Domestic cats consciously choose when to extend their claws in play

Cat claw
He knows when to keep this little weapon in – retracted.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

My cat has learnt when it is unacceptable to extend his claws in play with me. He consciously keeps them in when he is playing with me. Even when he is very excited because we have been playing for a while with a cat tease or a pointer, he’ll tap me or smack me (as part of the play) with his claws in. He does this even though his claws have been out extensively when playing with a homemade toy or when trying to catch the laser pointer.

This can only be a conscious decision to retract his claws when engaging with me. That decision must have come about because he has learned that he can’t stick his claws out when playing with me.

Although I have not deliberately trained him, I find that he responds to me when I say “No” when he does something that might be harmful to him or to me.

No doubt this may seem like common sense to many cat guardians but I am struck by the very deliberate change in his behaviour with respect to the use of his claws when interacting with me. A welcome modification, I must say, because I did receive quite a few scratches initially.

Cats learn to limit the extent of the force and aggression they use in play. When I stayed at A1 Savannahs I saw this learning process in action between three beautiful Savannah cats playing in a hammock in a cage in the living room of the Stucki’s home. They were being socialised.

One was an F1 and the other two were F2 Savannahs. The F1 (his name was Focus) was stronger and biting and playing too hard. The F2 complained by screaming noisily at him. He responded by stopping or easing back on the force he used. Martin Stucki made the observation that cats learn how far they can go in play.

I have always remembered that. I sense cats also learn how far they can go when playing with their human companion. It is down to the human to complain but….this does not mean that the human punishes his cat. In my case saying “No” firmly, in a tone that conveyed seriousness and also accompanying this sound (the sound of saying No) with pulling away the arm and indicating that it is unpleasant for the human has worked in that he has understood that claws out at certain times is unacceptable.

It appears I have informally trained my cat. Perhaps this was reward based training – positive reinforcement. He learned that if he kept his claws in we continued to play or interact. The only form of cat training that is acceptable is positive reinforcement. I guess we all know that by now thanks to the internet.

On a related topic, kittens and young cats want to bite almost anything and everything. They also like to test almost anything by chewing it and even getting close to swallowing it. The want to sense the world through their mouths. This presents health risks, as we know. Small objects and fine string are potentially dangerous play items. The guardian of a young cat needs to be alert to dangers. This is common sense again but it needs to be said again too.

5 thoughts on “Domestic cats consciously choose when to extend their claws in play”

  1. Very TRUE and nice article, rightly said,”The guardian of a young cat needs to be alert to dangers. This is common sense again but it needs to be said again too.”

  2. I think you would have enjoyed the programme, so I’d encourage you to watch it. If you get bored, you can always use the “off” button 😉

    They featured Cat Island, Japan, which is populated solely with feral cats. I noticed a number of them had bobbed or short tails. I’m also curious to hear your opinion regarding the actions of the “babysitter” cat.

    I think either through play with siblings or gentle guidance from humans, most cats learn claw manners. I like teaser toys because they provide cats with an opportunity to unleash their wild side without anyone getting hurt. People sometimes forget that play releases predatory instincts and using your hands instead of toys is just asking for trouble.

  3. Nice to hear Gabriel has been brought up to have good manners 🙂

    I must admit, when I read the title of the article I thought it was perhaps in response to the BBC2 programme “Pets: Wild At Heart” which was broadcast yesterday evening. They mentioned the same thing about a cat and dog playing together. If you didn’t catch this programme I can highly recommend it. Some amazing camera work and interesting insights into our pets’ behaviours.

    • I was going to watch it. I still might. But because I read so much about cats I feel I know what the programme will say. Don’t get me wrong, I am not being boastful. It is just that I don’t believe the programme will keep my interest. Also, I am not that interested in TV anymore. I thought of the article suddenly when Gabriel noticeably smacks me with his claws. He never has them out for me. But with “prey” he does.


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