, but your cat won’t have any intention clamp down hard or break your skin. Another common bite that can come from petting has to do with over-stimulation. In the blink of an eye, your cat’s emotional level flips from very pleased to highly irritated, and kitty could bite you in an attempt to tell you to stop.

If you attempt to pet a cat and he or she lashes out at you without seeming to have experienced any joy, then that cat might be looking to give you an aggression bite that says, “Go away!” Usually a cat will scratch or hiss first as a warning, but declawed cats and cats in an extremely bad mood may jump straight to biting.

Do you have a bitely kitty? Be sure to tell your pet sitter! During our first meet and greet, we usually ask if your cat may bite. Don’t forget, love-biting is still a form of biting, so it’s good to let your sitter know what to expect.

Candace Elise Hoes is a pet sitter and blogger at Katie’s Kitty. She is a graduate of the MFA Writing Program at California College of the Arts.

photo by Keith Kissel on flickr


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