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I just got two 6 months old brother male kittens, both neutered and vaccinated. One of the two, the smaller one Gintoki, keeps biting lightly whatever he can of my hands, arms, neck and my wife's as well. Most of the time it is barely anything and I understand he's not doing this to be mean as he is most of the time purring when he does that, that I'm not exactly sure how to react to it since I know it can create bad tendencies as he will grow older.

Now that's not too worrying for now as we only had them since last Sunday(18-03-18), but now the issue is that Gintoki and the other slightly bigger Jotaro come at night in bed and are both biting our faces: e.g. ears, nose, jaw, chin. Once more they don't sound mad again as they are purring and not especially trying to attack us. We are going to start keeping our room's door closed at night, but is there anything else we can do? Can this be something only temporary? Will it make the two kittens hate us? As you can see I'm quite worried.

[EDIT] We haven't seen that they are biting more than before and the door was left open except for one night were we closed it for 5 minutes and Gintoki would meow loudly so that wasn't going to happen. I'll see to try what the response advised me and see how that goes.

Update Now what I have been able to deduce is that they bite our face during sleep because they want to be fed. And that they prefer to bite my face with or without a light beard. They never really hurt me, and I have been able to sleep better by providing them a bit of food before sleeping (they will come back just a bit later).

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The other answer is correct that some cats bite to get your attention, but that's not the full story.

There are also cases where a cat bites you because it wants to give you affection, and that's how they do it.

This is the case for one of our cats. She's relatively shy, and only comes for pets once in a blue moon. When she does, she really enjoys it, that's clear to read from her behavior.

She also starts biting after you've been petting for a while. Initially, we thought that we were petting somewhere she didn't like; but observation quickly showed that it wasn't related to the location of the petting.

The only correlation was that the biting would be more frequent (and a bit harder) when she was enjoying it more (louder purring, more forcefully pushing herself against my hand, more arching of the back)

We've seen this behavior for over a year now, and it's always been the same. We've also observed her doing the same to her sister when she (the sister) washes her (the biter).


It's important to distinguish whether the cat is biting you to get affection, or to give affection, because you should respond differently to these.

Getting affection

This sets a bad precedent. If you give in to their demands, you're reinforcing the biting behavior.

You can start by ignoring it, or (softly) pushing the cat away from you when it bites.
I'm a bit more proactive about showing my dislike for their behavior. If they misbehave on the bed; they no longer get to be on the bed. I give them a stern "No", maybe a second chance, but then they get pushed off the bed and will not get attention.

It may take a few tries for your cat to understand that the bites are what causes your unhappy response, but they'll see the emerging pattern if you behave consistently.

Giving affection

This is relatively harmless behavior, as long as they don't bite hard enough to actually hurt or wound you.
When our cat started off with soft bites, barely noticeable, I didn't tell her off for it. It's her way of showing affection, and telling her off would come across to her as if I were telling her off for being nice to me. I didn't want her to think that I didn't like getting her affection.

However, there is a line of what I find acceptable. She has crossed that line (unintentionally) a few times, biting harder than I'd like her to.

Whenever she crosses that line, I act as if she really hurt me. I yell "ow", pull away my hand (or whatever part of me she bit), and will rub my hand on it while looking at her with a questioning/upset look. After 10-15 seconds, I'd revert to petting her.
If it happened a second time in a row, maybe a third (depends on my patience), I would yell out louder, pretend to tend to my wound, and then no longer interact with her.

Don't punish the cat for biting too hard. It's most likely that they weren't aware that they were hurting you (humans are relatively softskinned compared to cats). Telling her off will make the cat feel like you don't want to get affection from them, which damages your relationship.
The goal here is to pretend that you're hurt. You should shy away and be afraid of the cat, not get in its face and tell it off for biting.

Think of what your cat would do if you stepped on its tail. It would cry out, distance itself from you, and observe you to see if you're actively trying to hurt them more. If it's a one time mistake, the cat should see that you mean them no harm and should let go of it after a while. If you do this repeatedly, the cat will distance itself more and more.

