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Why Does My Cat Gently Claw Me?

If your cat keeps on clawing you, regardless if it’s gentle, it may leave you wondering why this is happening…

Why does my cat gently claw me?

When your cat is pressing down and lightly clawing at you, this is a behavior known as ‘kneading’. While it feels a bit prickly, this is actually a sign of affection from your cat but there is also a practical aspect to this as well. Your cat has scent glands in its paws!

So, now you know. But why is scent so important to cats? How can I prevent my cat from doing this? Why does my cat claw me even when I try to pet it? Keep reading for these answers, and much more…

How can I prevent my cat from clawing at me?

Cats kneading at person.

Cats kneading at person.

Whatever you do, do NOT punish your cat or raise your voice when kneading behavior occurs. Instead, offer them an alternative. Cats have a lot of scent glands on their bodies, but the most powerful for transferring scents are on their heads. There, your cat has them on their forehead, lips, cheeks, and chin, so try gently stroking your cat’s head.

Distract your cat a little this way and you can even simply hold your hand out, so that your cat may nudge it and apply the scents in that fashion. Once their scents are thoroughly transferred, then that painful kneading will typically slow down or stop completely for that particular time.

Why does my cat claw me while I pet it?

As long as you are sure that your cat isn’t upset, then it is likely that your cat was weaned rather early as a kitten. Kittens usually learn about controlling their claws and how to bite without being vicious about it at an early age, simply by playing with their siblings and through guidance from their mother.

When a cat is weaned very early, then they miss out on some of this socialization. So, your cat doesn’t mean to claw you, they just aren’t really aware of what they are doing. You can teach your cat to be a little more careful and this sometimes helps.

To do this, when your cat claws at you, if you get scratched then say ‘oww’ and hold the spot to show the cat that this hurt. If you are playing, you can stop playtime for now as another way to get the message across. With a little patience, your cat will learn when they are hurting you and should be more careful in the future. 

Why does my cat gently claw me while I sleep?

There are usually 2 main reasons why this behavior occurs. The first reason is that it is a practical thing to do if they are sleeping on top of you. A little bit of light clawing helps to hold them in place and if you turn a little in your sleep sometimes, then this keeps your cat from flying off in an undignified fashion.

The second reason is affection. When your cat gently claws you like that, or simply when they press a paw down on you, then this means that they love you and they don’t want you to move around. Think of it as a sort of ‘kitty hug’ and you’ve got the gist of this behavior.

Do cats know when to retract their claws?

Not always. Cats learn a lot about control by playing with their mom and their siblings. When they bite or scratch too hard as a kitten, the kitten meows, and mom will generally step in as well to stop the fighting, and by the time that the kittens leave on their own, they have learned how to be more careful with their fangs and claws.

So, if a cat is weaned a little early, then it may still have a lot to learn about its claws and when to retract them. With older cats, however, this sort of thing is much less common. An older cat has had a lot more practice and they generally know to the millimeter how much claw is out and what they can do with it.

Aside from saying ‘oww’, imitating a mewing kitten and holding a scratched area can help to teach your cat when they have accidentally gone too far.

What can I do about my docile cat that plays with claws out?

If your cat is sweet but doesn’t seem to realize that they are slowly shredding you up with those exposed claws, then there are a couple of approaches that you can take. The first recommendation is to avoid jerking your hand away quickly during play.

Cats are amazing little predators and it’s easy to forget this because they are so darned cute. When they get excited, if something that they are playing with (in this case, your hand!) moves away too quickly, then your cat naturally extends their claws to try to catch it.

Try to modify your play a little by teaching yourself not to jerk away and this will minimize most of the scratching. Secondly, be sure to make a sound when you get scratched and to immediately stop play for a moment. Give your cat a little while to calm down before play resumes and in this way, you can teach them that ‘rough play’ means ‘no play’.  

Don’t worry, your cat will pick up on this with a little patience.

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Why does my cat bite and claw me when I stop petting it?

This is your cat being pushy. They don’t want you to stop petting them and they are being slightly ‘bratty’ about it. The best approach for this is going to be saying ‘oww’ or making a mewing sound when they bite and immediately stopping play and leaving the room for a few minutes.

The reason that you are leaving the room is that moving the cat to the next room is only going to make them more aggressive, but by simply stopping playtime and leaving for a few minutes then you are communicating to your cat that the biting and clawing will not be tolerated.

It may take a little while, as we all know how willful our feline friends can be, but if you do this and stick with it then your cat will get the picture and stop trying to ‘push’ you into more petting.

What should I do if my cat won’t let me cut its nails?

A cat staring.

A cat staring.

When your cat doesn’t like having its nails clipped there are a few things that you can try. Temporary plastic caps, for instance, actually cover the claws and may be worn for 4 to 6 weeks. You can also try trimming a little at a time and while it might have to be patiently and slowly done over a day, you can get it done in this fashion.

Your vet is an excellent option for getting those claws trimmed, but if your cat hates the vet, you can try another tact by using a nail file to make those claws less sharp. Some cats seem to actually like the files, so this trick is popular with a lot of cat owners who’ve gotten tired of chasing their cats around the house.

Do cats know when they hurt you?

Cats don’t always know when they have hurt you if you don’t cry out when it happens. Sometimes they get excited and those little claws extend, but they aren’t being malicious to you… they just don’t know that it isn’t simply playing.

Make sure that you make a sound to acknowledge that it hurt and you can put your hand to the area and most cats will pick up on the hint and be more careful about their claws in playtimes to come.

Why is declawing NOT a good idea?

When it comes to scratching people or furniture, declawing is never a good idea. Aside from taking away your cat’s natural defenses, those claws get used for other things as well. They help your cat to climb, get proper traction, and hold things… they’re there for a reason!

The surgery involved with getting a cat declawed can also have complications. For instance, in some cases claws may start growing back under areas that have healed over, and this can cause your cat pain when they walk. Removing those claws can also cause nerve damage, tissue necrosis, or even eventual back pain.

Scheduling regular trimming sessions with the vet is a better option. You can also try using commercially available plastic claw-sheathes for your cat. This will keep their claws safely intact while blunting their sharpness.

Why is scent so important to cats?

By kneading into you, your cat is marking you with their scents. Scents are very important to cats, as their olfactory senses are about 200 times better than ours. By kneading and nudging you, your cat is showing affection, ‘ownership’, and making himself or herself feel more at home.

Lindsey Browlingdon