My cat is very very tame, she socialized well with kittens, as soon as she was old enough I got her and she's a happy cat or so it appears. I've tamed her very thoroughly, so I can hold her upside down, or even tilt her upside down, or toss her up and catch her, she seems totally comfortable with anything I do.

But when she's in a cuddly mood and I'm giving her a petting fit for royalty, she'll be laid out in my arms in some comfortable looking position purring, looking like the happiest cat on earth, and I stop and I'll be looking at her face, and she really quickly tenses up and bites my face, often running away like she knows she did something wrong. I immediately retaliate, hard, just like another cat would, to make her think twice about doing this. She doesnt bite hard enough to make me bleed, but it's an unnecessary shock at really weird timing.

Sometimes she'll be licking my face to wake me up, and I guess she thinks my face needs to be cleaned at 6AM, and I wake up, pet her a bit, she'll lick my face more and then randomly lunge and bite my face, before receiving a really good beating in return. Not really, but I make sure to hurt her as much as she did me. That seems like something she'll certainly understand as retaliation for her aggression toward me.

But I want to know why. Why, at the most intimate moments, right after she rubs her face on mine or licks me, does my cat lunge and bite my face?

Is all of her affection juse a ruse to trick me into dropping my guard??

I know there's a similar question here, but that question doesn't quite cover my situation and doesnt really have a satisfactory answer.

  • 3
    How old is she? ... Returning the attack may be counterproductive.
    – keshlam
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 14:10
  • @keshlam about 9-11 months. And it seems if she were to bite the face of another cat, it would retaliate. Retaliation is the natural way for animals to communicate "don't mess with me, I'll hurt you." She hurts me, I hurt her. It seems like a very straightforward way, and the only way, of communicating that I dislike being attacked. I dont retaliate in a playful way, I make sure she becomes very uncomfortable to deter her from doing it again. Evetually she will give up unless she enjoys pain.
    – J.Todd
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 14:28
  • At ten months, this is still a kitten -- think teenager, not adult. As others have noted, this may be "done now", or it may be "play chase game?. If the latter, chasing after her would be what she wants and you're reinforcing the unwanted behavior. Note too that there's a difference between bite and grab -- Harry will sometimes gnaw gently on my fingertips when he's washing them -- and another cat is less likely to "retaliate hard" than to hiss and either move away or push the rambunctious kitten away.
    – keshlam
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 19:30
  • 3
    I hope it's clear from the other answers, but it's worth reiterating (since OP has recently revisited the question): Being aggressive toward your cat will only make matters worse. Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 0:25
  • @AustinMohr I think everyone complaining about hitting it being abuse is overly sensitive. I was careful not to hurt it back when this problem was occurring, but I continued to do this (again, mindful of the force used, enough to alarm it but not injure) at any point where the cat hurt me, where it was by biting or claws, and it was a 100% successful strategy regardless of opinions about it. My cat is healthy, has no trust issues whatsoever, and no longer uses claws to climb into my lap, bites, or anything. A hit was always accompanied by the word "NO" and now saying "No" is 100% effective.
    – J.Todd
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 0:31

8 Answers 8


You said it happens when your are gazing into your cats face.. As a human that is a good thing but to a cat and especially a stray eye contact or stareing is a sign of aggression and that you are going to attack. To disarm the cat you need to blink slowly and look away. Don't stare at their face.

  • 1
    I find this answer amusing. I hold my cat in arms on my lap and look straight into her eyes for minutes. I think at this point by staring at my eyes, she tries to figure out the qualities of the human species. And when I call her name, she makes her eyes narrow and slowly blinks, a clear sign of affection. Then I go and kiss her and she puts all her effort to get rid of this irritating human. :)
    – Sonevol
    Commented Aug 27, 2017 at 0:03
  • my cat will sit on the floor staring directly at me. He doesn't want anything, just stares, and if I return it, he slits his eyes in an "I love you" gesture
    – Mawg
    Commented Nov 20, 2017 at 13:53

I immediately retaliate, hard, just like another cat would, to make her think twice about doing this.