You're trying to behave the same way. Your cat hurt you, but you don't understand why. You disance yourself and look at it, worried if it's going to hurt you again or not. When the cat behaves nicely, you give it another chance. But repeated bites cause you to distance yourself more and more.

Cats understand your behavior, because you're behaving like a cat. That's why they eventually understand the meaning of your behavior.

It took our cat about 10 times to register that she was hurting me, but the message did get across. Now, after she bites me too hard, she sometimes comes and licks the spot that she bit, trying to make amends.
Other times, even if I only slightly jerk my hand/arm away, she immediately gets the hint and stops biting.

Consistent behavior is key here. The cat needs to either consistently be told off (if it's about getting affection) or reprimanded when they cross a line (if it's about giving affection). If you are consistent about that line that they must not cross, they will eventually learn to not cross that line anymore.


Update

Another thing to consider here, is that cats will learn to steer their behavior based on the consequences of their actions. The same cat, when she was younger, was very playful. She would pounce on our feet for the slightest movement we made.

This was a problem that needed to stop. But it sort of fixed itself.

Whenever she pounced on my feet, I would instinctively flick my foot to get her off. About half of the time, I would inadvertently end up smacking her in the face with my foot.

I never really hurt her (it wasn't that hard), but she consistently experienced the same outcome: pounce on the foot, likely to get smacked in the face.
Once or twice, she pounced really hard, and ended up shoving her with my foot (my SO saw me do it but I wasn't awake).

After about two weeks in total, she stopped pouncing on our feet. She had learned the hard way that it came with drawbacks.

The same can be true of your case. If your cat is up in your face while you sleep, and your consistent reflex is to swat at things that are near your face; then they will eventually stop doing it because they don't like getting swatted.


This is really a case of deciding where you want to draw the line, and then sticking to it.

  • If you don't want them on the bed when you sleep; then never be welcoming to them being on the bed while you sleep.
  • If you don't want to be bullied into giving them affection, then ensure that their demand for affection ends up with a negative outcome for them (pushing them off the bed, negative response, rolling over)
  • If you don't mind their presence but don't want to get soft bites, then behave apprehensively whenever they soft bite you. If they repeat the behavior, react more strongly to it.
  • If you don't mind any of it, don't punish them for any of it.
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  • This is pretty thorough as I mentioned in my edit, I will try the advise and update my post again :) – Ido013 Mar 29 '18 at 12:55
  • This reminds me of how one of my cats would get underneath me and almost trip me up. I wanted to find a way to shoo him, as he or I could get injured otherwise. Finally I stepped on his tail by accident, and he backed off. Problem solved. – aschultz Dec 30 '19 at 16:25
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Cat are famous for doing this. They are biting you because the want attention and they want to be pet. It is like a small child tugging on their mother’s dress for attention.

You can ignore them or gently move them away, or even gently remove them from the bed and set them on the floor.

I recommend not giving them affection when they are biting you when you want to sleep.

If you give in and pet them then they will learn very quickly that they can get attention by gently biting your face and they will bite your face like this all the time. They may even wake you up multiple times at night.

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  • Cats don't only bite when asking for affection; biting can also be a form of your cat giving affection to you. It all depends on the context. – Flater Mar 29 '18 at 10:51
  • @flater That is interesting. I tend to operate on theory that our pet cats see us as their mother. I wonder if they nip mom as an expression of affection? All of the cases i have seen where cats nip their peers or siblings has been some form of aggression, or to convey “hey.. i don’t want you here right now.” Play fighting typically involves more than nip. – Beo Mar 29 '18 at 11:02
  • If I manage to catch it on video, I could show you a cat that does if purely to give affection :) Our cat's biting behavior flares up after we've been petting her; and it ramps up based on how into the petting she is. Loud purring, arched back => lots of bites. Mild purring, no arching => soft to no bites. It's interesting to note, though, that this is personal behavior. She's the only one who behaves that way. Her sister doesn't bite to give affection (she licks instead). I've seen the sisters give each other affection. A bites B, but B licks A. To each their own :) – Flater Mar 29 '18 at 11:13

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