Domestic cat hand signal ‘paw tap request’

My cat uses hand signals to communicate with me. Well, actual one type of hand signal which might be called a paw tap. It is very positive and its meaning is unmistakable in its context. Does your cat do the same thing? It is an alternative to and more specific than the vocal request: the meow.

Domestic cat hand signals - the paw tap request
Domestic cat hand signals – the paw tap request. Screenshot from video below. This is not me and my cat.
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The domestic cat hand signal

He will sit near me on his haunches (sitting up) and place his left paw on my arm if he wants me to move my arm when he wants to use my arm as a humping tool! 🙂 Sorry that’s a bit rude but it’s okay. More often he’ll use the domestic cat hand signal when I am in bed. It’ll happen during the winter months when the bedroom is a little chillier than normal and he wants to warm up and be surrounded by my scent.

He wants to dive under the duvet and lie next to me in the dark and the warmth. He positions himself by my head and taps the duvet near my shoulder to tell me to lift it up so he can slide underneath it and place himself about 3 feet down where he settles down and starts purring.

He’ll remain there for about 20 minutes after which he’s had enough as he’s probably too hot! It must leave his entire body covered with my scent which very much supports Jakson Galaxy viewpoint about the bed being a ‘scent soaker’. Cats love it which is why, ideally, all caregivers should allow their cat into the bedroom at all times.

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The domestic cat hand signal learning process is always in context

How did he learn to do this? Well, he actual trained me to respond to it. It is an example of reverse training: the cat training the human caregiver. The interesting aspect of the hand signal is that he decided to tap my arm or bedding in the first place knowing that it was likely that I’d understand what it would mean which leads me to believe that it is an instinctive behaviour. And I did understand as it was pretty obvious the first time as domestic cat hand signals are always performed in context. They always apply to a specific scenario or situation. It is a small leap of deduction to realise what he is after.

But he had the cognitive powers to use the hand signal in the first place which I think is interesting. It shows how domestic cats can be smarter than some people think.

Body language?

Some observers might label the domestic cat hand signal a form of body language but I wouldn’t. It is an action which is too positive to be body language. It is like a human pointing towards something. Or touching an object to assist in explaining something.

Hand signal as a silent request

The classic context for the use of the domestic cat hand signal is when the cat wants to attract the attention of their caregiver in asking for food as we see in the video below. Perhaps the person is sitting down watching television eating a snack and their cat sidles up to them and taps them on the arm to ask for some of the food that she is eating. This would have developed from the moment when she/he gave him some of her food a long time ago. He liked the treat and now asks for more. The tap on the arm is a request, as distinct as a meow which is normally used to ask for something.

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I believe that the domestic cat paw tap is instinctive and is inherited. You’ll probably see kittens doing it to grab the attention of their mother. Sometimes it might be learned from their human caregiver. That’s a possibility as cats learn a lot from their human such as opening doors!

Video example on Twitter from John Kline Artwork

This is a classic version of the domestic cat hand signal or what you might describe as the “domestic cat paw tap” as it always entails tapping an object or their owner, usually the arm.

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