What Makes Cats Purr Then Bite During Petting

Have you ever been left puzzled when your cat purrs and then bites you during what appears to be a harmonious, loving encounter?

Whether you have or not, you can rest assured that’s it’s a fairly common occurrence.

Unfortunately, receiving puncture wounds to one’s arm or hand isn’t the most pleasant of experiences.

This seemingly contradictory behavior can be quite confusing, not to mention rather surprising for the unsuspecting owner.

Nevertheless, understanding the reasons behind it can help you to foster a stronger bond with your feline friend and possibly prevent a visit to your local ER.

So why do cats purr and then bite you?

Let’s start by looking at the purring side of things before moving on to prevention and management.

Understanding Purring

Owners that have experienced petting aggression are often nonplussed because their cat was purring pre-bite.

While it’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security here, remember that purring isn’t always symptomatic of contented bliss.

Cats sometimes purr to self-sooth when they’re experience discomfort or stress.

So don’t assume that everything’s fine and dandy when your cat is purring!

The Love Bite

In some instances, the cat’s bite is gentle and playful. This is often a sign of affection and bonding.

As when cats bury their heads into you, nibbling or biting is a way of expressing a connection.

There may also be an element of playfulness about the bite, especially with kittens.

During their developmental stage, kittens often engage in biting, either as a means of initiating a play session or interacting with other cats and humans.

Additionally, kittens may misinterpret petting as an invitation to play.

There are times when the ‘love’ bite becomes a bit more forceful. This behavior tends to fall under the category of petting aggression.

Kitten Biting

Petting Aggression and its Causes

Petting inducted aggression can be caused by a number of factors. These are some of the most common:


Cats will sometimes lash out if they’re being over-stimulated by excessive or prolonged petting.

When cats reach the threshold for physical contact, they’ll sometimes bite or scratch to signal that they’ve had enough.

Defensive Behavior

In some cases, this sudden change of mood may be because the cat feels threatened – biting is one of their most obvious defence mechanisms.

Age-Related Aggression

Age can be a factor too, particularly with elderly cats that may be more sensitive to touch and thus have a lower tolerance for petting.

Age-related aggression may be further exacerbated by cognitive decline such as dementia which is known to cause confusion.

Such a condition will sometimes render the older cat more prone to petting aggression because it has difficulty interpreting the owner’s motive.


Other conditions such as Hyperesthesia can result in your cat lashing out unexpectedly.

Feline hyperesthesia describes increased skin sensitivity which may result in your cat reacting if you pet him in an effected area.

Petting Aggression – Warning Signs

To avoid being the victim of aggression from your cat, observe its body language and look for the following cues that may indicate discomfort or overstimulation.

Tail Movement

Tail movement is one of the most blatant indicators of a cat’s mood. And in our present context, a twitching or thumping tail can be a sign that your cat’s becoming agitated.

Ear Positioning

If your cat’s ears flatten against their head, rotate sideways, or point backward, it may suggest discomfort or irritation.

Dilated Pupils

Cats’ pupils often dilate when they’re stressed or agitated. This isn’t always easy to spot though, so you may want to rely on the above cues first.

Cat Being Stroked

Tense Body Posture

Should your cat’s body become tense and rigid during petting, he might be feeling uncomfortable or threatened by your attentions. So back off!

Skin Twitching

Skin twitching can sometimes be a sign of overstimulation as well as a condition known as hyperesthesia (see above).

But if your cat’s skin twitches or ripples, especially along their back, overstimulation is often the cause.

Certain Vocalizations

Most of you will know the kind of feline vocalizations to look out for. Suffice to say it’s not going to be a gentle ‘mew’.

More like growling or hissing – tell-tale signs that your cat wants to be left the hell alone!

Sudden Head Turns

Should your cat suddenly turns his head toward your hand, he may be about to pounce.

Petting Aggression – Avoidance Tips

To avoid petting aggression, it’s essential to respect your cat’s boundaries and adjust your interactions based on their cues. Here are some tips on avoiding unpleasant encounters.

Pay Attention to Body Language

Pay very close attention to body language during petting and be sure to stop if you notice any signs of agitation, discomfort or overstimulation.

Different Strokes

Learn your cat’s preferences for where and how he likes to be petted.

Some cats prefer head and neck scratches, while others may enjoy gentle strokes along their back or under the chin.

Then there are others that just don’t want to be touched at all.

Limit Petting Sessions

If you’re petting an older cat, limit sessions to short periods. Like senior humans, they can get cranky!

Should you be introducing petting to an undemonstrative cat, also limit sessions initially but gradually increase the duration over time, as your cat becomes more comfortable.

Don’t Force Interactions

Try to allow your cat to initiate contact and approach you for petting, rather than forcing interaction. Not always easy given how irresistible our feline friends can be.

Allow for Adjustments

Give your cat time to adjust to new people or environments – he may be more prone to petting aggression when feeling stressed or anxious.

Create a Calm Environment

A calm and consistent environment is essential for your cat’s peace-of-mind. Ensure the environment is free of sudden noises and introduce changes gradually.

Socialization and Training

Early socialization and training are vital for teaching cats boundaries, as well as helping them feel secure in their environment.

Try to incorporate playtime and interactive toys into their daily routine to engage their natural instincts and prevent boredom.

Handling Cat Bites and Aggression

If your cat bites or shows signs of aggression, respond calmly and give them space. Never lose your temper or shout at your pet.

Instead, try to work out what the triggers were and modify your future interactions accordingly.

Dealing with Ongoing Aggression

Talk to a vet, if your cat is frequently aggressive. The vet will be able to identify any underlying medical issues that may contribute to changes in behavior or mood.

Video – Why Does My Cat Bite Me When I Pet Him?


Be assured that pet aggression is fairly common so try no to take it personally!

The key is to understand the reasons behind it.

By recognizing your cat’s cues, adapting your petting techniques and providing a calm and comfortable environment, you can reduce the likelihood of biting incidents.

Socialization training may however be required in certain instances, as might veterinarian advice.

Further Reading

Cat Petting Aggression

Petting Aggression

About the author