...I make sure to hurt her as much as she did me. That seems like sonething she'll certainly understand as retaliation for her aggression toward me.

This is a bad idea with any animal, and especially with cats. Cats don't have the same kind of relationship with us that dogs do. Cats are solitary animals for the most part. They don't have an instinct to please the leader of the pack the way that dogs do. What you see as punishment or retaliation merely frightens the cat, making things worse for the next time.

Your cat enjoys the play up to a point, and then wants to quit. She can't say so in words, but she gives you some signal that she needs a break. Unfortunately, you're missing the signal. That's not too surprising, because it's not easy to read another animal's body language, the signals can be subtle, and each cat is different. And even the most savvy cat owners miss these signals from time to time.

What I recommend is that you keep your play sessions short for a few days. End the session while she still wants more. Then gradually lengthen the time, while watching her body language very carefully. I can't tell you exactly what to look for, because I don't know your cat. But likely signs that she needs a break might include: putting her paw on your hand, pulling her head back a bit, or tensing up her body. Once you learn her signal for "enough", this problem will disappear almost entirely.

We get along a lot better with our cats once we take responsibility for any misunderstandings in communication (which is what this is). After all, we're the ones with the big brains, so the onus is on us to meet them a lot more than halfway.

Whether it's a cat or any other animal, when a behaviour problem occurs it's usually not the animal that needs training, but the human.

  • "This is a bad idea with any animal" It's also cruelty.
    – user10093
    Commented Aug 29, 2017 at 9:59

First, I need to say: don't hit your cat. Even if you aren't harming your cat, you are much bigger than your cat, and your cat does not understand you are trying to discipline it, so you'll probably just make it afraid of you, or you may harm it by accident. Obviously disciplining it that way hasn't fixed your problem, so stop.

Some cats are prone to bite if they get overstimulated. They may like the petting at first, but suddenly want you to stop. The best way to prevent this type of biting is to pay close attention to the cat's body language. If the cat starts to look a bit tense, it's ears slightly back, then stop petting the cat and move away. Or keep you petting sessions gentle and brief, so the cat won't have time to get overstimulated.

As for biting while licking you, that is a natural and unfortunate cat behavior. Many cats while cleaning themselves or other cats will bite at the fur as well as lick. So it's likely your cat is still just trying to groom you without thinking it's hurting you. If you don't like it, simply move away when the cat tries to lick you.

  • No this is not the case at all. It isnt trying to groom me. It lunges, bites, and backs away. It isnt being overstimulated, it bites even when Im not touching it, like the moment my face is unprotected and within strike distance, but only after being affectionate. Your answer doesnt address this.
    – J.Todd
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 14:34
  • 1
    And why do you assume a cat doesnt undstand the most natural form of animal communication: Attack and counter attack. One animal aggresses, the other retaliates. Every animal on the planet understands retaliation for an attack means "dont mess with me".
    – J.Todd
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 14:37
  • 9
    No, it understands you are being aggressive, not that you are being aggressive because you're trying to get it to stop biting. Has it occurred to you that your cat may be being aggressive at you because YOU are being aggressive and teaching it that you and it should be at odds?
    – Kai
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 14:53
  • 6
    If your method of dealing with the cat's behavior is effective, why do you need to keep using it? Shouldn't the behavior have stopped? You might try a different tack, if it's not too late (i.e. the behavior is so well established by now).
    – ewormuth
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 16:51

I have seen 'affectionate biting' behavior like this in some cats I have known. Partially this behavior is just cat behavior. If you see two kittens biting and thumping each other while playing, you know that that cats bite not only in fear or anger but also in play and affection.

Biting behavior like this may be (at least partially) triggered by specific smells. When I shave I use my right hand to spread the shaving foam on my face, and afterward one of my cats would tend to bite that hand when she was next to me on my bed.

If there is some perfume, aftershave, or a specific brand of soap you are using on your face, it may be triggering this behavior. Try not using these things on your face but instead apply them to your hands to test if your cat is biting a specific smell, and then stop using that product (at least on on places you don't want your cat to bite).

