You have settled into your favourite armchair, perhaps reading the final chapters of a gripping novel. Suddenly you are aware of the imploring stare of your cat sitting at your feet. You invite her onto your lap. Gently you begin to stroke her and your cat signals her appreciation with an audible purr.
One hand holding your book the other hand continuing to pet your mouser, you again get lost in your novel. All is well in the world with you and with your cat.
Suddenly your cat bites your hand!
Why did kitty do that? Why did she bite the hand that strokes her?
The experts don't agree on exactly why it is that some cats enjoy being petted, but end up biting. One thing that they do agree on is that when kitty bites at you, it's a sure sign that she has decided that she's had enough stroking.
Cats differ in the amount of petting they will accept, and not all cats respond by biting when they have had enough. Some cats simply jump from your lap and saunter off to investigate interests anew. But many cats will nip you and your animal is one of them.
Could you have known that a bite was on its way? Yes, there are often signs that cats give before biting. And, if you had not been so wrapped up in reading your novel, you may have paid heed to your little pets warning.
If kitty's tail begins to twitch, in a rolling flick, watch out! She's getting ready to chomp at your hand.
If your cats ears start turning towards the back of her head, or flatten against her head, that's a warning a bite is coming.
If your cat suddenly becomes restless, or stiffens and stares at your hand, she could be about to nip you.
If you noticed any of these signals, simply stop stroking your cat. Your pet will either stay on your lap or jump down and walk off, whichever happens you don't get bitten.
What you should not do is punish your cat for biting your hand. That simply does not work. Cats are more likely to identify the punishment with you rather than with their bad cat behaviour. If you miss a warning sign and kitty manages to get her jaws around your hand, try to resist the temptation to pull your hand away or push your cat away. Simply freeze. Chances are that your cat will not sink her teeth in, she has got her message across, and you have stopped petting her.
If you try and push your cat away it is likely that she will fight with your hand resulting in skin punctures for you. (An animal bite can become infected quite easily, if your cat does draw blood clean up the wound scrupulously and seek the advice of your doctor.)
Why do some cats behave in this aggressive way? The degree of tolerance to petting may be genetic, or it may be learned behaviour. If when your cat was a kitten you allowed her to chew on your hand in play, she learned that biting human hands was an OK thing to do. So, when she feels that she has had enough stroking (she's the boss remember,) she will bite at your hand to let you know - if you ignore her warning signals.
Some experts recommend the use of healthy titbits, as a reward, in order to increase the time your cat will tolerate stroking. At the first warning signal offer kitty a treat, continue to stroke your cat gently for a time and offer her another reward. It is said that your cat will learn to connect petting with the titbits and may, with patience, allow you to pet her for longer periods.