When my Siberian cat Alexei licks me, I take it as a sign of love. However, when he quickly follows the licking with a bite, I think he might feel otherwise!
I was heartened to discover that this behavior is not unique to Alexei and that many other cat owners often ask the question, “Why does my cat lick me then bite me?”
It can be very confusing when your kitty displays what seems to be loving behavior and suddenly changes to something that can cause you pain. Is it angry? What have you done wrong? And what should you do?
Here are all the reasons why your cat may lick you and then bite you — plus some of the other most frequently asked related questions.
Why Does My Cat Lick Then Bite Me? 7 Reasons
That’s right. There are seven distinct reasons your feline is enacting this peculiar behavior. It’s time to dive right in!
1. My Cat Licks and Bites Me To Express Its Love
Your cat may just approach you and give you a couple of little licks and then a bite. If you weren’t petting them beforehand — and they seem happy and calm — they are probably trying to show you their love.
This little nip is a normal way for them to express their love. I am afraid that your cat most likely doesn’t understand that this love might be a bit unpleasant for you to receive.
Kittens and sometimes grown-up cats will often lick and nip each other, and as their skin is a bit tougher than ours, it most likely doesn’t hurt them. Thus your cat thinks this is an appropriate way to express its love for you.
So if your cat bites you gently after a good grooming, they may just be giving you some one-on-one love.
2. To Bond
Sometimes even the best cat brush doesn’t get those nitty-gritty areas. In this case, cats will give little bites during the grooming process when they have matted fur or need to remove something from their coat. Or they will do this when grooming each other, particularly when they are kittens.
Cats have keratin spines on their tongue — which is why your cat’s tongue can feel a bit like sandpaper. These spines allow your cat to clean itself thoroughly.
If there is lots of licking and not much biting, they may attempt to groom you as if you were another cat. And if they are focusing on licking and nibbling on your hair, then grooming is an even more likely explanation.
If your cat is trying to groom you, this is a positive sign as it shows they have a good bond with you. Remember, cats don’t randomly groom other cats — they will only groom them in their group.
So if you groom your cat and they groom you back, consider yourself a part of the pride.
3. My Cat Licks Then Bites Because It’s Overstimulated
Have you ever noticed that your cat can quickly go from being happy and content while you are stroking or playing with it to suddenly being very unhappy and frustrated? This can mean that they are overstimulated.
Of course, our cats can’t tell us to leave them alone, so they may communicate this through licking and biting.
There are no set rules about overstimulation. What is too much for one cat will be fine for another. Your cat will probably have an amount of stimulation it finds comfortable.
However, depending on their mood, there may be variations in what they will tolerate. For example, they may like more cuddles if you have been away or if they are feeling unwell.
Also, your cat may become agitated if you spend too much time petting a part of its body that is more sensitive. Have a look at your cat’s ears when this happens.
It is time to leave your kitty alone if they are flat against its head or flicking back and forth. If their ears are hot, they may have an ear infection, and when touched, it could cause overstimulation and pain for the kitty.
Another good way to know if you have overstimulated your cat is watching what they do after the lick and bite. If they run away and hide, then it is likely that they are overstimulated. If they stay near you, then it might be for another reason we’ll get to later.
4. A Cat Licking Then Biting Could Be Playing
If there is a cat toy involved in the lick and bite, then it is likely that your cat wants to play. However, the desire to play and overstimulation can look quite similar.
If your cat has its whiskers and ears pointing forward, tail up, slightly arched back, and dilated pupils, it may be in the mood to play.
The key determinant of playing vs. overstimulation is how your cat reacts after the bite. If your cat wants to stay around you, is bouncy and looks happy, it’s probably just looking to play. If they tense up and depart the scene, overstimulation is the most likely explanation.
If your cat stays on the scene, bring out a feather or other cat toy. You’ll soon find out if it is in a playful mood after all.
5. It Is Stressed
Excessive licking and biting can be a sign of stress or anxiety. Some cat breeds, like Siamese cats, will even chew toys and just about anything when anxious. Alas, this chewing behavior may also extend to you, such as biting your hand and other body parts.
