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Why Do Kittens Bite?

kitten biting hand
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Kittens are so adorable – tiny, fuzzy, playful, purring loudly – but they also have sharp little teeth! And when those tiny teeth sink into your hand, it hurts. 

As much as we may not enjoy kittens making a mealtime of our fingers and clothes, biting is a normal behavior for young felines. But why do kittens bite? And what can we do to keep them from gnawing on us? 

Read below to understand what pet parents can do to curb the habit.

Do All Kittens Bite? 

Yes, ALL kittens bite. Biting is a developmental stage, and biting is a natural behavior inherent to all kittens. Kittens need to bite during play and to explore other objects. Biting is also developed as part of a normal desire to hunt. 

From 3 weeks until 16 weeks of age, it is very important that kittens engage in social play to learn skills that will last their lifetime. 

Biting is learned automatically regardless of whether your cat has other feline companions in the home. However, having cats around during this stage is important because other cats will teach the kitten to bite very lightly and less often. 

Why Do Kittens Bite?

Kitten biting mother cat

When kittens are first learning to play – around 3 weeks old – they use their teeth on their mom and siblings. Stalking, pouncing, and biting is a common sequence of events kittens use to practice hunting. They start by doing this on their kitty friends instead of prey. 

In addition, kittens will chew on items as a way of exploring new things, or sometimes because they are teething.

In some cases, kittens will bite out of immense fear, stress, or pain. Feral (wild) kittens that were born outside are often so fearful of humans, they will bite when humans try to handle them. 

Bites that come from fear or pain usually cause a break in skin with puncture wounds, bleeding, or deep marks. On the other hand, play bites tend to leave no marks or a very minor mark.

Understanding Kitten Teething

Kittens bite and chew on things – and pet parents – more often while they are teething. Teething is the normal process when a cat’s baby teeth fall out and are replaced by adult (permanent) teeth. 

Kittens have changes in their teeth between the ages of 3 to 6 months. Similar to human children, kittens likely feel discomfort or minor pain while teething and chewing on items changes how their gums feel.

On occasion, pet parents will see smeared blood on whatever their kitten was chewing. Some kittens chew so much that the tooth falls out a little sooner than it would have otherwise, and a small amount of blood follows. This is normal, and the bleeding stops quickly.

How to Stop Kitten Biting

Kitten biting chew toy

Pet parents must recognize they cannot (and should not) stop kittens from biting. It is a natural behavior. If pet parents scold, yell, or punish kittens for biting, it can cause fear and mistrust. 

While kitten parents cannot stop biting, they can redirect it. Instead of allowing your kitten to bite you, direct your kitten to bite something more appropriate. Here are some tips to prevent your kitten from biting you or chewing something they shouldn’t:

Never play with your hands or feet. Always hold a chew toy, or better yet a wand toy, when playing with your kitten.

If your kitten bites you, stop interacting with him. Do not make eye contact, do not talk to him, and move away from him. This doesn’t need to last long (perhaps a minute). Once that’s done, start interacting with your kitten again. Each time your kitten bites you, repeat this process. This is how cat moms and siblings show a kitten that they do not enjoy being bitten!

Immediately redirect attention following a bite. Grab a toy to either toss for him or use a wand toy to engage in play. Redirect by distracting your kitten to bite something else.

Play with your kitten often. Active play doesn’t mean giving your kitten a new toy and walking away – it means directly playing with your kitten with the toys. Every kitten needs much more play time than adults to burn energy and practice new life skills.

Don’t underestimate enrichment. The more enrichment your kitten gets, the less likely he will end up biting you. Provide your kitten with a variety of toys with a variety of textures and sizes. Purchase food puzzles that encourage working to find food. Provide new smells and tastes that are safe for cats. Play music or fun videos meant for cats. Invite other people over who understand how to play with kittens to introduce them to a variety of people.

Reward kittens for not biting. After a play session that did not involve any biting, provide your kitten an extra reward such as a couple treats or a tablespoon of their favorite canned food!

Kitten Biting vs. Adult Cat Biting

Biting is a natural part of play, and kittens begin biting other cats (and humans) starting at 3 weeks of age. With appropriate social play with other cats, kittens learn bite inhibition. 

Bite inhibition means cats learn the appropriate force to use when biting. It would be inappropriate for a bite to break the skin and cause injury when the cat is intending to play. If a kitten is not well socialized with other cats during this crucial developmental stage, he may bite often and very hard when he shouldn’t.

Kittens are more likely to bite due to play and practicing hunting. This is in contrast to adult cats, who tend to bite due to fear, stress, or frustration. In addition, many chronic, painful conditions can cause behavior changes in adult cats, such as biting. Both kittens and adults may also bite when being pet to indicate they wish the petting to stop.

Kittens tend to bite more softly. They often do not make puncture marks or cause bleeding unless they are biting due to fear. Adult cats have varying degrees of bite inhibition, ranging from no physical trauma to deep puncture wounds. 

Teaching adult cats not to bite is extremely difficult if they were not properly socialized as kittens. It is critical that all kitten parents focus on preventing biting behavior from an early age, since bites from adult cats could become more severe.

Do Kittens Grow Out of the Biting Phase?

Kittens will grow out of the biting phase – sort of. While cats will always bite during play, kittens play less (and bite less) as they grow older. 

All pet parents must encourage healthy play in their kittens and prevent them from biting humans or other harmful or dangerous objects. If pet parents redirect biting behavior to appropriate places, their kittens will have a much better chance of not biting people as adults.