Do Cows Bite?

Do Cows Bite?

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Domesticated around 6,000 to 10,000 years ago, cows have significantly contributed to human welfare. Important discoveries and development in the history of agriculture directly or indirectly involve these breeds of farm animals. Whether raised for meat or dairy products, the ruminant animals are made to eat, move around and socialize in the early stage of their lives. 

Cattle grazing

Cows are female cattle or of any family of the hollow-horned ruminant animal. Simply put, they are mature females of the bovine family. In a general context, however, the whole cattle family are also referred to as cows. Cows are characterized by the absence of canines and upper incisors, a unique dentition which makes them a cud-chewing animal. 

A grown-up cow possesses 32 sets of adult or permanent teeth which aids its chewing for proper digestion. This gives rise to the question of whether cows bite or not. In this article, we’d explore the bovine family, pointing out their dental arrangement and formula, and establishing whether or not they bite.    

Do Cows Bite?

Of the average 22 deaths caused by cows across the country each year as reported by the Center for Disease Control and prevention, none was from cow bites. That’s enough a fact that cow doesn’t bite. However, backing the claim with some facts from the animal’s features, the lack of front teeth (incisors and canines) makes them unable to bite. You might get gummed or nibbled by your cow which is a manner of grooming. Generally, it is most unlikely for animals with a single row of teeth in the frontal section of their mouth to bite one another or humans.

Biting in Animals 

Biting in animals can take place as a result of several reasons among which is an aggressive reaction. This can be described as harm caused by the teeth of an animal – which can be severe or fair – and can lead to a more serious health issue or death. Some of the issues that can arise from an animal bite include bruises, openings for infections, envenomation, and structural disruption. 

Teeth of a carnivorous animal

Teeth of a carnivorous animal 

Different species of animals have the potential to bite human beings but the common cases of animal bites are from cats, dogs, snakes, and monkeys. While most biting animals are carnivorous (feed on flesh alone), others are omnivorous (feed on grass and flesh). Apart from being provoked, there can be other cases of unprovoked bite.

You can encounter an unprovoked bite while hiking, staying in a camp, or even in your backyard. It is mostly caused by a seriously ill animal. Provoked bite on the other hand is done as an adaptive mechanism by the animal to protect itself. Other examples of animal that bites include squirrel, raccoon, ferrets, rats, etc.      

Cows don't bite!

Aggressive reaction in cattle, most especially between cows, can result in serious injury or death to any of the involved parties. The horned cattle strike or push the opponent with the aid of their horns in a serious brawl. Apart from the horn, cows also make use of their legs, head (for polled cows), or even their body in butting or striking while responding to provocation. 

Biting in cattle is a phenomenon that never existed due to several reasons, some of which would be explained in the subsequent section. Above all, it is important to have great cattle handling skills and understand how cattle react to provocation. With this, there would be a substantial reduction in financial loss caused by damage to lives and properties. 

Reasons Why Cows Don’t Bite

Cows don’t bite, for two major reasons which include their teeth type (dentition) and nutrition type. These two reasons are explained below. 

  • Dentition: The total number of teeth present in an organism, their types and arrangement is termed dentition. Depending on the eating habit or type of nutrition in animals, they possess teeth of varying shapes and types. 
  • Dental formula is used to express the total number of teeth in man and animal based on their arrangement. It is given by the number of each type of teeth in the upper jaw divided by the number of teeth on one side of the lower jaw.


    Side view of a cow's mouth showing the upper gum and the lower jaw teeth

    Side view of a cow's mouth showing the upper gum and the lower jaw teeth

    For cows, the dental formula is (0 incisors 6 premolars and 6 molars) / (8 incisors 6 premolars and 6 molars) = 2 x (033/433) = 32 teeth. The lack of the upper incisors and canines needed for biting into and tearing things apart makes cows harmless when it comes to biting.    

  • Nutrition Type: Out of nature and adaptive characteristics, cows are known to be heterotrophs. These are organisms that cannot manufacture their food themselves but depends on readily made food to feed on. 
  • As heterotrophs, an animal can be a herbivore, a carnivore, or an omnivore. A herbivorous animal is capable of feeding on only grasses and roughages. The other categories of animals are those that feed on flesh and both grass and flesh respectively.

    Cow chewing grass

    Cow chewing grass

    Cows are herbivores; hence, they can only feed on grass. Their skin and human are made of flesh covered with hairs which make it difficult to bite into it or tear it apart. Most importantly, this feeding mechanism can still be attributed to their dental formula.         

    Final Thoughts 

    Provoked or unprovoked, animal bites can be so dangerous and give rise to more severe health issues. This is why it is important to be very careful while dealing with some animals. With the presence of 32 permanent and well-developed teeth, you must be wondering whether cows bite.

    However, this breed of the bovine family lacks canines and upper incisors used to bite into their food and tear them apart respectively. As a result of this and some other reasons stated, it can be said that cows don’t bite. 

    Succinctly, cows can gum or nibble one another or human beings which show signs of grooming. This is an action that helps to keep the physical health and condition of the animal fit.

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