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Cats are playful and affectionate by nature and sometimes we may not readily understand some of their behavior.
As a cat parent, you may have experienced moments where your furry friend wraps their paws around your arm then licks it and bites it.
This behavior is common in kittens that have just been weaned from their mothers and young adult cats alike.
Your cat’s hugs and nibbling may appear to be cute and harmless from the start, but it could turn out to be painful if they get aggressive.
You may then ask yourself ‘why does my cat hug my arm and bite me?’ Are they trying to pass their affection or they’re just being themselves by attacking and hunting the arm?
Come along with us as we explain the reasons why your cat might show this behavior and the steps you can take to encourage more positive interaction with them.
Cat Love Bites and Aggression Bites
You should not confuse the love bites and aggression bites when your cat takes on your arm.
Love bites, also called ‘petting-induced bites’, happen when your furry friend gently nibbles your arm when playing.
These gentle bites are usually not very strong and they certainly won’t break your skin or draw blood. They usually occur during play aggression or when your cat attacks your feet and grabs your ankles.
Aggression bites on the other hand are the exact opposite. They are triggered by petting aggression, fear, anxiety, or defensive behavior when the cat feels subdued.
These painful bites are typically accompanied by clawing, hissing, and purring. Aggression bites are usually vigorous and the acting cat can easily break into your skin with their teeth.
If your cat bruises you to the extent of drawing blood, make sure to wash the affected area and go to the clinic for wound care and further treatment.
One sure way to differentiate between bites from love and those due to aggression is by observing your cat’s body language.
If your cat appears tensed with dilated pupils, twitched tail, and puffed-out fur, then they are in a ‘fight or flight mode’ and the bites are definitely born out of aggression.
On the other hand, love bites are usually gentle and painless. Your cat’s body language is also relaxed although sometimes they may appear twitchy at first.
Reasons Why Cats Hug Our Arms and Bite It
So, you’re just seated there with your cat, petting them innocently and they suddenly get their paws out to hug your arm and nibble your skin.
Relax, your pet is not preying on you. There’s something you might have done that makes them go ‘all paws out’ on you.
Here are some of the reasons that explain this behavior:
The major reason why your furry friend may take hold of your hand and bite you is that you may have overstimulated them.
This will mostly come out when you pet them for too long or do so aggressively, or by touching their sensitive areas which get them itchy.
The cat will try to show their discomfort in what you’ve done by grabbing your arm and biting you for a little while.
How does overstimulation come about?
Cats have cutaneous touch receptors all over their hair follicles around the body. These sensitive receptors can register when we touch them, and this is what gives the cat a pleasurable feeling.
The pleasure from these cutaneous receptors can turn into pain when the cat is handled in sensitive areas or is being petted roughly and for a long time.
Once your cat feels the pinch of this action, they become ‘overstimulated’ and proceed to act in an effort to calm their irritation.
Overstimulation varies in all cats based on how they tolerate petting and handling in different body parts.
2. Fear and anxiety
In some cases, your cat may hug and bite your arm as a result of being fearful and anxious. This is a defense mechanism showing that the furbaby is trying hard to protect themselves or cover up their territories.
Aggression bites from cats may be a result of your fault in most cases. Yes, you must have done something that provoked the cat to attack your arm.
For example, cats may get physical when you touch them in sensitive areas such as the tail and paws.
They may also get mad at you for punishing them, and as a result, they may bite you to counter your attack.
3. You have annoyed them
We’re still back to you! Your cat may attack your hand and give you a few bites if they feel like you have annoyed them in one way or the other.
You might be late in feeding them and they’re just reminding you how sad and messy it can get.
Other actions that may frustrate your feline are if you are not providing them with the toy they want or if they just feel that you have invaded their privacy.
4. They are exploring
Kittens may be prone to this behavior when they are trying to explore and learn more about their new environment.
They are still learning how to play and figuring out what makes them happy and a load of other things.
