Why Does My Cat Bite?

by Danielle F
(San Diego, CA)

Female Maine Coon ~ won't let me groom her and can be aggressive



"Why Does My Cat Bite?" - I have a 18 month old female Maine Coon that I got from a breeder.

I've had a male Maine Coon in the past and know they are social, lovable and friendly. Gemma is not.

She is a full time indoor cat due to coyotes. I always had a cat that was indoor/outdoor so Gemma is my first to be indoors all the time.

The only time I can try and groom her is by giving her treats and that lasts maybe 2 minutes. She will let me pet her to a certain extent and come by for rubs, but if I try and pet her and she doesn't want it, I stop and walk away.

Gemma will sometimes proceed and attack my leg with a bite and clawing. When she does bite she doesn't draw blood and it doesn't hurt. My husband and I tried clipping her nails and she won't let us do that either.

Today I took her to a groomer and got a call 30 minutes later that they couldn't groom her. The groomer was able to cut her nails and get a couple mats out but once she tried to get one out by her private parts, Gemma was not having it and the groomer could't continue.

Gemma got in super defense mode with her ears back, growling and hissing. I am desperate to get any advice. It's as if she always thinks she has to be in defense mode and I don't understand why.

I saw on this website about a calming diffuser so I bought it and hope that it helps. I also have been trying everything from a claw withdraw spray, tape, foil and treats to not have her scratch the furniture but she continues.

I even bought a huge scratch tower and try and reward her every time she uses it. I am stumped and will do or try anything to calm her down and change her temperament to relax (if thats even possible).

Any help would be greatly appreciated!


Reply:
Hi Danielle,

It sounds like you are really going through it with Gemma! I can tell how much you love her and just want the best for her. Cat biting and aggressive behavior, especially in Maine Coons, is sometimes a little bit of a mystery to solve. I am sorry she doesn't have the affectionate Maine Coon temperament that these cats are bred for, and they you should expect.

It looks like we are looking at three things here. Gemma's behavior is not what you'd refer to as friendly and affectionate, she is scratching furniture, and hates to be groomed. These may be three separate issues.

A few things come to mind. Hopefully we can explore what's going on and give you some more ideas.

First, of course, is ruling out a medical condition. I am sure Gemma is up to date on her vet visits and well taken care of. But in addition to medical advice, your vet can analyze Gemma's body language, listen to your descriptions of behavioral problems, and often put two and two together in a way that cat owners haven't thought of.

Veterinarians have seen it all kinds of behavioral issues! There may be an underlying reason for the unwanted behavior. It could be any number of good reasons, from a urinary tract infection to a painful hidden mat pulling on the skin. Cats are masters at hiding their physical discomfort, but if there are any medical causes, they can show up as unhappy behavior.

18 months is still young! Young cats this age definitely have a lot of spunk. Is there any chance that when she pops out of nowhere and attacks your leg, it may be her version of rough play, or aggressive play? You mention that her cat bites don't draw blood and don't hurt. That's great. Many Coonies do "cat love bites" - this normal behavior is a little nip, which is a type of play.

Is it possible she is doing this type of biting? We've always enjoyed these gentle nibbles as part of frisky playtime. These gentle bites are a cat’s way of saying "I win! But I love you and I won't hurt you." It's a sign of affection and actually a positive behavior!

If it's not a true playful love bite, it could just be her way of saying "I'm done with this petting session, please" - the good news is that she is using gentle biting behavior, making sure not to hurt you.

Gemma is at an age where young adult cats assert their dominance as family members. Even females and 'only cats' may try out for the alpha kitty role in the household. The scratching of furniture can be part of this. Think of it as a teenage rebellious phase.

It's great that you have a good scratching tower and you are going through the process of directing her toward it, using scratching deterrents in other areas, and rewarding her for using her scratcher! You are doing everything right, and I don't see any reason for this consistent cat behavior training to fail. Have faith that in time she'll scratch in the proper place!

I'm glad you are using the pheromone calming diffuser. If she's having anxiety, it should help. I'm also sure she has plenty of interactive toys. Sometimes playing together with a variety of toys is the best way to teach a cat the joys of human interaction. Indoor cats can and do lead very happy lives inside the home. Cat toys and cat furniture provide great mental stimulation.

Based on what you've written, with the exception of hating grooming, it's hard to tell if she's just playing rough or is displaying aggressive cat behavior. You mentioned that when she doesn't want pets, you walk away. Does she display petting-induced aggression or aggressive behavior? Does she give you warning signs such as growling, hissing or a twitching tail?

If she does occasionally come to you for rubs, and likes only a small amount of petting at a time, it sounds like she may just be not as affectionate as one might expect. She may prefer to be around her people, but not necessarily purring on a lap. As someone who loves an affectionate lap cat, I know that may be disappointing.

