Female cat, 2.5 years, spayed, domestic shorthair. Adopted her in April (2 months ago).

I'm her primary caregiver (I feed her, scoop the box, clip her nails, etc). She follows me around pretty much everywhere. She sleeps in my bed, if I'm outside she will meow at the window, she meows at the bathroom door while I shower.

Anyway, she has developed a bit of a biting problem. She only bites me, not either of my parents. She will sometimes bite when I pet her, which I think is pretty normal. I just stop petting her. However, in the last month or so she has started biting when I haven't been interacting with her. I'll just be laying in my bed, she will sprint up the stairs, jump onto my bed, and bite the life out of my ankles. Hard. She will bite my ankle and then pull left to right and kind of shake her head. It leaves a mark but doesn't bleed. She will do this several times in a row, biting down harder each time. I think I also kind of messed up - when she first started doing this, I would give her a stern, loud "NO!" and boop her nose. This would just make her bite harder in like 5 seconds. Now I just get up and leave the room if she bites. She never hisses at me or any one else, only our dog if she gets too close.

I called her old foster mom and told her this, and she said that my cat didn't do that at the foster home. The foster mom said it might be the right thing to give her up and send her back to the no-kill shelter I got her from, but obviously I don't want to do that. The foster mentioned she may be biting me to get attention to play, but I play with her probably 30-60 mins a day plus she plays with some toys on her own. I'm starting a full time job soon and I don't think I can play with her much more than I already do. Lots of online sources say getting another cat will keep her more occupied, but the foster made it clear that she cannot stand other cats and is very mean/aggressive towards them. Does it seem like the right thing to give her up? Have I trained my cat to hate me by yelling at her when she bites? Can I ever untrain that? How long will it take? Why does she only bite me? Any advice/anecdotes would be super helpful, I'm a first time cat owner and have no idea what to do.

TLDR; Newly adopted cat bites my ankles randomly, but not my family members. Foster suggested giving her back to the shelter. Can I train out this behavior or is it a lost cause?

3 Answers 3


She wants to play with you!

Cats generally kill prey by clamping onto it's neck and either suffocating it or shaking their head to break it's neck. Since play simulates hunting, they will often do the same with toys. She's using a "soft mouth", though, because she doesnt want to hurt you. This is one of the ways that cats instigate play with each other. She's not doing it to your parents because it's only you, as her friend and caretaker, that she wants to play with.

More play would help, or more specifically play that's hard enough she's panting at least 2-3 times. This is fairly easy to do with a wand toy like Da Bird.

A cat wheel may also help. They aren't cheap and there's a chance she won't use it, so it's a risk. But if they do, having very energetic cats myself, it can be amazing. Do be aware that it may take several weeks of training.

Last, I know your foster said she didn't like other cats, and it's possible that's true, but the foster may not have been patient enough or done introductions properly. Of my current two cats, the resident hissed and attack the door to where I was keeping my newest cat for an entire week. And they still fight daily, which looks and sounds very bad. But once they've burned off their excess energy, they will lie down together and groom.

  • Thank you so much for this response! It weighs on me a bit that she only bites me and not anyone else, but now its kind of touching :') I have never seen her pant. It seems like she could play forever. We do use a wand toy, and I will run laps around the kitchen with her so it disappears around the corner and she can sneak up on it. A cat wheel may be a good idea to wear her out - I've never even heard of those. Okay - I was hoping there was still hope for another cat!! In her foster home she was around many many cats, so maybe one gentle friend would be doable.
    – Melody
    Jun 19, 2020 at 16:47
  • @Melody Cats evolved as ambush hunters, which means they mostly lie in wait with short, intense bursts of activity. If you can keep them moving (which is where a wand, wheel or another cat helps—humans can't run fast enough), they will burn through all their energy reserves pretty quickly, forcing them to recharge with a meal and nap.
    – StephenS
    Jun 19, 2020 at 18:58

There are 4 reasons for cats to bite.

#1 Defensive biting; this happens when a cat tries to defend itself.

#2 Biting during play/hunt; this is the killing of prey response.

#3 Cat's bite to give you a warning to stop what you are doing.

#4 Cat's can bite if they have too much energy stored and if they do not know how to get rid of this energy; this can often lead to unwanted behaviour.

