Why do cats dislike their front paws being held?

Cat touching my hand
My cat touching my hand but he does not like me holding his paw. This was not artificially created. Gabriel placed his paw where you see it.
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Why do cats dislike their front paws being held? I have experienced this so it’s of interest to me. I’ll try and answer it using common sense principles.

While I was writing this (in bed!) my cat, who likes to interfere with my ‘work’, placed his paw on my left hand as I was typing.

I stopped typing and made this little video:


Cats like to touch us paw-to-hand. My cat does it all the time and you’ll see it often when cats lie next to other cats with whom they are friendly. They touch paws.

So domestic cats feel reassured when they are in direct contact with companion animals. They like it and indeed need it. My cat does it entirely naturally, in the same way a couple might hold hands when walking together.

However, holding ‘hands’ or humans holding the paw of their cat is different to being in light contact as seen in the video. Some cats won’t mind having their paw held while others might tolerate it for a while and then withdraw their paw, which is what my cat does. But in general cats dislike it and the reason is probably to do with a need to be free to move as and when necessary.

Also a cat’s paws are exceptionally sensitive. The paw pads have many nerve sensors (receptors) which tell the cat what he is standing on and which provide information about the extension and retraction of the claws. This aids in capturing prey.

Placing their paw on your hand or placing your hand on their paw allows them to move their paw at will. Holding a paw restricts the cat’s movement. The paw is ‘trapped’. Cats don’t like this because they are always vigilant and prepared to move into action, which is instinctive behavior inherited from their wild cat ancestor. It is a wild cat trait, I’d argue.

When domestic cats sleep they often snooze half awake and alert. Yes, cats also sleep soundly and dream but even then they will wake up very rapidly when needed and be alert in seconds. There is an inherent alertness in cats. Their hearing and sense of smell are finely tuned and constantly ON.

Holding their front paws can make a cat feel uncomfortably trapped. Along similar lines, cats don’t really like their hind legs being touched when they’re resting. They withdraw them signalling displeasure. This behavior may be linked to the one described on this page. I think it feels like an interference in their ability to move which potentially jeopardises survival in a raw, wild cat sense.

After I removed my hand my cat sprawled over the computer and I stroked the back of his head which he loves. Here’s the follow up video:


4 thoughts on “Why do cats dislike their front paws being held?”

  1. I just thought of another example that supports Michael’s point that cats need to feel free to move. I have noticed on many occasions and again the other day, that when my cats see a threat (like a dog approaching, walking by) rather than accept my offer to either be held safely by me or come into the yard safely behind the fence or into the house, they prefer to go where there is room to move/run if necessary. They want to feel in control that way and not surrender themselves even to me whom they trust more than any human. By grabbing the paws, even when there’s no threat, is threat enough to trigger their need to feel free, which we feel too. If someone grabs you by the wrist, you aren’t going to like it either. So, it’s in their genes; they can’t help it, though you can modify it a little bit.

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  2. Yes I agree that cats don’t like having their paws grabbed and for the reasons stated. Mine are used to me playing with their toes though and tolerate me squeezing and holding them more than any other cat would. They still don’t “like” it but that’s their instinct, not how they feel about me. They love me and my quirks and the feeling’s mutual.

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      • Thanks. He loves to put his paw on my hand just like that. I have to work around him which can be hard if he is sprawled over the keyboard.

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