My Cat Purrs And Bites Me Gently: Dr Cutler Explains Why

Some of the most common questions we get are related to cats biting gently while purring. If your cat has recently developed this behavior, you might have questions about why it happens and how to stop it. In this article, we are setting out to answer top questions from cat owners like:

  • Is it bad for your cat to bite you gently while purring?
  • Is biting and purring a sign of happiness or aggression?
  • How do you stop a cat’s biting habit?
  • How do you calm down a cat showing aggression?

To help us get to the bottom of these and other burning questions, we reached out to Certified Cat Behaviorist Dr. Janet Cutler. Doctor Cutler holds a Ph.D. in animal behavior and manages a cat and dog training center in Canada.

Gentle vs aggressive biting and purring

My Cat Bites My Nose

Question: My cat bites me gently while purring. Is he playing or just being aggressive?

Dr. Cutler: Cats can purr for a couple of different reasons. We usually associate purring with a happy cat, and kittens do first begin to purr when they are nursing and content. Adult cats will purr when they are relaxed, but also when they are slightly anxious.

While gentle bites can occur during play, it is usually a signal that your cat needs a break and is trying to tell you that.

Question: What is a “gentle” bite that is ok versus an “aggressive” bite that is NOT ok?

Dr. Cutler: In general, even ‘gentle’ bites from cats are a signal that they want whatever you’re doing to stop. One exception might be a young cat that accidentally bites while playing, but even that is a sign that they are getting too excited, and a break would be helpful to them.

Top reasons why cats bite gently and purr at the same time

Question: What is the number one reason cats bite gently and purr at the same time?

Dr. Cutler: Cats may be purring if they are relaxed and enjoying being pet or their interaction with you, but then bite (gently or with more pressure) when it gets to be too much for them. Some cats can move very quickly from content with being pet to reaching their limit.

A cat might also purr in a situation where they are a bit anxious, and then bite if something unwanted or unexpected happens to them.

Question: What about “love bites?” Is a gentle bite a sign of love and affection?

Dr. Cutler: Gentle bites are not signs of love and affection. They are a sign that your cat has had enough of whatever is happening. Your cat may bite gently because they have good bite inhibition, which means that they are deliberately not biting hard. They might also bite gently because that level of warning has worked in the past, but if that interaction continues they might bite harder.

Other reasons your cat might purr and bite at the same time:

We looked at some other sources to see additional reasons your cat might be biting you gently while purring. We found that some cats and their owners have a special play relationship start at birth at the same time as bonding between kitten and owner occurs. In these cases, you likely know the difference between your cat’s play bites and their bites that are telling you to stop what you’re doing.

Territorial purring is an often-misinterpreted warning sign of aggression. The Carnegie Museum of Natural History explains why wild cats can roar but not purr, and cats can purr but not roar. It turns out that it is simply a matter of how their vocal cords are used in vocalizations. The bottom line is that wild cats don’t just roar because they are aggressive, and domestic cats don’t just purr because they are happy.

When you consider this important overlooked fact, the need to pay attention to their cues and steer clear is obvious. Cats can be territorial with other cats, but they can also be territorial of spaces, chairs, or people. A frightened cat might also purr as a vibrating siren and bite you gently as an additional warning. If there is a strong bond between you and your cat and they have good bite inhibition, they will bite gently at first no matter what the situation, but the bites will get more aggressive if you don’t pay attention.

How to stop your cat from biting you, even gently

stop your cat from biting

Question: Even though it is gentle, I don’t like it when my cat bites me. How do I get my cat to stop biting me?

Dr. Cutler: Watching your cats’ behavior is the best way to avoid a bite. Cats often show signs before biting such as: twitching tail, becoming tense or fidgeting, flattening their ears, and leaning away. Watching your cat carefully and learning their signs is very helpful.

If your cat does bite you, stop whatever you’re doing right away as it’s a sign that they are uncomfortable. If you’re petting or playing with your cat, you can try a shorter session the next time, and reward the behavior that you want to see.

Other methods of correcting behavior of biting gently while purring

We wondered what other things you could do to stop your cat from biting while purring during play or cuddle time. We found the Humane Society of Huron Valley had two additional ways of correcting this behavior to offer.

Counter-conditioning: Counter conditioning means that you give your cat a reward each time they respond appropriately instead of biting. You only want to do this for a few minutes at a time, and only two or three times per day. You can work on building up their threshold, but don’t take it too far.

Increase playtime: If your cat is spending more time than usual biting and purring aggressively seemingly out of nowhere, they may not be getting enough interaction with you. Increase playtime, and schedule it so that your cat knows when gentle biting is appropriate and when it isn’t.

Other FAQs about your cat biting you

Do you have other burning questions about why your cat is biting you? Here are a few more frequently asked questions, answered.

Why do cats bite their owners or other pets?

If your cat has never bit you before, having them bite you gently while purring, or biting you at all, could be concerning. Why might a cat bite their owner or another pet in the home? There are three common reasons:

  • Anxiety – Cats can present with anxiety in different ways, and if they are feeling particularly anxious they might be more likely to bite. If you notice your cat displaying signs of being afraid or stressed, simply back away and allow them time to calm. Any sudden movement or advancement could prompt more fierce biting.
  • Overstimulation – Cats can become frenzied by other pets just as much as they can when playing and cuddling with you. They can also become overstimulated playing on their own with toys or while hunting crickets and mice. When you see signs of distressed, take away whatever is causing the issue. You may need to temporarily separate the pets to give them a break.
  • Territorial – Sometimes cats can become territorial over people, places, or things in the home. It is important to work with an expert cat behaviorist to break this behavior, but in the meantime do not approach them when they are being territorial to avoid being bitten. Be aware of cats being aggressive toward children and other pets, and remove it from the situation if possible.

What if a cat bites me more aggressively after being affectionate?

Like Dr. Cutler can’t stress enough, if your cat is being overly aggressive you should immediately stop what you are doing. They will likely disengage and disappear for some time to a favorite place where they can relax unbothered. Don’t try to follow them. There really isn’t anything that you need to do other than leave them be for a short while. When they are calm they will come back for more loving.

How do you calm an aggressive cat?

An aggressive cat is no easy matter to deal with, especially if your cat has never bit you in this way before. The first thing to remember is that you never want to try to discipline or physically punish your cat when it is acting out aggressively. Instead, give your cat space and time to soothe itself.

Here are some tips from Wiki-How:

  • Avoid direct eye contact, as your cat will take this as a signal of shared aggression and become more agitated and harder to calm.
  • Immediately disengage and move away from the cat. Your cat may calm once they no longer feel cornered. Move out of striking distance if possible.
  • If your cat becomes aggressive while they are on your lap, stand up and let them fall to the floor while you move away from them.

If you are unable to completely disengage or remove yourself from the cat, you can try distracting it by engaging it with a favorite toy. This is one instance in which the “ooh, squirrel” syndrome inherent to cats works in your favor.

Authors

  • Nicky Thomas

    Nicky Thomas is an author and freelance writer specializing in writing features, general interest, and thought leadership articles. She also has a passion for interviewing people of all walks of life with an important message for the masses. Read more of Nicky’s work at thewordsmithkc.com.

  • Janet Cutler, PhD, Cat Behaviorist

    Janet Higginson Cutler, PhD, CAAB, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. She earned her Phd at the University of Guelph, and runs her own cat and dog behavior consulting firm, Landmark Behaviour, in Canada.