Cats are fascinating companions, with a range of cute, quirky and sometimes downright baffling behaviours. The midnight “zoomies”, the vacant stare that seems to be directed at an empty corner; the headbutts, the nuzzling and the friendly extended paw.
Cats have many ways of telling us how they’re feeling and showing affection — it’s just a pity that we frequently can’t understand them. While not everything a cat does has an explanation, there’s often a good reason for odd little gestures and behaviours that your cat displays. Finding out just what is behind your cat’s activities can offer a window into feline psychology.
Why does my cat reach his paw out to me? It’s often a gesture of affection or a request for attention. Cats reach out when they want to make contact with you in some way. Cats will often do this to encourage you to play with them.
You’ve landed on this page because you’ve got questions about something your cat does. Why do cats sometimes stretch out their paws to humans? What is a cat trying to communicate? Does my cat reach out his paw because he wants something? Why does my cat sometimes bat at my hands or face? Is this gesture deliberate or just an accident? Is my cat trying to tell me something? How should I respond when my cat stretches out a paw?
Read on to find out more about this quirky example of feline behaviour. We have the answers you’re looking for.
Why Does My Cat Reach His Paw out to Me?
A cat might have many different reasons for reaching out a paw to you. It’s one of those little gestures that many cat guardians are familiar with, but one that’s not always easy to explain.
Cats are, despite their reputation for being stand-offish and indifferent, fairly convivial and social animals. They do not form structured packs in the way that dogs do, and aren’t really amenable to being trained and socialised in the same way. This leads many people to believe — mistakenly, in my opinion — that cats can’t form emotional bonds with humans or other animals.
They assume that everything a cat does is motivated by greed, aggression or some immediate need. This is hugely unfair. Cats are actually quite social. Feral cats form colonies instead of packs, with a loose structure rather than a clear hierarchy. These colonies do indeed have social bonds, and the instinct for connection is transferred to humans among domestic cats.
Sometimes, it’s true, the outstretched paw does seem to be an accident. The cat frequently performs a big stretch that ends up with one or both paws towards his human friend, apparently by coincidence. But is it really such a coincidence? Maybe the stretch just meant that the cat was getting nice and relaxed, and the extended paw or paws were a deliberate gesture.
My British Shorthair cat often reaches out a paw to me when he wants affection. This breed isn’t much of a lap-cat, but they often enjoy being petted and stroked. My British Shorthair tom likes to hop up on the sofa next to me, stretch luxuriantly, and then pat my knee with one round grey paw.
That’s my cue to make a fuss of him, petting his fur and scratching his ears. If I don’t begin petting him, he’ll often bat my knee a couple more times to get my full attention. Sometimes he’ll repeat the gesture even while being petted; I have a theory that he’s trying to stroke me back.
Some cats reach out a paw when they want to play. My tom will sometimes stand near me and bat at my feet or ankles to get me moving, so I’ll fetch a toy and engage him in a fun game of chase.
Requests for Food and Objects
Sometimes that outstretched paw can indicate a request for something — and that something is often a treat. If I’m eating something my cat thinks looks tasty, he’ll sometimes raise a paw or reach out towards the food to see how I respond. The answer is usually “no”, because I try to avoid feeding him from my plate. Once I’m done, though, I’ll often fetch him a small treat.
My cat will also reach out a paw to me if I’m holding something that’s interesting, such as an item that could be a toy. This happens sometimes when I’m knitting. I’m sure those wool balls look like great kitty toys. In this sort of situation, I’ll fetch one of my cat’s own toys to distract him. (Yarn and cats really do not mix.)
The outstretched paw is often an indication of where the cat’s attention is and what he wants. It can also be an attempt to catch your eye. A cat might stretch out a paw to get you to look at him; once he has your attention, he’ll let you know what he’s after. It’s a fairly polite way to get you to focus on the cat and to engage you without being too pushy about getting your attention.
Making a Connection
Not all cats like physical displays of affection. Some really object to being handled or petted. These kitties do have their own ways of showing affection, though. My much-missed Siamese mix never wanted to be on my lap and couldn’t take more than a few light pats before becoming agitated, but she still liked my company.
She’d usually sit somewhere nearby, often on a perch where she could see what I was doing, and purr amiably. That was her comfort zone and I learned to appreciate her own unique way of showing me that she loved me. Sometimes she would stretch out a paw in my direction — not in an attempt to get me to pet her, but just to be a little closer without getting uncomfortably near me.
As you see, the outstretched paw can be a way of reducing the distance between cat and human without compromising the cat’s personal space. It can be a very sweet gesture from a cat who’s not very physically affectionate. It shows that even if they don’t want to climb all over you, they like you and want a connection.
Reaching for Your Face or Hair
Some cats have an unfortunate habit of wanting to reach their paws out and bat at your face or hair. I see this quite often when the cat owner has long, loose hair. Rather unnervingly, locks of human hair can sometimes awaken that predator instinct that all cats possess to one degree or another. A cat may also want to touch your face as a way of getting your attention, or to get your smell transferred onto them. Of course, we don’t have pheromone glands around out mouths like cats — but cats don’t know that.
Be careful about letting a cat touch your hair or face. While they’re naturally very clean animals, cats can pick up parasites and diseases which may be transferred to you. For example, if a cat in the house happens to have worms, he or another cat can pick up the parasite’s eggs on his feet when he uses the litter-box. These could then be transferred to your face, and thus get into your mouth. Wash your face if your cat pats or nuzzles you.
You should also be careful about letting a cat reach a paw out to your face because, well, they’re cats. They aren’t always terribly careful about their claws (I once had to go to school with a livid scratch on my nose because one of our cats got a bit carried away). Cat scratches are no joke, and they’re especially unpleasant when they land on your face.
Children in particular should be taught not to let cats play with their hair or touch their faces. Their developing immune systems make them more vulnerable to infections, and their slower reactions make them more likely to be scratched.