If you have a teething kitten, then they will most likely bite on your arms to try and soothe the pain in their gums.
Knowing When to Pull Your Hand Away
In other words, how long should you let your furry friend hug and nibble your arms? As long as it feels safe.
If your cat is exhibiting this behavior while happy, it’s okay to let them vent out their energy on you for some time before cooling down.
But if your cat is hugging your arms too tight and aggressively biting it, then you should drive your arms away from them to avoid getting hurt.
Aggression bites are often accompanied by high-pitched puffing and hissing and so it is much possible to tell when your cat is fed up!
If your cat can’t seem to leave you alone, you can leave the room and let them have their private space to cool down.
Maybe they’re just protesting your invasion of their territory.
Cats can be very good at reading our body language. You should not do anything that proves to them that you’re threatening them.
You should never punish your cat for hugging and biting your arm. Instead, you can use positive reinforcement methods to calm them down.
Negative reactions such as spraying, scuffing, and frightening the cat will only make the situation worse and will certainly not solve the underlying problem.
Approaches To Prevent Bites
1. Know your cat
Taking time to study your cat’s behavior and body language is one of the main ways you can prevent future confrontations with them.
Some cats will take a much shorter time to get overstimulated while petting them and others will take longer.
We also have cats who rarely reach this stage. You can pet them for quite some time and they will not react back.
You should look out for the warning signs of discomfort, such as tail-twitching, when petting your cat, and discontinue the session if you spot one.
2. Pet your cat in the right places
When stroking and petting your cat, it’s important that you do so mindfully and gently while avoiding the sensitive areas of your cat.
When petting your furry friend, you should also know when to stop. It is always a good idea to leave your cat wanting more from you.
Don’t let them get too much of your contact to the extent they become aggressive towards you.
Learn to keep the petting sessions brief and pause a little to observe your cat’s reactions and interest in your touches.
3. Avoid provoking your cat
Cats will also bite you aggressively when they have had enough and can’t take it anymore. It is therefore safe for you to avoid provoking them into unwanted behaviors that may hurt you and make them clingy.
Failing to give your cat the attention they need, punishing, and scolding them are some of the actions we speak against.
4. Play with your cat
Set some time each day to engage your cat during playtime. This provides the opportune moment for them to get both mental & physical stimulation and release pent-up energy.
If you don’t drain your cat’s excess energy in various ways such as hunting & chasing, then they will probably find their own way of releasing the energy.
5. Act like you’re hurt
When your cat bites your hand, you can act like you’re hurt and show some level of discomfort.
This will teach them that such actions may inflict pain on you and make you wounded, hence toning down their attacks.
Why Do Cats Grab Your Arm and Bite and Kick?
To complement the reasons we already looked at, cats are natural predators with an instinctive desire to hunt down their prey.
They may therefore attack your arm, bite, and throw a few kicks in anticipation to mimic natural hunting.
They see your arm as moving prey and then pounce on it to attack and bite. This behavior can be normal to cats, and so long as it is not born out of aggression, you may join the session.
On the question ‘Why does my cat hug my arm and bite me’ we have seen that there can be many reasons but overstimulation is the main one.
You can prevent yourself from getting hurt by slowly taking your arm away and redirecting your furry friend to a favorable place to play.
Remember you need to understand your cat and know how to pet them correctly without getting them itching up.
Pay attention to your cat’s tolerance to touches and learn the basic feline body language to know when they’re saying ‘no’.
If your cat’s behavior is getting out of hand, you can ask a cat behaviorist to help you in working out a formula to help your feline friend.
Laura is the founder of Furs'n'Paws. She is a also a pet writer and expert with more than 20 years of experience of working with dogs and cats. She developed a very strong love for animals at a young age. Her passion led her to establish a thriving pet sitting and dog walking business in Dubai. As an expert in pet training, behavior, and nutrition, Laura is committed to helping pet owners and pet lovers by offering high-quality information on a wide range of topics.