Some cats will even start licking non-stop or in a compulsive manner when they are stressed.
If your cat licks you and then bites you, it is unlikely that they are genuinely angry with you. You may well have seen your cat angry or scared.
Angry cats tend to get substantial and arched backs, with fur standing on end and quite a bit of hissing. At worst, you may be annoying your cat due to overstimulation.
6. It’s a Natural Cat Hunting Instinct
People often forget that these fluffy felines were once wild animals. And no matter how cute cats can be, they will always have that wild side in them.
From a young age, you’ll find kittens play fighting and honing in on their hunting abilities. If your furball brings home a catch of the day, you’ll know their early play fighting, which includes licking and biting, has come in handy.
While kitties tend to practice hunting with each other, you may just fall victim to their vigorous antics. And if your kitten doesn’t have a fluffy brother or sister to practice with, you’re the next best thing.
These hunting instincts can honestly come about at any time, whether you’re playing with your kitty or just giving them a loving stroke.
What differentiates hunting from being overstimulated? If your cat sticks around and carries on liking and biting you after the first instance, they’re most likely practicing hunting.
It’s a lot like playing, but expect the bites to be a bit harder than usual.
7. Cats Licking Then Biting Could Be for Health Reasons
Cross your fingers that this isn’t the case. But you’re asking, “What does it mean when my cat licks me then bites me?” It could be for health reasons.
There are quite a few health concerns that could spark a sudden lick and then bite for your feline. Some of them include:
- Matted Fur – While cats are pretty good at grooming themselves, sometimes they get matted hair. When you stroke them, this can pull at their skin and make them uncomfortable, resulting in a lick and bite. This is where a matt breaker comes in handy.
- Skin Allergies – Any allergy on the skin can cause a hot spot or irritation for your kitty. This is more common in short-haired and hairless cats, but it can happen to all kittens. If you notice any red spots or sensitive areas on your feline, take them to the vet to learn how to treat the allergy.
- Scratches or Wounds – Cats also like to rough it sometimes, but it can result in them getting some war wounds along the way. If you feel something as you stroke your cat and they respond with a lick and bite, it may well be a healing wound. If this is the case, ensure you get the wound checked by a professional.
Why Is My Cat Licking and Biting Me? Common Questions
Here are some handy tips to keep in mind.
1. Why Does My Cat Only Lick and Bite Me?
It’s probably because you are the person that they love the most.
2. Why Does My Cat Lick and Bite Other Cats?
As mentioned, licking and biting other cats can be quite normal in the world of kitties. It could also be because of one of the reasons above. However, the other cat likely knows what your cat is up to!
3. What Do Cat Love Bites Mean?
If your cat is relaxed and happy when biting you gently, then a love bite is the most likely explanation. However, if they are tense, it may be time to back off before the gentle part becomes history.
4. Why Does My Cat Lick My Hand and Then Bite Me?
If your cat is grabbing and biting your hand, it is probably mimicking hunting behavior. This is how your cat would treat captured prey. This would mean it was tearing its prey apart to eat it, but the odds are they don’t plan on doing this to any of your body parts.
5. How Do I Stop My Cat From Biting Me?
If you want your cat to stop biting you, make sure you react to every cat bite, even if it is gentle. Pause and very loudly and firmly say “No”. Afterward, don’t make eye contact with your cat for at least a minute, so that they also may associate biting with not having your attention.
In Conclusion: Why Do Cats Lick You Then Bite You?
As you can see, if a cat licks me then bites, it can be for several reasons. The most important thing to note is how they react after doing the deed.
If they’re purring and playful, it’s most likely out of love, but if they run off or look visibly upset, it could be overstimulation or for health reasons. Whatever the case, at least you now know why cats lick then bite you.
Meet the Veterinary Expert
Charlotte recently became a doctor and studied at the University of Zagreb, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. She’s volunteered in her university’s obstetrical clinic, and equine clinic, and is dog mum to 14-year-old Chiki. Charlotte loves to travel and has completed externships in Austria, Spain, and Belgium.