Why does my cat put his paw on my face when I hold him?

In my opinion, the main reason why your cat puts her/his paw on your face when you hold her is because your head, when face-to-face with hers, is too close for comfort. By putting her paw on your face she is keeping a certain amount of control over the distance between you and her. We all like space around us. It doesn’t matter whether you are a human or a cat. There may also be an overlap here with the cat’s propensity to touch us with his/her paw. Cats like to do this. They like the contact. There is a desire to (a) keep a distance and (b) to touch us.

When cats are friendly with each other they might sleep against each other in the same way that cats sleep on our lap, legs or chest when we are in bed. However, if you look at cat colonies you will see that most often cats rest with a certain amount space between themselves. I see this as a natural amount of space with which the cats feel comfortable.

Also, when cats sleep on us or near us in bed they tend to sleep at a distance from our head. They might sleep against our legs and at the end of the bed. They might sleep on our belly facing away from us. I believe that it is important to observe that cats do like to face away from us sometimes. I believe that this is part of the same issue that I’m discussing in this article. Cats don’t like their heads to be too close to our heads when facing each other. That is the key to the reason why cats put their paw on your face.

I have always thought that the size difference between us and our cat is a factor in how our cat relates to us. As we are much larger than the domestic cat, I feel that our presence when close-up can be intimidating to them. We like to cuddle our cats. We like to pick them up because it feels good. However, it does not necessarily feel that good to the domestic cat.

We like to kiss our cat on the head. Most cats will accept this. Sometimes a cat might pull away slightly when you try to do this. And sometimes a cat might shake their head after you have done it. These are signs that it might be slightly uncomfortable to a cat.

I think that most people realise that putting their head close to the head of their cat is generally considered to be a little bit too intrusive for the cat. It depends upon the cat obviously. The more confident the cat the more likely she is to accept it. However, my experience tells me that it can make a cat uncomfortable and in order to keep a distance between themselves and their human companion’s head they place their paws or paws on the head to maintain that distance.

Due to our tendency to anthropomorphise our cat companions, we can sometimes forget that we are a different species to our cat and although there are many similarities between us in terms of anatomy and even behaviour there are fundamental differences which we should respect at all times.

These are my views. They are not taken from a book or from a scientific study. They are taken directly from experience and thoughts. What are your thoughts about this? Do they differ from mine? I would love to hear from you.

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Why does my cat put his paw on my face when I hold him? — 12 Comments

  1. Mercy gets on my lap and puts a paw on each cheek. She also often sleeps next to my face with a paw on my face. Since my cats have no boundaries they are often face to face with me in the kitchen, they own the bar. They make contact often with nose to nose touching.
    The cats in your photos are being restrained allowing the cat to sit on your arm encourages interaction. Cats are like horses you’ll never win a tug of war with either.

  2. Although a cat may put his/her paw on our face as a “distancing” behavior, at the same time I do believe it can be a sign of affection or even a way in which the kitty may be comforting their guardian. Sir Hubble Pinkerton often puts a paw on my face when I am holding him and even strokes my face from time to time. His brother, Angel cat Dr. Hush Puppy also would do this offering us comfort and showing his affection to us.

    • Yes, Jo, I agree in that, as mentioned, cats like to touch us with their paws. This is indeed a sign of affection.

  3. Paws on my face are a ritualistic thing with several of my cats. When they approach and touch my face, they can expect a big kiss on the mouth from me. I won’t go so far as to say that they elicit it; but, they know it to be a given.

  4. My cat Mitzy puts her paw on my face when she’s stretching in my lap. Sometimes she’ll sleep near my face, next to, but not on my pillow. Many times she sleeps on top of the blankets, but also at times, under them near my feet. She has 5 sleeping spots in my room, plus my bed, all at different levels, with most having a great view from a large picture window.

  5. Scamp insists on sleeping with his head on my pillow and a paw on my face. His idea. And he keeps a paw on my arm when I am typing on my laptop. I guess he is a touchy feely guy.

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