Written by Logan Michael in Cat Behavior last updated August 2022\r\n\r\nBetterWithCats.net may earn a small commission when you use one of the links on this page to purchase.\r\n\r\n\r\nHere\u2019s the scenario: You\u2019re hanging out with Dr. Tuna (that\u2019s your cat's name obviously) and you\u2019re gently scratching his cheek. Which he LOVES by the way. Then Dr. Tuna decides to start licking your hand ever so slightly.\r\n\r\nYou think, \u201cWell, his tongue is a bit rough but he seems to be saying thanks for all the petting. I\u2019ll allow it.\u201d\r\n\r\nNot a second later, Dr. Tuna is chomping down! Not super hard but it\u2019s not exactly gentle either.\r\n\r\nOuch! What the heck, Dr. Tuna?!\r\n\r\nEver wondered why your cat licks then bites you?\r\n\r\nYou're in the right place. I set out to get the answer and do my best to solve this feline mystery!\u00a0We're going to dive deep into every possible scenario along with the context clue you need to look for to figure out what explanation makes the most sense.\r\n\r\nBut if you're just looking for a quick answer as to why cats lick and bite then here it is:\r\n\r\nCats that lick and bite are most likely showing affection in the form of a love bite. This is especially likely if you're just relaxing and not actively petting your cat. However, it could also be a sign of an overstimulated cat or just grooming behavior.\u00a0\r\n\r\nLet\u2019s get started!\r\nWhat Can We Really Know About Cat Behavior?\r\nFirst off, it\u2019s important to realize the sad fact that we can't have a conversation with your cat... or any cat. That means we\u2019re making educated guesses on why cats do certain things and we really need to rely on the context (aka what else was going on) to learn more about the behavior.\r\n\r\nThat's why we're going to lay out three possible reasons why your cat may lick then bite you while giving you plenty of context cues to look for so you can figure out which one makes the most sense.\r\n\r\nWhen it comes to understanding cat behavior, context is extremely important!\r\nScenario #1: Lick Then Bite Without Any Petting\r\nHere\u2019s what it looks like: You\u2019re sitting on the couch doing your thing and then kitty calmly approaches, licks one or two times, and gives you a little bite. You weren\u2019t petting her at all and your cat seems completely calm and relaxed throughout the licking and biting.\r\n\r\nThe Biggest Factors To Look For: A happy, calm, relaxed cat that isn't being pet before the lick and bite.\r\nYou May Be Dealing With A Love Bite\r\nIn this scenario, your cat is probably sharing a little love bite that\u2019s preceded by a lick.\r\n\r\nBut what exactly are love bites?\r\n\r\nAccording to Dr. Karen Becker, a little nip is a completely normal way of saying they love you and a common sign of affection but unfortunately \u201cyour cat doesn\u2019t understand her love bites aren't always pleasant for you.\u201d\r\n\r\nThese kind of cat bites are actually a normal part of how cats (but especially kittens) interact with each other. Dr. Becker goes on to explain that \u201c kitties nip each other affectionately, and their skin is tougher than ours.\u201d So it's kind of like kitty kisses!\r\n\r\nJust a couple of kittens saying hello!\r\n\r\nI can confirm firsthand that my cat Debbie is a big fan of love bites.\r\n\r\nUnfortunately, her favorite spot to go for is my nose!\r\n\r\nI'll be sitting in bed, reading a book, and winding down for the day. Debbie will stroll up, let out a little chirp, and ever so slowly give my nose a bite.\r\n\r\nNot only does it make me a little self-conscious about my nose, but it also doesn't feel that great. But I\u2019m not sure which of us is weirder...my cat for biting my nose or me for letting it happen more than once!\r\n\r\n(Okay, it\u2019s happened a lot.)\r\nOr Your Cat Could Be Grooming You\r\nOthers argue that the licks and bites that occur outside of petting are part of the grooming process for cats and they\u2019re just giving you a good cleaning.\r\n\r\nWell, it\u2019s really not much of cleaning so maybe we should think of it like a not so subtle hint.\r\n\r\nSo does this grooming theory hold weight?\r\n\r\nCats do occasionally bite during the grooming process. Usually, it happens when they can\u2019t quite get something off their fur or they need to really scratch an itch. If you watch enough cats groom themselves or each other, you\u2019ll eventually see that it's not unusual for them to mix in a little nibble.\r\n\r\nI've actually got a story for this one, too. I had a foster cat named Stormy that made it her mission to lick my wet hair after a shower. This always started as licks but then eventually ended in a bite or two.\r\n\r\nThat being said, I\u2019m starting to get worried about what this article is saying about me.\r\n\r\nBut back to the grooming explanation for the lick\/bite combo...\r\n\r\nI believe the cat love bites are more likely unless your cat is obviously trying to groom you. If your cat licks you more than a few times then it\u2019s possible she\u2019s trying to give you a grooming but if it\u2019s just one lick followed by a bite it\u2019s probably a love bite.\r\nScenario #2: Your Cat Is Happy But Overstimulated\r\nHere\u2019s what it looks like: You\u2019re giving your cat a good petting. Maybe you\u2019re petting her quickly or just focusing on one spot a little too long. Or maybe you like to live dangerously and you've gone for a belly rub. Either way, she leans in, gives your finger a lick or two, and then a nice chomp!