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Why Does My Cat Use My Leg As A Scratching Post?

If your cat is constantly scratching your leg like a scratching post you may be wondering why and what you can do about it…

Why does my cat use my leg as a scratching post?

When your cat is using your leg as a scratching post then they are accomplishing two things. First off, they are engaging in a bit of socializing. Secondly, your cat is marking you.  Regarding being social, a little bit of light scratching constitutes a form of social play with cats and this is a bit of a sharp, friendly hello from your feline.

So, now you know. But, how do they mark you when they scratch? Do cats understand that they may be hurting you when they do this? What can you do to prevent this from happening?

How do cats mark you when they scratch your leg?

Cat playing in the grass next to barefoot human.

Cat playing in the grass next to barefoot human.

Cats have many scent glands and some of these are located in their paws. By scratching at your leg and on other places nearby, your cat is transferring their scent and basically asserting that ‘this is mine’. 

Do cats know when they hurt your leg?

Your cat doesn’t know that they are hurting you unless you tell them. Most of us respond but in a lighthearted fashion. You might say ‘ow-ow ow ow!’ and your cat seems amused and continues.

They don’t know that it hurts and in some cases, they have poor claw control and don’t know even know that the claws are out. The next time that this occurs, rather than take a light approach, try saying ‘oww’ and lightly pulling away.

Do NOT move quickly, as your claw-attached kitty might take a tumble or misunderstand your reaction as a form of play-prompting or punishment. Just move your leg away to stop the interaction and hold the area, saying ‘oww!’ to let them know that it hurts.

After a brief pause, you can reassure them again and after a few times, they will start to get the picture.   

How can you prevent your cat from scratching your leg?

As this behavior is a mix of play and marking, the arrangement of scratching posts in areas close to where you like to spend your time can help. This gives your cat somewhere to put that energy and the scents on the post will also help your cat to feel more comfortable.

If this scratching behavior is occurring often when you get home from work, then it is likely that your cat is happy to see you but notices that you smell funny – and thus they mark you to get you smelling ‘normal’ again.

Changing clothes immediately when you get home from the office may help to minimize the ‘outside’ scents so that you smell more familiar your kitty feels less compelled to mark you. 

Would a real scratching post distract your cat from your leg?

Scratching posts can definitely help to give your cat somewhere more constructive (and less painful) to focus their energies. You can also keep a bit of string in your pocket or other toys so that you can try to distract your kitty when they do this.

If your cat is very young and especially if they were weaned early, then the scratching is simply poor control of their claws and they will slowly learn to retract them properly – just be sure to let them know with an ‘oww’ when they accidentally scratch and they slowly learn to keep those claws at bay over time.

Why does my cat dig her claws into my leg and stretch?

Your cat wants to be close to you at the same time that they want to stretch and they don’t realize that their claws are out. It’s as simple as that.

You can try tapping lightly on their claws to help to draw their attention to this but in most cases, they are using their claws as an ‘anchor’ while they stretch – a better strategy might be to keep a light blanket handy as a barrier to use as-needed.

Why does it sting when a cat scratches you?

There are two reasons why it stings when your cat scratches you. The first is simply the shape and sharpness of their claws. Cat’s claws are designed to slash and to ‘hook-and-hold’ their prey and so the little punctures from their claws have some depth below the skin, even if it is minor.

Secondly, cat’s claws do build up bacteria and so it’s a good idea to wash the area with a little soap, water, and antiseptic when your cat gets a little over-enthusiastic. Don’t worry, they’ll learn, but you’ll want to clean those areas while your cat is still figuring out their claws.

Can a cat scratch my legs through jeans?

Different coloured jeans in a hanger.

Different coloured jeans in a hanger.

Yes, your cat can definitely puncture the material of your jeans and score at least some minor scratches on the soft skin beneath. Some cats will even try to climb up your pants leg (especially kittens, who simply don’t know better yet).

A baby blanket makes an excellent extra layer of protection that you can keep handy for when your cat wants to be in your lap but is kneading its claws in a bit too close for comfort. 

What should you do if your cat is scratching during play?

Sometimes your cat gets excited and they don’t realize that those claws are actually hurting you. The best way to deal with this is to pause play and say ‘oww’ when your cat hurts you and then to wait a minute or two before resuming play.

If your cat is not receptive to this, then you can try giving them a ‘time out’. This is accomplished by leaving the room – do not pick up and move the cat. They’ll either become upset or think that you want to ‘play rough’, but stopping play for a ‘time out’ gives an immediate and clear message.

Come back after a few minutes and after a little petting and reassurance then you can start play again. Just be consistent with your timeouts and this will help to establish some boundaries until your cat learns how to play a little more safely.

Why does my cat scratch her post when she sees me?

In the absence of studies specifically focused on this behavior, actually don’t know with 100% certainty. That said, it is believed that your cat is simply excited to see you and that this is just an energetic way of saying ‘hello’.

Alternately, your territorial kitty may also be marking that territory right in front of you as a way to say ‘I like you, so I’m reminding you that this is my spot!’.

Do cats use scratching posts when happy?

Cats definitely use their scratching posts when they are happy and excited to see you. While you might not think it from all the naps that they take, these furry felines have a lot of energy and so scratching on those posts when you come in is the cat equivalent of jumping up and down and saying’ Hi there! Hi there!’

There are also a number of other reasons why your cat uses the scratching post, of course. For one thing, scratching helps to remove older, outer layers of the claw’s coverings to help to keep them clean and sharp.

For another, scratching also puts the scent glands in their paws close enough to transfer their scents, which in turn makes the environment feel like ‘home’ for your cat. Scratching also is a way to mark their territory and sometimes it’s simply a way for your cat to relieve a little daytime stress.

Lindsey Browlingdon