Many people find this behaviour (along with the shrieks of female cats) 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’s 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 during 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 partner.
For more cat articles, see the main Cats page.
- Morris, D. (1986). Catwatching. Three Rivers Press: Random House.
- Seidensticker, John, & Lumpkin, Susan. (2004). Smithsonian Answer Book: Cats. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books.