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Why Does Your Cat Reach Their Paw Out to You? (10 Main Reasons)

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By Misty Layne

cat gives her owner a paw

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Your favorite cat can communicate with you plenty, despite the lack of speech, but there are times when you might not know just what your pet is trying to say. Does this tail shape mean happy or angry? Is headbutting a good thing? And why on earth does your cat keep reaching its paw out to you?

Well, we can answer that last question for you, at least! There are many reasons your cat will reach out its paw to you, and we’re going to look at each one. If you’ve been trying to figure out what your cat wants when it tries to paw at you, one of these is likely why.

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The 10 Reasons Why Your Cat Reaches Their Paw Out to You

1. Seeking Attention

Since our cats can’t speak, they have to figure out other ways of getting our attention, and reaching out a paw is one of them. The reason your cat wants your attention will vary, so you’ll have to determine what the cat wants by looking at the rest of its body language. And if reaching out a paw doesn’t get your attention, your cat will move on to other methods, such as  sitting right in the middle of your work or knocking things over.

Cat Paws on girl's nose
Image By: Mila Supinskaya Glashchenko, Shutterstock

2. Showing Affection

If you’ve ever been snuggled up with a cat and had it reach out a paw to pet your face, hair, or arm, it was most likely done as a sign of affection. The cat is simply looking to make contact and possibly leave some of its own smell on you, as a way to identify and reinforce its fondness for you

3. Copying You

Our kitties are huge mimics. So, when your cat reaches a paw out to you, it may simply be copying something you’ve done to it or others in your home. After all, if our cats will try copying us by drinking out of our cups or trying to “work” on the computer, why wouldn’t they also try out a gentle pat or two if they’ve seen it done before?

Cute fluffy cat paw on hand
Image By: Kunitsa Yana, Shutterstock

4. Wants to be Fed

This reason for reaching a paw out ties into the attention-seeking one, but a hungry cat may put out its paw to indicate hunger. This may be because your cat has figured out that it can get food from you when it does this, whether that’s because it comes up to you at each mealtime reaching out a paw (resulting in food) or because you just find it adorable and give them a treat. So, with repetition and reward, the cat learns reaching out a paw equals food. And you might also find your cat waking you up this way in the morning as a gentle demand to be fed.

5. Leaving Its Mark

Our feline companions can be incredibly territorial, and part of this involves leaving a mark on the things they consider theirs. And one of those things is you! Often cats will leave a scent mark to mark their territory, so this could be the reason your pet is reaching out to you. A cat’s paw has scent glands in them, so by touching you, it’s leaving a scent. This reason may also be less of “this is mine, stay away” and more of “this is my family, so it should smell like me.”

cat rubbing its body the owner
Image Credit: Piqsels

6. Needs Something

This is yet another reason that ties into attention-seeking, but it’s a bit different. Most often, if your pet is trying to grab your attention, it’s for your love and attention or because it wants to play. But sometimes, kitties might need help with something. It could be that the litter box needs to be cleaned out or a door is closed to a room it wants to get in. You’ll know if this is the reason because, typically, a cat will run off once it has your attention to lead you where it needs your aid.

7. Playing

Cats don’t always take advantage of the many (so many) toys we give them. Instead, they’d rather try to play with you directly and will indicate this by reaching out a paw to gently swat at you. Letting your kitty play with your hand (especially when it’s a kitten) is tempting, but it’s not the best idea. Playing with your pet in this manner teaches them that it’s okay to bite and claw, and you don’t want that! So, if your pet is swatting at you in an effort to get you to play with it, walk away to get across the idea that this isn’t acceptable, then come back in a few minutes with a toy to play with.

cat playing with owner
Image Credit: Dora Zett, Shutterstock

8. Stretching

One of the more likely reasons your cat is reaching a paw out to you? Because it’s stretching. If a cat comes and lays by your side, then does a full body stretch with one or both front paws reaching for you, it’s simply a sign of a happy cat! Just bask in the cuteness if this is the reason.

9. Wants to Knead

Most pet parents have experienced the joys (and sometimes pain) of having their cat knead you. If you’re unfamiliar with the behavior though, this is when a cat comes and moves its paws on you in a way that is similar to kneading bread. This behavior is left over from kittenhood when kneading was necessary to get milk from mama cat.

Well, occasionally, the cat will reach out a paw to you before it starts kneading instead of jumping right into it. Just like the kneading itself, this paw reach is a sign of contentment, so enjoy your happy cat!

cat lying on passenger seat in a car while kneading owner's hand
Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

10. Experiencing Pain

Finally, in rare instances, paw reaching may be an indication that your cat is experiencing pain in its feet or legs. For example, if your cat got a cut on its paw or pulled a muscle, it might reach out to you to let you know it hurts. There are even a few illnesses that result in limping, such as feline calicivirus, which could cause the cat to reach out. So, if you’ve noticed your pet acting off or seen limping or swelling in the legs or feet, and your cat reaches out to you, check your pet’s paws carefully to see if anything is wrong.

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As you can see, there are many possible reasons why your cat may reach out its paw to you. For the most part, our feline friends are seeking our attention in some way when they do this, whether it’s because they want love, food, help with something, or just to play. But on some occasions, the cat may be simply expressing that it is happy and content. And in very rare instances, your cat may be reaching out because it is injured or feeling ill.

Reading your pet’s body language is essential in figuring out which reason is the one that is causing it to reach out to you. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to tell the difference between a happy, content cat and one that is unhappy!

Featured Image Credit: rossiaa33, Shutterstock

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