I am also wondering how long you've had Gemma. If you recently got her from a breeder, that may explain her lack of affection as well. She could be in the middle of a big adjustment. If she is relatively new to you, did she spend a lot of time in a separate area for the female cats in the cattery? She might not be well socialized yet.

The last issue is her hatred of grooming. This is not highly unusual! Many cats, even Maine Coons, detest being brushed, nails trimmed and mats being removed. For whatever reason, whether physical or psychological, they just hate it. It's a good thing you went to a professional groomer.

In some cases, cats have to be creatively restrained for grooming. Other cat parents opt for an occasional lion cut rather than have constant grooming battles. I'm not suggesting that! But, it's not as rare as you may think to have a cat that refuses to be groomed.

It also brings me back to wondering about her socialization situation. When it comes to being held and clipped or groomed, she doesn't sound like she trusts her humans. If she's a newer addition to the family, I hope she comes around in time. If you got her quite young, this may be the way she is when it comes to grooming. You have the right idea with using treats as a positive reinforcement!

It sounds like grooming may never be Gemma's thing, and grooming is her trigger for when she can display aggressive behavior. You are being patient and doing everything right, especially by not forcing the grooming issue, and taking her to a groomer.

I hope in time she comes around when it comes to affection and realizes what a loving home she has! I look forward to reading what others have to say in the comments, as well.

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Jul 25, 2023
Aggressive Coon Cat
by: Candy Martinez in Overton NE, USA

We rescued her when she was baby. We had to bottle feed her. It's just me, our daughter who is 17, and my husband.

We really never have company, but when we do we have to put her in another room because she hisses and tries to bite them.

One day she jumped up on my friend and hissed in her face. I took my hand, said no nicely and she tore my hand up, got aggressive with my hand and I had to go to the dr. I don't understand why she does this.

Oct 04, 2022
Zulu does it too!
by: Melissa Colman

I am so relieved that there is another Maine coon out there that displays some aggressive behavior. I thought I was the only one.

I have a black male Maine Coon and he sometimes attacks my leg but his is violent but its not all the time and I have learned to maintain showing who is Alpha.

However the difference is Zulu is affectionate and loving but definitely not a lap cat which is good because he's pretty big and weighs over 20pds. He is also an indoor cat but, I do allow him to go outside on back patio only and only when I am with him. Never alone. I believe just doing that benefits the aggression in a positive manner. Plus Zulu gets his grass.

Your Gemma is young enough still to start trying that and she will learn in time her boundaries. Zulu is now 5 years old and still carries aggression but it's less and less through the years and always been loving but he carries traits of PTSD symptoms and not too sure why because I've had him since he was 8 wks. Good luck with Gemma. She will be okay. 🦉

Oct 04, 2022
Assistance with Gemma
by: Ramona

ASSISTANCE WITH GEMMA

Gemma’s biting is certainly frustrating and I wish I could help with that other than to advise you to give a firm "NO!" when she bites or scratches, then ignore her.

I got a Purrito (a bag for holding cat safely and without as much fighting) to be used for nail clipping and other chores for which the cat is difficult. It’s a hassle getting them zipped in without a minor struggle, but it’s worth it.
Good luck.

Oct 04, 2022
Biting
by: Wintermittens

After 27 rescue cats and being a old lady now , I bought a purebred Maine coon. And than I bought more and than I brought some in from Russia.

What I found is that the kittens raised in a home and not a cattery were sweet, loving and huggable. The cats raised in a cattery used their claws and teeth when interacting with me. Slowly over time they changed, but they still interact like they would with another cat.

I now have 5 little kittens that are much a joy in my life. They will have to sold, how fortunate I am to have that love.

Oct 04, 2022
Grooming problems
by: Betty

My female Maine Coon girl absolutely hates being groomed — to the point that she starts hissing and growling if she so much as sees the brush or comb in my hand, and it seemed as if I was taking my life in my hands when I tried to groom her. (She’s normally a very sweet and lovable girl, btw.).

I tried seeming everything, and it came down to having to give her gabapentin (via a scrip from our vet) a few hours before a "deep" grooming.

It gets her mellowed out enough that I can do a good combing/grooming session on her. I do this every two weeks, and in between just do a very quick brushing (just a few strokes) every few days.

Oct 04, 2022
grooming and mat removal
by: Anonymous

My female MC recently adopted at 10 yrs old, finally after 9 months
accepts gentle light brushing while she is eating and it's then also that I can feel out a mat and cut it quickly with blunt pointed scissors...
one mat per meal, please.. don't push it!

She's gradually letting me pick her up and give a hug but lets me know right away with a low growl that "time's up". Haven't gotten close to the claws yet but she delicately uses the rug.
My vet suggests Gabapentin to calm..

I too wanted one of those warm and affectionate creatures, but getting used to her other ways of loving.. She's also very smart!

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