As far as swatting your cat goes, I cannot strongly enough emphasize that cats do not think the same way that humans do. When you hit a cat you may think the cat sees the relationship between what it has just done and your hitting it. Not true. The cat sees that you are a source of violence and will tend to stay away from you after that, but that is because you have increased your cat's fear of you.

Hitting your cat may make her avoid you, but since there is little or no connection in your cat's brain between her action and your strike your cat's biting behavior not be affected; you may have actually made things worse since your cat may now react preemptively with more violence during any interaction with the scary threat (you).


If you are inflicting pain on your cat then that's abuse. Teach your cat to be gentle by being gentle to your cat. Your cat will end up hating you if you keep retaliating like that.

  • 2
    Consider elaborating a bit more on your answer.
    – Just Do It
    Commented Feb 13, 2016 at 15:12

Your cat is likely playing aggressively, this happens with some cats. My cat attacks and bites me especially when I am lying in bed. As I am on his eye level.

She treats you like another cat, maybe even her mother. Kittens bite their mothers as play but since you aren't a cat hurting her back may not help. She may think you are playing rough with her because she is playing her cat way with you. Cats fur make bites probably not as painful for them but when she bites you it feels as if she is trying to hurt you but she isn't.


So my guy does the same thing and he is the same age. He likes to cuddle and sleep right up on my chest and usually likes to put his nose or even the whole face on mine with his eyes closed and just purrs like a little boat. But after a couple minutes of this I hear him start opening his mouth just a tiny bit. One, two, three times, then he usually tries to bite my chin. Of course my natural reaction at first was corporal punishment like blowing in his face. And yes, I popped him on the nose a couple times.

He is very self-confident so he wouldn't run away. But the nose tap wasn't working. Eventually I was at the point of pushing his face away with mine - kind of a dominance thing. I sternly tell him he better not bite and if he persists with his little game I send him on his way. He does not like this and usually comes back and sits facing me on the couch until I let him come back. Then he just curls up and sleeps, or shoves his face into my hand.

Since I started sending him away for biting he does it much less and responds when I use the stern voice and push his face away. So I know its an affection thing but that doesn't mean it's OK. I'm the boss. I have him to the point where he responds to the stern voice for other things (like attacking the pitbull) and snapping is a wonderful tactic for discipline training. Even the 14 year old dog responds to it now.

So the hitting thing just doesn't work. For example my cat was by no means afraid of me and he was more aggressive with his little game after I would tap him one. I don't think its like morally wrong unless of course your hitting hard enough to turn it into abuse. It's like the difference between tapping a toddler on the diaper and bare butt spanking with a leather belt (the latter is not fun from what I remember). One is discipline, and another one is abuse which just doesn't work. We all have our own relationships with our animals and know them best. Mine thinks he is boss but the balance is shifting as I learn how to bother him back. He gets timeouts.

  • 1
    Your both answers work as one whole answer, please consider editing and making one single answer instead of an answer split in half
    – Just Do It
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 13:56

Yes but he isn't in play mode. This is what the person who asked the original question was trying to explain to you. And it isn't really petting either. I know his attitudes very well and he always does this when showing me love and cuddling before going to sleep on me. I'm sure it's the mommy thing. We adopted him very young and he had already been rescued from the outside for several weeks so never had a mommy. It's frustrating but I quickly learned that any physical punishment wasn't working. Sending him off of my lap and using the "mom voice" is what does the trick. I know he just can't help himself but still have to establish dominance. He really thinks he is in charge around here.

And as for interpreting cat's biting as a signal they are done with petting - I don't believe it. I know it does happen but people just allow cats to be in charge of every situation and somewhat cater to them - but that's not the answer. You just have to get them used to affection while they are still young. Anyone I know could come to my house, pick my cat, hold him up like a baby and rub his tummy. You could pet him anywhere on his body and he doesn't nip or anything and that's because I have been loving and affectionate since the first day. Seriously I can stick my face in his tummy and give him kisses. He introduces himself and gives love to everyone I bring home just like our dog. If you treat them like royalty and show that you are afraid of them and their claws then they become spoiled violent little things and thats exactly why people don't like cats. Don't let them be in charge, guys.

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