Why Do Cats Nibble?

He'll nibble your fingertips as his way of telling you he loves you.
He'll nibble your fingertips as his way of telling you he loves you. (Image: Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images)

While you're reading through the morning paper, Jasper prances on over and starts nibbling on your hand. Cats nibble for all kinds of reasons, ranging from showing happy emotions to telling you to go away. No matter the cause of his gentle bites, it shouldn’t be painful for you. If it is, you’ll need to direct his attention towards something else to chomp on.

Showing Affection

Think of nibbling as feline kissing. Jasper doesn’t have a way to pucker up and plant one on you, so he nibbles you instead. He’s just showing you how much he adores you and wants you to know how happy you make him. Scratch him under the chin and let him know that you love him just as much.

Cleaning You

You do a lot with your hands all day. Between working, cleaning up the house and of course eating, Jasper feels he needs to clean you off. He’ll nibble and lick your hand to remove any debris. In his perfect world, he’ll even get a morsel of that sandwich you just finished, making his nibbling extra rewarding.

Marking You

Jasper’s nibbling is a way to secretly mark you as his territory. Cats have scent glands right in their cheeks. While he’s nibbling your skin and nuzzling his face up against you, he’s covering you with his personal aroma. You can’t smell it, but if any other kitties cross your path when you venture outside, they’ll know that you’re already spoken for by another feline.

Getting Agitated

If Jasper starts nibbling on your hand while petting him for a long period of time, he could be giving you a warning sign. Even though he still wants to sit next to you, he doesn’t want you to touch him anymore. He’ll gently bite you to give you a warning that he’s content for the time being. Back off before he becomes even more agitated -- he’ll press his ears back towards his head and flick his tail from side to side when he wants you to stop. Otherwise, he could bite you harder or swat at you with his claws until you get the point.

Playing Rough

Watch Jasper the next time he rough houses with Jinx. They’ll roll around in a ball, bat each other in the face and bite each other around the scruff of the neck. It may seem like they’re fighting, but they’re just wrestling. Jinx will let out a yelp if Jasper starts getting too rough. Jasper could display the same sort of behavior with you. While you’re walking past, he’ll jump on your feet and nip at your ankles as a way to play with you. Because his nibbling can be painful and catch you off guard, you’ll want to discourage this sort of biting. Let out a loud “no” or “hey” sound to startle him. He may not realize he’s hurting you. If his annoying habit continues, keep a stash of fuzzy mice and balls around the house so you have them to toss across the room when he wants to play.

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