I have a good friend who has the kindest soul known to mankind but can turn into a whole different person when hungry. The term used to describe someone with this behavior is called ‘Hangry’ (Hungry + Angry)
The thing is, our dear cats can get hangry too when they are feeling hungry. And unfortunately, cats don’t have the same level of vocalizing as humans do and can communicate their excessive hunger in not-so-favorable ways.
But why do cats bite when hungry? Some cats bite when hungry as a way of communicating their hunger and frustration to their owners. It could also be due to a behavioral issue known as food aggression which makes your cat very possessive of its food. These aren’t good feline behavior and need to be corrected.
In this article, we will be taking a closer look at what’s actually causing your cat to bite when it’s hungry and what you can do to correct this behavior.
Why Is Hunger Such A Strong Motivator?
I would think that many of us have not been through an unfortunate period where food is scarce. For most of us, being hungry is just missing a meal.
For some, the stress of not knowing when the next meal will come can be overpowering. A study conducted by the National Institutes of Health in Marland has shown that hunger in mice is even stronger than thirst or fear.
This shows that hunger is nature’s biggest motivator for both humans and animals as it is required for the survival of every single species.
Our cats might be domesticated but when the feeling of hunger strikes, it can override whatever degree of docility they might have.
Do Cats Get Aggressive When Hungry?
Based on my experience with cats, it depends largely on the personality of the cat. That being said, the potential of many cats being aggressive when hungry is very possible.
As much as we regard our feline companions as family, they are first and foremost an animal without our level of reasoning and communication.
When is it feeding time and your cat isn’t getting its food, the feeling of hunger will start to induce stress and frustration in your cat. And cats that are stressed out are very likely to exhibit aggressive behavior like biting or scratching.
As with other animals, our cats will exhibit certain body language when they are angry:
- Loud meowing
- Puffed-up tail and body fur
- Showing their claws and teeth
If you do notice such body language from your cat, it would be best to leave your cat alone. Further interaction might result in undesirable consequences.
What Kind Of Bite Is It?
I personally have gone through a period of time whereby my cat was being rather aggressive when his meal times got delayed.
It started out with loud meowing and gradually escalated to the point of him trying to leave his teeth mark on my ankles. Thankfully, it happened when he was still young and with some proper training and maturity, it eventually stopped.
Although I don’t condone biting in cats, there are some cats that will gently nibble on their owners when they get hungry. This is what my cat does these days together with his loud wailing.
And honestly, his crying is enough to drive me crazy at times.
I wouldn’t call it a big problem if your cat gently nibs you when it feels hungry. At least your cat is still showing restraint. But if your cat is coming at you with sharp claws and teeth exposed, that is a whole different matter.
If left untreated it can lead to injuries and even result in having to give up the cat to a shelter.
Why Does My Cat Bite Me When I Don’t Feed It?
Cats bite when they are angry, stressed, frustrated or annoyed. And a hangry cat can be feeling all these negative emotions and more.
Many cats tend to act out of primal instincts and with hunger being such a strong motivator for survival, you are on your cat’s ‘blacklist’ when its feeding time is delayed.
Weaned Too Early
When a kitten is born, the first few months are very crucial for it. Not only for its own survival but also for its mother cat to teach it proper manners and behaviors of a well-developed cat.
There are times when a mother cat will act roughly toward her kittens. This isn’t done out of malice but to teach them some respect and discipline.
The best time to remove a kitten from its mother is around 12-14 weeks of age. Any sooner and it can develop weird behavioral problems like attacking you whenever your cat hears you crying.
These cats also tend to be more aggressive towards humans and other pets.
I got a feeling them my cat was abandoned as a kitten as he did display similar problems of a kitten that was weaned too early. I got him at 6 months of age and from what I understand from the shelter, he was returned twice for aggression.
Your gentle feline can turn into a raging beast whenever food is concerned regardless if it is hungry or not.
This is known as food aggression in cats and it is rather similar to resource-guarding dogs. Here are some symptoms of food aggression:
- Shows signs of aggression while eating
- Gets angry when you try to get too close to its food bowl
- Always on the lookout for food
- Gets aggressive when hungry
- Steals food from other pets or the garbage
- Always crying for food
Food aggression isn’t a very common behavior in felines but it can still be caused by factors like stress, early weaning, health issues, strong prey drive and multi-cat households.
Are You Feeding Your Cat Enough?
The correct amount of food to feed your cat largely depends on its age. Kittens or younger cats would need more food per pound of body weight as compared to a full-grown adult cat.
As a rule of thumb, an adult cat needs about 20-25 calories per pound of weight. Younger cats can eat anything up to 50-100% more. Don’t be surprised that your kitten is always hungry and crying for food.
Not only does the amount of food matter but the feeding frequency as well. Kittens and younger cats can eat up to six times a day due to their ravenous appetite. It wouldn’t do them any good if you try and only feed them 2-3 times a day.
The larger food intake over fewer meal times can cause them to over eat and cause diarrhea and vomiting.
A note to pet owners, puppies and kittens that eat often need to also use the toilet often. So make sure to let them have access to a toilet at all times.
How Do I Stop My Cat From Biting When Hungry?
It is never a good thing when you are afraid of getting bitten by your cat. You should not let your cat get away with such behavior as it will only get worse and harder to correct over time.
Here are some things that you can do:
Take Your Cat To The Vet
Before anything else, I would strongly suggest that you take your cat to the vet for an examination first.
It might be due to hunger that is causing your cat to act out but an underlying medical problem that is causing your cat to feel pain and discomfort.
There are many health issues that can cause behavioral problems so it is best to get this reason ruled out by the vet.
Wear Shoes When Necessary
When my cat was getting a little too nippy for my liking during feeding time, I would put on a thick pair of socks or shoes to protect my feet.
So even when my cat decides to bite my ankles, he wouldn’t get a reaction out of it and a reaction can reinforce the bad behavior even further.
Protecting myself allows me to remain calm and collected in the presence of a hangry cat.
Distract And Disengage Your Cat
Make it a point to try and distract your cat before it tries to bite you. The best method that works for me is to shake an empty soda can filled with coins or marbles. The sound will distract your cat and shoo it away.
Some pet owners also have success using their cat’s favorite toy or puzzle feeders. Basically, anything that will do a good job of distracting your cat away from you.
Make sure to praise your cat when it redirects its focus away from you. Our cats love getting positive reinforcement too.
What Not To Do?
Do not at any point beat or physically strike your cat. Doing so can cause a lot of emotional and physical damage to your cat which can only make matters worse.
A stern “NO” is usually good enough to stop your cat in its tracks.
Do not free-feed your cat dry food as well. You might think that leaving out food 24/7 for your cat might stop the biting but it can lead to other health problems like feline obesity from overeating.
Cats like a fixed routine and will prefer a set feeding time on a daily basis. This allows them to plan all their other activities like sleeping and grooming around their meals.