In your case I think it is excess energy, so what you need to do is to get your cat to change the focus from you and replace this with something else. You need to play with your cat, so the energy gets used on the hunt and killing of the toy/prey.

If you want to change a cat's behaviour it is better to divert your cat's focus to something it is allowed to do, than it is to force the cat to stop doing what it is doing wrong.

To play with your cat, you can get a toy on a stick and play with your cat until your cat's energy is used. Another thing you can do is to get a leash for your cat and take your cat for a walk, a slow walk is one of the best ways to use your cat's energy, you do not even need to walk far for your cat to exhaust the energy it has built up.

Many of the cats I have had before have enjoyed following me when I walk in the forest (I did never use a leash on any of them, they followed me by their own free will). I did often have to carry them back home when they started to complain about how tired they were, not a lot of energy was left for biting after the trips :)

  • 2
    Last paragraph is interesting!! I tried for a while to take her outside on a leash so she might have fun. However, she doesnt like the harness much, and would sometimes bite when I put it on. I have stopped doing that for a while, to make sure I'm not pissing her off by doing that and facing the wrath later. Thank you so much for the advice!!
    – Melody
    Jun 19, 2020 at 16:54

Biting while being petted is probably normal. It often happens when the cat becomes over simulated from too much petting, and so takes it out on the person petting them. There's often warning signs when the biting is due to over simulation. The cat will go from being really relaxed to tensing up a bit, the tail will start lashing, it's skin may twitch, or its ears may go slightly back. You should see if you can start to pick up in these signs, and stop petting the cat before it resorts to biting. You can also try toning down the petting to make it less intense for the cat. Big strokes all the way down the back are very intense for many cats. If you stick to gently petting around the face and neck, the cat may get less over stimulated.

The suddenly biting you while you're on the bed is possibly abnormal. I don't think cats typically worry when biting their playmates. It's more of a behavior they might use on prey than for play fighting. It may be a good idea to ask your vet or a cat behaviorist about it. Take video of an incident if you can.

However, it is also possible it really is just rather inappropriate playing. The first thing you should do is play with your cat more. Thirty to sixty minutes of play a day may be sufficient for some cats, but if it's attacking you in an attempt to play, it clearly isn't enough for your cat. You should attempt to really tire it out, and it will hopefully decrease the number of biting incidents.

I would also invest in kicker toys, or if you can't find one, you could also just make one yourself since it's really simple. They're stuffed toys that are quite large compared to the typical cat toy mouse, and often just a simple long tube in shape, though I've also seen ones shaped like fish. They're largish so the cat can really wrap its arms around it and wrestle with it. If you sense the cat is about to play attack you, toss the kicker toy at it, and see if you can get it to wrestle with that instead.

As a last resort, this is one of the few times I think using a water bottle would be effective. Since the behavior you're trying to correct is biting you while you are lying in bed, it won't have the problem that the cat will figure out to just do the behavior while you aren't there. Also, getting sprayed with water is so unpleasant to most cats that it'll really suck the fun out of its game, and will most likely not try again for a while. You just should be careful to only use the spray bottle to correct this one behavior, and not let it become a habit, as then it'll just seem to the cat that you are a mean person that sprays it randomly. Do not spray the cat for the biting while being pet either, as that is again, likely a warning for you to stop what you are doing, and so it's unfair to the cat to spray it in response to it trying to tell you to not do something.

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    I do have a video or two of it. I showed the foster mom, but not the vet (you can't go in with your pet right now). The vet said what I described sounded like anxiety and suggested Feliway and possibly medicating her, which I think isn't right. I will probably look into a behaviorist if it continues. Right, the biting while petting is something I've read a ton about and am not worried about. Doesn't hurt as much as the unprovoked kind. Thank you so much for your response!
    – Melody
    Jun 19, 2020 at 16:53
  • Sometimes cats do get anxiety so extremely that medication does really obviously improve their quality of life, and therefore I think medicating shouldn't be blanket ruled out, however, I understand the concern about over medicating.
    – Kai
    Jun 19, 2020 at 21:12
  • Totally not opposed, but when I called the foster mom she said that she never saw any of the signs that my cat had anxiety, so I don't want to medicate her when it sounds like play aggression. I'll take some of the advice here, and if I'm still seeing anxious behavior I will absolutely go back and talk to the vet.
    – Melody
    Jun 19, 2020 at 22:14

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