I’m obsessed with my cat’s paws.
There are days when I can have a nap with my cat while holding onto his paws. And there are days when my cat will pull it back with an air of clear disapproval.
Many cat owners will tell you that most cats aren’t a fan of having their paws touched.
Is it really that uncomfortable for them?
Cats often dislike their paws being touched due to their high sensitivity. A cat’s paw hosts a multitude of nerve receptors that make them exceptionally sensitive to touch and its environment. Cats are instinctively protective of their paws as they are essential tools for hunting and defense.
From this article, you will gain a thorough understanding of why your cat dislikes having its paws touched, including biological and behavioral reasons.
Anatomy Of A Cat’s Paw
A cat’s paw is an interesting and complex body part all thrown into one.
It consists of fatty tissue, nerve endings, ligaments and blood vessels all neatly wrapped and covered by soft fur and tough skin.
A cat’s paw helps to provide many functionalities for the cat. It acts as shock absorbers, grip enhancers and insulation for the cat.
The paw pads can even provide feedback to the cat if its life is in danger when an aggressive animal is approaching or if the prey it’s hunting is fleeing.
How cool is that!
Why Don’t Cats Like Their Paws Touched?
Now that we have a much deeper understanding and appreciation of a cat’s paws, here are reasons why most cats don’t like their paws touched.
Paws Are Sensitive Zones
As mentioned earlier, the cat’s paws are designed to be very sensitive in order to transmit useful information to them.
Therefore, touching a cat’s paw isn’t quite the same as touching another human’s hand.
It can cause some discomfort or even pain if you are rough with its paws.
Our gentle touches might cause sensory overload in the cat’s nervous system.
It is sensitive enough to detect a change in temperature of 1 degree Celsius1.
Ever met someone that breaks out in uncontrollable laughter when having their palm tickled?
That is your cat, x100.
Makes Cats Feel Defenseless
We all love to affectionately refer to our cat’s paws as toe beans because they are so cute.
But hidden in each toe is a very sharp claw that can cause serious injury.
Cats can sheath and unsheath their claws at will and will not hesitate to use their claws to protect themselves or to finish off prey.
As great hunters as cats are, they aren’t at the top of the food chain which makes them feel vulnerable when dangerous animals are around.
This strong natural ‘flight or fight’ instinct in cats makes them very conscientious of their surroundings.
Grabbing or touching their paws will make them feel less in control and unable to defend themselves if the need arises.
This instinct doesn’t go away regardless of how close or loving you are towards your cat.
It is what makes a cat, a cat.
Trimming or cutting your cat’s claws is an important part of grooming and should be done on a regular basis.
If you don’t make an effort to trim your cat’s claws, they can actually be long enough and pierce into the cat’s paw pad causing great pain.
One thing to note when trimming the claws is not to cut beyond the quick of the claw. It can be painful to the cat and can cause bleeding.
If you weren’t too careful in the past when handling your cat’s claws, it might have left a sour taste in your cat’s mouth.
There are some cats that can suffer from PTSD if the experience is traumatic enough.
Mishap To Your Cat’s Paw
The fleshy cushioning of the paws and the way a cat walks almost make them roaming feline ninjas.
There have been so many occasions when I’ve stepped on my cat’s paw without even realizing that he was behind me.
Needless to say, that caused a lot of distress to my cat and me. Thankfully I didn’t put my full weight on my cat hence there was more emotional than physical trauma.
Even if you are not the culprit, your cat might have an object drop on its paw causing some pain and discomfort.
Trauma to your cat’s paw can also prevent your cat from retracting its claws which can cause many other problems.
If your cat suffered a past experience that caused some pain to its paw or paws, there’s a high chance that your cat won’t be too pleased with having its cute paws handled.
A Current Injury
If your cat has an existing injury to its paw then it will be very adverse to anyone making an attempt to touch it.
Any scratch, cut or bruise can cause a great degree of pain or discomfort to your cat given how sensitive their paws are.
They might have stepped on something sharp or have a broken toe.
If your cat shows sudden disdain for you touching its paw, there’s a good chance that there’s some injury to it.
You may even notice your cat limping around the house or excessively licking the injured paw.
It would be best to bring your cat to the vet for a closer look.
Your Cat Might Have Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a condition whereby there is inflammation and degeneration of the cat’s joints.
This can cause pain and affect the day-to-day activities of your cat’s life. A senior cat is more prone to OA than younger cats.
OA can make the paws of your cat painful thus it won’t want you touching its paws.
There’s not much that can be done to prevent this as it comes with age.
But keeping your cat healthy in its younger years can delay the onset or at least lessen the severity of OA if it does happen.
You can do this by feeding your cat a good diet and including omega-3 fatty acids supplements in its diet.
If you have a senior cat and it is protective of its paws, bring it to the vet to check if it’s caused by OA.
You Are Not On Your Cat’s Trust List
Cats in general are slow to warm up to people compared to dogs. This is more prominent in cats that have been recently adopted, stray cats or hoarded cats.
If you want to gain your cat’s trust, you will have to do it slowly.