\r\n\r\nThe Biggest Factors To Look For: What kind of body language are you seeing from your cat? Does she look loose and comfortable?\r\n\r\nIf you\u2019re not sure what to look for, Dr. Sophia Yin has an excellent poster showing you what to look for.\u00a0\r\nWhat Is Overstimulation?\r\nYour cat may be experiencing something called overstimulation or sometimes called petting-induced aggression. Overstimulation occurs when the pets you\u2019re giving your cat go from pleasant and enjoyable to suddenly uncomfortable or frustrating.\r\n\r\nWhy do cats get overstimulated?\r\n\r\nWhile we can't give a completely scientific explanation we know that cats are sensitive creatures with a clear threshold for when affection isn't anymore.\r\n\r\nI try to think of it like being ticklish. Sometimes someone could massage or rub your back and it might feel nice. But then they hit just the right spot near your ribs and suddenly you\u2019re being tickled!\r\n\r\nI know it\u2019s a bit of a stretch (and anthropomorphizing animals isn\u2019t a great habit to get in to) but I do think it's still a useful way to think about overstimulation in cats. And I think it's a better explanation than simply saying that your cat has mood swings!\r\n\r\nThe biggest problem is that our cats can't let us know with words that something has become uncomfortable. Eventually, they get frustrated and communicate the only way they can think of...with a little cat bite!\r\n\r\nSo what can you do about overstimulated cats that go from happy and purring to licking and biting?\r\n\r\nYour best option is to stop petting your cat before it happens or avoid areas that tend to lead to overstimulation. Different cats have different thresholds for how long they can be pet or areas that lead to overstimulation so you\u2019ll have to learn what works best for your cat.\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s important to note here that your cat will typically look loose and comfortable before overstimulation occurs but may show more stressful body language before the licking and biting occurs.\r\n\r\nAlways be observant of your cat\u2019s behavior. If your cat already looks tense, stressed or fearful then don\u2019t pet!\r\n\r\nTry to pay attention to what your cat does after the lick and bite combination. If your cat creates distance by running away or hiding under something there\u2019s a good chance they got overstimulated and they're looking for some space. Make sure to give your cat the room they need and consider what happened right before she became overstimulated.\r\n\r\nEventually, you\u2019ll be able to get a feel for the amount of petting your cat can handle and what they can\u2019t.\r\nScenario #3: Your Cat Is Playing With You!\r\nHere\u2019s what it looks like: The tricky part is that playtime can look a lot like overstimulation! You\u2019re petting your cat and then suddenly your cat licks then bites you! The big question is what does your cat do next?\r\n\r\nThe Biggest Factors To Look For: Does your cat take any kind of play postures after the first lick and bite combo or immediately start going after toys? If so, she\u2019s probably just trying to play with you! If instead, your cat tries to run and create space you might be dealing with scenario #2.\r\nHow Your Cat Asks To Play\r\nYour cat just might want to play! Remember, your cat can\u2019t just say, \u201cHey, let\u2019s play!\u201d\r\n\r\nInstead, they have to find a way to let you know when she wants to play.\r\n\r\nWhile grabbing or toy would seem like a perfectly clear signal some of our cats might prefer to be a little more forward and let the chomping do the talking.\r\n\r\nSo how can you tell if the licking and biting combo is actually a request to play?\r\n\r\nYou'll want to pay close attention to what your cat does immediately after!\r\n\r\nIf she stays and still seems interested or sprints little circles around the house, she\u2019s probably ready to play. But if she looks tense or hides it probably scenario number two and she\u2019s ready for a break.\r\n\r\nThis kitten is ready to play!\r\nFrequently Asked Questions\r\nI hope these scenarios helped clear up the great feline licking and biting mystery! But if you're still left with more questions I'm here to help. I've put together some of the most common questions I've gotten about cats that lick and bite.\r\nQ: Why does my cat bite me gently?\r\nGentle biting is a way for your cat to communicate. Most of the time it\u2019s a \u201clove bite\u201d which is one of the many ways your cat may show affection. But it could also be your cat's way of saying they\u2019ve had enough petting.\u00a0You need to pay close attention to your cat's body language to figure out what your cat is trying to say.\r\nQ: Why does my cat lick my other cat and then bite?\r\nIt could be because they\u2019re grooming the other cat, they want to play or they\u2019re feeling frustrated and overstimulated. Check out your cat\u2019s body language which will help you understand exactly what\u2019s going on. There's a good chance your other cat knows exactly what the cat bites mean!\r\nQ: Why does my cat lick then bite me but not my partner?\r\nSomebody is the favorite! Your cat may be licking and biting you as part of a \u201clove bite\u201d, they may be asking you to stop petting them after they\u2019ve had enough or they just want to play! Pay close attention to your cat\u2019s body language and what they do after the bite.\r\nWhat\u2019s Your Experience?\u00a0\r\nHave you gotten the lick then bite combo from your cats? What scenario do you think it is?\r\n\r\nI\u2019d love to hear and hope you have some stories as weird as mine!