My Cat Bites Me When I Sleep
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A common issue for many cat guardians is the risk of being disturbed while we sleep. Especially if we want to let our cats have free reign of the home, it is fairly common for our feline to wake us when we sleep. Many cats can be active throughout the night and, even if they have good intentions, they can enter the bedroom to seek attention. However, if we have a good relationship with the cat, it can seem very disconcerting if they bite us when sleeping.
At AnimalWised, we look at what happens when my cat bites me when I sleep. We understand the reasons behind this behavior, what it can mean for the cat's well-being and what we need to do to stop it. This way both cat and guardian can earn a good night's sleep.
Why does my cat bite me when I sleep?
Although it is widely believed that cats are nocturnal animals, this is not entirely true. They are predominantly crepuscular, meaning they are most active during twilight hours, i.e. around dawn and dusk. However, there are other factors which will influence their periods of activity and it is common for them to be awake at any time of night.
For wild felines, as well as for feral cats, dawn and dusk are the times most conducive to carrying out daily activities. These times are particularly beneficial to carry out feline hunting behaviors as a cat's sight is very acute in low-light, giving them an added advantage over potential prey.
However, domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus) have undergone a long process of adaptation to the habits and behavior patterns of humans, including their predatory nature. This makes them the most twilight felines on Earth. That is why you will see how your kitten avoids wasting energy during the warmer and brighter periods, becoming more energetic and predisposed to play before sunrise and after sunset.
While this might explain why cats are alert and awake when we are sleeping, it doesn't necessarily explain why they bite us in our sleep. For this, we need to understand what a cat is trying to say when they bite us.
Biting is part of play behavior
As we have stated above, it is perfectly natural for a cat to be more active during periods of little sunlight. This includes the early hours when human guardians are often asleep, although there are many exceptions. It is also important to understand how a cat likes to play. Most of a cat's play behavior is related to their hunting instinct. We can see this with the toys they play with and how they like to chase any object which piques their interest.
If your cat bites you when you sleep, we should know it is often to do with this game behavior. As with other objects the cat may come across, they will often test whether or not we are something they can play with. Cats don't have hands like us, so they will often use their mouth as a means to investigate something.
Although it may seem strange that our cat thinks of us as a play thing, we should consider their perspective when we are asleep. When lying down, our feet and elbows under the covers might seem like a scurrying rodent. Our hair covering our face can make our head seem like some mammal emerging from the sheets. Or, once the cat gets used to us being asleep, they simply want our attention and biting us is an effective way of doing so.
Lack of environmental enrichment
This can occur more frequently when cats do not have an environment enriched with toys, sensory stimuli and other accessories. These can include scratchers or platforms, objects designed to entertain cats when they are on their own.
When they don't have enough stimuli to keep them entertained, cats tend to turn to other household objects or even their own guardians to find some engagement. They may bite us in our sleep because it is the most entertaining thing they can do to relieve their boredom. Below we will discuss further how environmental enrichment for cats can help balance their behavior.
If your cat bites you when you sleep and you notice they are generally restless at night, is it a new behavior? Anything our of the ordinary should be taken into consideration. A cat might have a health problem which makes it difficult for them to sleep. They may even be in pain. When this happens, they might want to get your attention and bite you in order to do so.
Similarly, certain diseases can negatively impact their behavior. This is the case with neurological disorders or endocrine problems which can lead to stress in the cat. They can even lead to aggressiveness which could be the specific reason for their biting us when we sleep. If you notice your cat has any sudden change in behavior or habits, you should take them to a veterinarian for assessment.
One endocrine problem which can affect a cat's behavior is hyperthyroidism. Find more about this issue with this article on the symptoms of hyperthyroidism in cats.
Can we scold cats for biting us when we sleep?
As we have been saying, it is completely natural for cats to have different activity patterns and circadian rhythms than people. When we make the decision to adopt a cat, we must be aware that this means learning to live with a different species and the responsibility this entails. They are individuals with their own needs and instincts.
If we scold a cat for simply being a cat, it will lead to serious problems. When the cat acts out in a way we do not like, scolding them is a form of negative reinforcement and it won't help the cat. In fact, it will likely be counterproductive and cause even more behavioral problems. Instead of scolding a cat, we need to educate them.
There is a myth about cats that they cannot be trained. While they won't be as subservient as their canine counterparts, cats will respond well to education. This doesn't mean making them do things they won't want to do, but it will mean helping them to learn boundaries in a way which gives them the benefit.
It is always best to invest time and effort into educating your cat. The results will be a safer situation with a stronger bond. In this article, we explain further why yelling at your cat won't do either of you any good.
How to prevent my cat from biting me when I sleep
If you want your cat do stop doing something you don't like, education is your best option. You will need to redirect their behavior and use positive reinforcement to do so. However, there are some practical tips which can help prevent a cat from biting you at any time.
Set boundaries for playtime
When your cat is still a kitten, it is very common for us to unintentionally reinforce the wrong behavior. For example, if you allow your cat to climb on the furniture when they are a kitten, they will internalize that this is OK and will likely continue to do so when they are an adult.
Similarly, if we let our cats or kittens play with our hands, feet or any other body part, they will take this as authorization to do it whenever they like. When they become an adult, they won't see biting you when you sleep as something inappropriate. Although it can seem harmless at the time, you should set out boundaries as early as you can.
Educate them from a young age
You should not forget that cats, like all species, require a routine to feel more comfortable and secure. They want to avoid exposing themselves to unnecessary risks. Therefore, the best time to teach them how to behave properly at home is during their childhood, since in the early stages of their physical and mental development kittens have a more flexible character and are still assimilating the codes of their social behavior.
Therefore, if you indicate that it is not appropriate to bite you or other people during this stage, and also offer the most appropriate toys so they can exercise their hunting instinct, you will most likely not have to deal with this habit.
Enrich their environment
Since environmental enrichment is so important to keep cats stimulated, you will likely see improvement in their behaviors if we improve their environment. A cat with lots to stimulate them and keep them distracted, will be less likely to seek distraction from you.
However, when we say we want to provide environmental enrichment for the cat, we need to be aware each cat is an individual. Some cats will be happy with having toys lying around, others will need more stimulation. In fact, some cats may need company. This can mean bringing a new cat into the home, but we need to be sure they are a cat who will appreciate having another around. Some cats may behave even worse in this scenario.
Close the door
Finally, if you want to stop your cat biting you when you are asleep, the most practical solution is to close the bedroom door. If you cat can't get in to reach you, they can't bite you. However, some cats may meow very loudly, scratch the door and try to get in. In these cases, you should seek the help of a feline ethologist who can assess their situation and find some practical ways to stop this behavior.
If you want to read similar articles to My Cat Bites Me When I Sleep, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.