Sweet Pea

Dear Tabby,

My darling rescue cat, Sweet Pea, is so sweet and affectionate but she BITES!! I don’t know if it’s from affection or annoyance, but I can’t stop her. She’s even drawn blood!
She knows she shouldn’t do it so she bites-and-runs before I can reprimand her. Can you help me, please?
Val (Sweet Pea’s person)

Dear Desperate in Portland,
Cat bites are no fun. They are painful and are prone to infection. A cat’s mouth contains a plethora of germs including the pasteurella multocide bacteria which is very good at overcoming our immune systems. This is why cat bites that break the skin commonly cause localized swelling, cat scratch fever, swollen lymph nodes, and fever. Antibiotics such as doxycycline and Amoxicillin are often necessary to clear infections. So aside from pain caused by cat bites, cat bites can cause health issues and they should definitely be avoided.
Cats bite for a few different reasons. One is of course aggression but it does not sound from your description that Sweet Pea is being aggressive per se. Rather she might be growing overstimulated and biting as a result of overstimulation.
Remember when cell phone plans used to come with a maximum number of minutes? Cats are like those cell phone plans, some come with a maximum number of minutes and when those minutes run out, cats can lash out. Think of two cats cuddling and grooming each other on the couch. Cuddle sessions between well bonded cats commonly end in one cat swatting, nipping, or otherwise warning the other one that the cuddle session is over.
While physicality can be appropriate communication between cats, it is not appropriate for cats to communicate with humans this way. Still, it is natural for them and they will use the tools at their disposal to communicate, even if that means biting. The reason cats have minutes is they have fairly short attention spans and are prone to overstimulation.
If you are on the couch and calmly petting Sweet Pea and Sweet Pea seemingly unprovoked bites you and runs away, then overstimulation is likely the reason for Sweet Pea’s biting. Sweet Pea’s ability to handle the stimulation of attention may be shorter than your ability to give attention. It’s possible that Sweet Pea prefers fairly short petting sessions and enjoys just being near you or on your lap, but she doesn’t necessarily find extended petting sessions an enjoyable activity.
My cat Peanut loved being on my lap and loved being on the laps of guests when friends would visit. But Peanut always came with a disclaimer – don’t pet the cat. Peanut wanted total control. She wanted to sniff you, dance around your ankles, and even sit on your lap, but sustained petting would inevitably result in Peanut biting. She presented as eager and wanting pets but then at some point during the petting session, she would bite and run away. It can feel impossible to not pet a cat on your lap, but perhaps that is exactly what Sweet Pea wants.
Tell Sweet Pea we said hello!

Meowly, Tabby

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