Why Does My Cat Nibble My Fingers? (What It Means)

By Phil / November 26, 2019
Why Does My Cat Nibble My Fingers

Why does my cat nibble my fingers when I’m trying to pet her? Is this something you find yourself asking?

It’s a frustrating cat behavior because no one wants their fingers bitten, gnawed, or licked.

If your cat likes to bite your fingers, it could mean they are showing you affection, a throwback to kittenhood behavior, or a sign of aggression to name just three possible reasons.

By finding out why they feel the need to nibble on your fingers, you can do something to stop and change their behavior.

Here are some of the most common reasons why cats react in this way:

They Want You to Play with Them

Sometimes, cats will do something they know will get your attention because they want to play. This is almost certainly going to be the case if you have a kitten or a playful younger cat.

I know this behavior all too well. My cats are in their senior years now and no longer do this, but they both did when they were kittens.

How to change this behavior:

You don’t have to give in to their demands as and when they want to play. If you can honestly say you’re giving your cat enough attention and playtime, or you’re too busy, you can say “no”.

Just put them down and walk away. This makes it clear that biting is not on, and it’s not going to get them what they want. If you don’t have some toys or kitty furniture to help keep them amused by themselves,  you should consider it.

Struggling to keep up with an energetic kitten? Check out how to calm down a kitten when they’re hyper.

They Are Being Over-Stimulated (Too Much Petting)

Cats Bite When They Are Being Over-Stimulated

There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. I know how enjoyable it is petting and fussing a cat, but we have to remember that they might not want to be petted.

Cats also have a tolerance for how much stimulation they can take, and a bite is a warning that you’ve overdone it.

How to change this behavior:

There are two sides to changing or avoiding a nibble from over-stimulation. One is to recognize when your cat is reaching that point. The other is to make them aware that they can’t react by biting.

The kinds of signs to look out for that your cat is reaching the point of being annoyed are:

  • A twitching of flicking of their tail
  • Ears flattening or pointing backward
  • Growling noises
  • Wide-open eyes staring at your or your hand that’s petting them

If you see any of these signs or any other signs that your cat is getting restless, stop petting them immediately. I always talk to my cats, so I’d speak to them in a soft voice to reassure them too.

If they do bite your hand or fingers, a firm “No” and placing them on the floor or away from you will get the message across.

It’s a Show of Affection – a Love Bite

Cats have a wide range of ways they communicate with us. They vocalize their feelings with meows, purrs, and trills. As well as nudging us, staring and blinking, weave between our legs, and even have a nip to get their point across.

Some cats will bite or nibble as a show of affection. You can group this with purring, rolling around in joy, and slow blinking. It’s just a little more painful than those other signs of affection.

So, it’s probably the most welcome reason why your cat took a nibble – but you may want to stop them.

How to change this behavior:

You want to tread the line between letting them know that you appreciate signs of affection, but you don’t appreciate being bitten.

I managed to stop one of my cats doing this by saying “Ouch” and moving my hand away. Then petting her without letting her nibble me again. I know this worked after a while because she stopped doing it with me – but did it with my wife.

They like the Taste of Your Fingers

You can never rule out a cat being led by their sense of taste. I don’t know if you want to take this as a compliment or not, but there’s a good chance they just can’t resist the taste. This might just be your natural scent, or maybe you always prepare food before sitting with your cat?

You might be able to find a connection between something you handle and your cat taking a nip. Either way, if this is the cause it’s pretty simple to stop.

How to change this behavior:

Give your hands a good scrub before petting kitty and see if this makes a difference. If so, you know it was the reason. Remember, cats have a very powerful and sensitive sense of smell, so don’t use strong-smelling soap.

They Need Something to Gnaw on (Teething?)

Teething Cats Need Something to Gnaw on

Cats need to gnaw on things, just like dogs do. If you have a kitten and they’re teething, they’ll feel the need to gnaw on something. If your finger happens to be the most accessible thing at that time, that’s what they’ll use.

Older cats like to chew on certain materials too. It might be a compulsive behavior (explained in more detail below), or something that feels nice or fun for them. Whatever the reason, you don’t want your finger to become their chewing toy.

How to change this behavior:

There are toys specifically designed to be used by cats needing to chew on something. Here’s one you can pick up on Amazon very similar to what I used a few years ago that became a chewing companion for one of my kitties.

Don’t let your cat chew on your hands and fingers. Vocalize it hurts and give them a chew toy instead.

They’re Stressed or Anxious

No one wants a stressed kitty, but it can easily happen. Some cats will get stressed by changes to their daily routines. Such as a new arrival to the home, different food, a trip to the vets, and so on.

It’s worth exploring this as an option if you can rule out the other reasons I’ve listed. As stress is bad for a cat’s health in the long-term.

Cats.org list some of the signs that a cat is stressed. Is your cat exhibiting any of the following signs?:

  • Being more withdrawn than usual
  • Becoming less tolerant of people
  • Acting lethargic
  • Eating and drinking more or less than usual
  • Behavioral issues

As you can see, lashing out and biting or nibbling could be a sign of stress. If your cat is stressed and has become less tolerant of petting or irritable this could be the reason.

How to change this behavior:

Every cat is different and will be affected in different ways to be stressed. It’s a potentially serious health concern that might not improve without seeking the advice of your vet. I’d take them in for a general check-up if you have any concerns.

It Might Be a Compulsive Behavior

Cats can develop compulsive behaviors, just as we can. A compulsive disorder is categorized as;

any abnormal or recurring actions that are out of context with the situation.

Nibbling on fingers falls under this description. As does excessive grooming, chasing their own tail, and chewing on certain materials – cats love chewing plastic and wool in particular.

How to change this behavior:

Compulsive behaviors can be worsened if you allow or encourage them. Which is why it’s important you say “No” and make it very clear to your kitty that they can’t bite your fingers.

Stopping them and redirecting their behavior will get the point across. It helps if you stimulate them more other areas, such as more playtime or toys and furniture to explore. A lot of cats form compulsive behaviors when they are bored, so keep that in mind.

Related Questions:

Why Does My Cat Bite My Fingers When I Pet Him

Why Does My Cat Bite My Fingers When I Pet Him?

If your cat is biting your fingers when you pet them, it’s likely down to one or more of the reasons I’ve listed in this article.

Nibbling, chewing, licking, and biting your hand or fingers are all one and the same thing for the most part. Just be mindful of what you’re doing when it happens, where you’re petting them, how long for, and so on. You’ll find a connection.

Why Does My Cat Bite My Fingernails?

This was a question I was sent some time ago but never got around to answering. A reader said she has long acrylic nails and her cat loves trying to bite them.

It depends how long the nails are, but it’s really no surprise. If you have a playful cat, long fingernails are going to be fun to chase and bite. There are loads of cat toys that are gloves with long fingernails like this one on Amazon;

If you have really long nails, your hand is basically a live cat toy. Wave them in front of a kitty with caution!

Does Your Cat Nibble Your Fingers? What Did You Do?

I’ve seen this topic come up in discussions loads of times, it’s a pretty common cat behavior.

Does your cat nibble on your fingers when you’re petting or playing with them? Did you identify what was triggering this behavior and find a way to stop them?

I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to drop your story below and share your experiences with others. Thanks.

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