A little nibble from your kitty here and there is usually pretty harmless. We chalk it up to them playing or showing affection. But when it comes to feet in bed, some cats tend to bite hard and relentlessly. After speaking to vets and pet experts, we learned that there are a few specific reasons your pet attacks your feet—and some ways to mitigate the issue so you can get a good night's sleep. If your toes have fallen victim to this strange behavior, read on for helpful information. And don't worry, none of the causes are that your cat wants to hurt you!
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They might be teething.
More often than not, it's young kittens who bite toes, and they'll often grow out of it when they're done teething. "Cats usually start teething around six months old, but this can vary depending on the breed and age of your cat. Kittens tend to be more aggressive about biting because their teeth are growing in at this time, and they do not know how else to communicate what they need," explains Melissa M. Brock, a board-certified veterinarian and an author at Pango Pets.
Once your kitten has become more comfortable with other forms of communication, such as meowing or purring, the biting is likely to stop.
Or they think your feet are toys.
First off, the foot of the bed is perhaps the most common place cats like to sleep. And what's right next to their face? Your feet, which are probably not staying fully still.
"Your toes are wiggly and they stick out, making them very amusing for their feline instincts," notes Jacquelyn Kennedy, founder and CEO of PetDT. Your instinct is to move your feet away when they get bit, which only makes it more fun for your cat to chase them.
But they could be "hunting."
There's also a chance your cat's animal instincts are kicking into gear when they're around your feet. "Toes moving under the covers could be easily misinterpreted as being a mouse and wiggling fingers could seem like a small prey animal to the cat. In a lot of situations where cats are silently ambushing their owners, the owners are inadvertently acting in a way similar to how prey may act: freezing in fear, dashing away, or running in response to the cat," explains Joey Lusvardi, a cat behavior consultant who runs Class Act Cats. He recommends ensuring cats have toys and games that mimic this "hunting" action.
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It's possible they just want your attention.
Cats are smarter than we sometimes realize, and they likely know that biting your toes will wake you up. It could be that they want to play with you or that they're hungry. In terms of the latter, "one of cats' active periods is dawn—so an early morning toe nibble would not be unexpected," notes Mikel Maria Delgado, PhD, a cat behavior expert with Rover. An automated feeder will definitely help with this.
But it could mean that they love you!
Believe it or not, the habit that you view as annoying could be an act of love. "Biting is an integral part of a cat's life, even from an early age. When mother cats bathe their babies, it often involves light nipping. Cats learn to associate these behaviors with showing affection," explains Taher Shaban, co-founder of NeuroDogLux.
No matter how sweet the intention, however. this is a habit that can really prove troublesome. Thankfully, there are way to prevent it.
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Tire them out before bed.
One way to get your kitty to stop biting your toes in bed is to try to tire them out. "Try playing with your cat before going to bed in order to work off some of that excess energy," says Gary Richter, MS, DVM, CVC, CVA, a veterinary health expert with Rover.
But never play with your cat with your own hands or feet; this will only reinforce the behavior. "Instead, always use interactive wand toys and appropriate solo toys (e.g., fuzzy mice or ping pong balls) so your cat learns to bite and play with toys, not toes," says Delgado.
If you think the issue is less about playing and more about wanting your attention, Richter suggests spending some quality one-on-one time with your pet in the evening, "such as a brushing session or just some focused petting."
You can also try some mild discipline.
Even kittens have sharp teeth, so if the biting is turning painful or you truly cannot get to sleep, consider some mild discipline. "A loud noise such as a clap or even a short blow of breath into their face can also be extremely effective deterrents in biting behavior," says Richter.
If you'd prefer taking an even more passive approach, Kennedy says to simply ignore your cat as much as possible when they're biting. Sometimes, getting a reaction is half the fun for them!
And, of course, you could always close the bedroom door. But you do then run the risk of your kitty being scared or lonely and scratching at the door.
Using a water spray bottle is a common way to train cats, but Lusvardi advises against it. "Squirt bottles are an awful behavior modification tool as they don't actually address the underlying problem and may make your cat develop a fearful association with you," he says. "That can lead to worse, more serious biting!" Instead, he suggests you try redirecting their attention to a toy.
There's one more change you can make to keep your toes safe.
If nothing else works, you can wear socks to bed until (hopefully!) your kitty outgrows this behavior or learns not to do it. Also, make sure your feet stay under the covers and opt for a thick quilt. But keep in mind that your cat may still bite your toes through the blanket, so be sure the comforter is one that you don't mind getting scratched and torn.
If you feel that the behavior is more deeply rooted than what's been discussed here, it could be that your cat is dealing with stress or anxiety, and it's important to make a vet appointment as soon as possible.