It’s a conundrum, for sure. One minute your beloved kitty is over the moon with pleasure as you scratch her favorite spot and the next thing you know you’re left staring at tooth marks on your arm.
You’re not the only one suffering. Many pet owners call this common behavior “Love biting,” but feline behaviorists have given it a more formal name: Petting-induced aggression—and it’s a poorly understood topic.
Typically, a friendly cat seeks out human attention, only to turn on his lavisher of attention once the affection seems to have gone on for too long. Owners describe these cats as changing from friendly to feral “like a light switch.”
Despite the perplexing nature of this uniquely feline way of acting out, a couple of possibilities have been proposed to explain why cats might do this:
- It may be a manifestation of so-called status-induced aggression, in which cats seek to control a situation.
- There may be some neurologically significant negative stimulus associated with being petted at length that affects these cats in particular.
- These cats may be especially subtle at letting humans know when they’re unhappy, so that their change in attitude appears more sudden than it truly is.
Whatever the cause, the good news is that this behavior does not necessarily mean you can’t interact with your cat meaningfully. Your veterinarian can coach you to recognize the very subtle warning signs associated with your cat’s displeasure before it reaches the biting point.