Virtually all cat lovers have been the victims of unexpected—and undeserved— bites. That furry little angel might be purring contentedly as you gently scratch behind her ear or playfully rub her tummy. But in the next moment she suddenly nips at your hand and bounds off.
Is it a love bite? A not so subtle message that she’s had enough? Or an angry, feral response to being touched?
Cat lovers are left bewildered by the lightening-fast change in attitude. So, too, are animal behaviorists who have studied the phenomenon unique to the feline species. But they do offer some suspicions.
One theory is that the nipping is a manifestation of status-induced aggression in which cats decide to take control of the situation. Or, they suggest, it is possible that the cat has tried subtly to let you know she’s had enough petting or rubbing and, when you fail to take the hint, she demonstrates her irritation more dramatically with a nip. More esoterically, perhaps, is the idea that a particular cat may be responding to some neurologically significant negative stimulus prompted by lengthy stroking.
None of which should preclude you from petting, enjoying and playing with your cat. But if nipping is a problem and you are unable to detect signals that she’s had enough, talk to your veterinarian. He or she might be able to point to the subtle warning signs before you are attacked.