By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 12 May 2011)
Many people find this behaviour (along with the fact that female cats shriek) alarming because it gives the impression of a forced encounter, but neck biting is actually a defensive action on the male’s part. Although females choose their mates and mating is voluntary, the male needs to protect himself in case she decides to attack him for some reason while he is in a vulnerable position. Kittens have an instinct to stay still when held by the scruff of the neck, and adult cats maintain this instinct to some degree, so holding the scruff of the neck reduces the likelihood of attack.
It was once believed that a female cat shrieks after mating because the spines on a male cat’s penis (which induce ovulation in female cats) cause pain upon withdrawal, but experts now think that the shriek is a warning gesture. The female, in a vulnerable position because the male has his teeth clamped on the back of her neck, lets him know that he’d better not take advantage by doing anything aggressive. Given that mating cats often don’t know one another beforehand, taking a few precautions is sensible, in case they’ve chosen an unusually volatile individual.
See the Pregnant Cats and Kittens Page for information on caring for pregnant cats, kitten development week by week, kitten training, kitten care, and more. For a full list of cat articles, see the main Cats page.
Reference: Seidensticker, J., & Lumpkin, S. (2006). Cats: Smithsonian Q&A: The Ultimate Question and Answer Book. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books.