Don’t force your cat to step out of its shell when it is not ready. When trying to socialize your cat, make sure to touch it on areas that are less intimidating to cats.
Cats like to be touched under their chin, behind the ears and on top of their heads.
Once you are able to pet your cat in these areas, you can try to gently stroke your cat’s paws.
Remember to move at a pace that your cat is comfortable with.
Your Cat Just Doesn’t Like It
Every cat is different and has its own unique personality.
Why your cat doesn’t like its paws touched can just boil down to one very simple reason.
It just doesn’t like it.
Does it mean that you are flat out of luck and can never hold those soft furry nuggets in your palm?
It can be tough to overcome this if your cat has a very strong dislike of having its paws handled.
If you are patient and slowly desensitize your cat to this action, there’s a good chance of conditioning your cat to tolerate it.
One good way to have your cat be ok with you touching its paws is to use positive reinforcements.
Every time your cat allows you to make contact with its paws, no matter how brief, reward your cat with some verbal praise and treats.
But don’t take it personally if nothing you do works. Try putting yourself in your cat’s paws. It’s no fun having someone touch an area that causes you irritation.
Is It Bad To Touch A Cat’s Paws?
It largely depends on the cat.
If your cat has had a very bad and painful past experience, there’s a high chance of your cat acting out aggressively at anyone attempting to touch its paws,
Most cats will be ok with someone touching their paws if it has been well socialized.
Or at the very most, it might show some level of irritation but not to the extent of wanting to turn you into mincemeat with its claws and fangs.
But don’t try and be a hero if the cat is showing signs of anger and irritation like hissing, growling and showing fangs.
Do Cats Like Their Paws Massaged?
Some cats are great fans of getting a massage and love getting one. On the flip side, there will be cats that just don’t like their paws being touched.
If you have a cat that likes getting its paws massaged, use your thumb to slowly and gently massage each toe bean. Remember to do it for your cat’s hind legs as well.
Don’t be surprised to hear your cat purring like a lawnmower when getting a massage.
What Does It Mean When A Cat Lets You Touch Its Paws?
Not many cat owners have the luxury of touching the paws of their feline friends. However, if you have a cat that is open to having its paws touched then it is a blessing.
This means that you have a cat that is well socialized and very trusting of humans.
When a cat is in this state, it knows that it is in good hands and you won’t overstep the boundaries to cause it any pain.
A contented cat will also be fine with having its paws touched. Cats in general are always on high alert and high strung.
The solitary and independent nature of cats forces them to depend on no one but themselves.
The cat now knows that it is an environment where it is safe and without the need to be constantly looking out for danger.
Interesting Paw Facts
As much as we love admiring the aesthetics of a cat’s paw, the paw is designed to be a furry ‘swiss knife’ that has many uses depending on the situation.
Silence Is Golden
The paw pads of the cat are designed for stealthiness. Since cats have to hunt for prey, they can’t sound like an elephant when stalking their meal.
The cat’s paw pads or affectionately known as ‘toe beans’ are somewhat fleshing and soft to help mask a cat’s footsteps.
It must feel like the cat is walking with a pair of Nike Airs 24/7.
Unlike humans that walk with a heel to ball motion, cats walk on the tip of their paws. This further helps to reduce noise and improve mobility.
A cat’s paws are filled with a huge network of blood vessels that helps to improve heat and blood circulation.
This allows the cat to walk for longer periods on colder surfaces like ice and snow.
However, prolonged exposure to a cold surface can cause frostbite and hypothermia in a cat. So be careful if you allow your cat outside during wintertime.
Is My Cat Left Or Right Pawed?
Do you also know that cats have a preferred or dominant paw as well?
As humans, we can be either right or left-handed and some even ambidextrous.
Some studies have shown that male cats are usually left-pawed and the females are right-pawed.
For Drinking And Grooming
Some cats have a rather interesting way of drinking water. The paw is used as a cup to scoop up water and the cat will lick its paw to drink it.
You will find this behavior common in cats that enjoy playing with water like the Maine Coon.
A cat’s paws are also an effective grooming tool by using it like a wet towel. The cat will lick its paws to wet them and then use them to groom its head and face.
There are scent glands hidden in the cat’s paws. Cats will use this scent to mark their territory.
This can be seen when a cat starts kneading their resting spot or scratching your furniture.
Cats also mark their scent by scratching on your furniture.
Color Of A Cat’s Paw
The color of a cat’s paw pad largely depends on its fur color. If your cat’s coat is of a standard color then the color of its toe beans should match.
For cats that have multi-colored fur coats, the color of the pads can range from black to pink.
As cat owners, it is normal and natural to want to be as close and affectionate to our feline friends as possible.
Given the soft and cute look of a cat’s paw, it is hard to not want and hold and touch it. But their paws are more than just something furry to hold.
To a cat, its paws are delicate and sensitive and we have to respect that.
With enough patience and encouragement, there might come a time when you can take a nap together with your cat while holding its paws.
1. Stanley Finger and Ulf Norrsell, Temperature sensitivity of the paw of the cat: a behavioral study