Why is my cat pawing at hard, shiny surfaces?

by Linda
(Bullhead City, AZ)

My cat ‘George’ will sit and look out the window and begin scratching on the glass with both paws (one then the other).

At first I thought he was seeing his reflection, but he also does this on the trashcan, the bathtub and any large object with a slippery type surface.

If I have company I tell them he’s ‘waving’ to someone outside.


Hi Linda.. thanks for visiting and asking. This is not uncommon behavior.

There are quite a few reasons given by people who keep cats. You won’t find an answer in a book.

People say it is because the cat:

–sees his reflection and wants to interact with it. Even a shiny surface that is not a mirror will reflect a ghost image of the cat so he might be interacting with that.

–wants to get attention. I don’t think this is correct.

–likes the feel of it on his/her paws. I am not sure this is right either.

My thoughts about this behavior are as follows.

We should refer domestic cat behavior questions to what happens in the wild with wildcats. That informs us about our domestic cat behavior.

Cats do paw at water in the wild. And domestic cats also paw at the surface of water. They do this as part of an instinctive act to catch prey in the water perhaps by breaking up the reflection so that they can see better into the water. A lot of small wild cats live and hunt near water courses etc. as these areas are sources of prey.

Water is a shiny reflective surface when still. Your cat may be exercising a natural and instinctive ‘searching for prey behavior’ in touching a shiny surface. The fact that the surfaces are vertical (and therefore can’t be water) is not relevant. The behavior is instinctive.

That is one possible reason. Another is that your cat is simply curious at the nature of the material.

Cats are naturally curious as we know. “Curiosity killed the cat”. Cats get into trouble because of their curiosity.

They like to paw at and prod objects that look interesting for whatever reason. Your cat might have a interest in shiny surfaces simply as a personality trait. Cats do have individual personalities. Also shiny surfaces are man made. You won’t see them in the wild unless it is water or ice. This may generate a curiosity.

These are my suggestions. They are not out of books but simply my ideas.

If anyone else has a better idea I would love to hear from them in a comment.

Hope this helps.

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Why is my cat pawing at hard, shiny surfaces?

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Mar 24, 2012
My cat does this, too. NEW
by: Maggie

On sunny mornings, if I’m still in bed and Chilli, my Abyssinian cat, wants to lie on my bed in the sun, he will paw at the window until I open the blinds, or tell him no! He will also do this to the cupboard door when he’s hungry, or the back door, when he wants to go outside (on his harness or with supervision, of course!). To me, it’s Chilli’s way of communicating that he wants something, but needs my assistance. Your cat would have his own reasons for doing this, which is clearly different to Chilli’s reasons. Perhaps it means he needs to go to the toilet? He doesn’t want to go inside, but if he has to, the smooth surfaces are his preference? You can’t really be sure unless you thoroughly observe him before, during and after he does the pawing, but I don’t doubt it’s a form of communication.

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About Michael Broad

Michael is retired! He retired at age 57 and at Aug 2018 is approaching 70. He worked in many jobs. The last job he did was as a solicitor practicing general law. He loves animals and is passionate about animal welfare. He also loves photography and nature. He hates animal abuse. He has owned and managed this site since 2007. There are around 13k pages so please use the custom search facility!


Why is my cat pawing at hard, shiny surfaces? — 16 Comments

  1. All sound a bit like my cat but he scratches every smooth surface , kitchen cabinets, mirror doors, outside doors..Nothing to do with his food ! Why…..

  2. My cat (Loki; named after the Norse God due to his unpredictable nature) tends to do this at doors he wants to go through; however in the two and a bit years he’s lived with me, originally turning up as a very shy stray cat who would usually wait until one as far away before taking any food left out for him, until he came closer to the house and finally came in through the cat flap (which was left over from my previous two cats which died within one year of one another) until one day I found him asleep on my bed, he was very timid at first and would paw on doors (as if trying to run up the door to the handle; which I’ve since taught him to use on a door with a half broken and weak spring) but he has since started to vocalize when he gets in from prowling, to see if I’m in and where I am, as well as at certain doors to get in or out.
    He does act like he’s trying to “bury” his food on a hard tile floor. which I’ve had explained as him wanting to hide it from competitors and sure enough, when I put a few sheets of newspaper down on the.floor near his bowl he covered the bowl over with them, then moved them away when he wanted a snack.
    He also does it on semi reflective surfaces which I take to be the same as what Michael (the author) has said, this is usually in the bath, which he associates with water. h
    He used to be much more curious (I think living with me may have been the first time he ever properly lived in a home) and would jump up to me while I was bathing and paw at the water there, as well as pawing at my (older and less delicate) TV before jumping up onto his hind legs to see of the picture was behind it, he doesn’t do this anymore (probably because he’s less curious and also because he got shouted at for playing with my new, expensive 4k smart TV) though he will still avidly watch television, usually sitting up beside me with his eyes glued to the screen (he has some specific favourite programs that he will rush in to watch when the theme music plays and also seems to enjoy watching me play videogames), most amusingly he even reacts to what’s happening to an extent, putting his ears back and changing his expression during the show, though he could just be mirroring my behaviour (though, obviously I can’t put my ears back), more on topic however; his pawing at surfaces seems to always be him wanting to fulfil a specific goal, doors mean he wants in or out, cupboard doors mean “I’m hungry”, trying to bury food means “I want this saved until later, okay?” and pawing at the bath usually means “I’m thirsty, please turn the tap on slightly so I can have a fresh drink”
    He does do it somewhat randomly too, however maybe I’ve just not found out why yet, when he was pawing at a cupboard that he knew his food was never in I was confused until I opened it, he went in and came out with a mouse. Maybe sometimes he’s trying to sharpen claws, or mark his scent using the glands in his paws.

    • Thanks David for a great read. Very interesting. I’ll digest what you say as it may inspire me to write again on this subject.

  3. I first noticed my cat doing this to my tablet. I assumed she was watching the pictures fly by. But then, in my walk in closet, she found then side of plastic blanket carrier. Then plates, plastic waste cans etc. I have no idea. Whenever I go back to the closet, she follows me in and paws the plastic. It’s very ritualistic.

  4. My cat does this every night when I get up to use the bathroom. He scratches at the shower wall like a mad kitty, and when I’m done he’s done. He follows me out. I wish I knew why he does this. He doesn’t seem to want anything, and goes right back to bed aftwards. Cats are so strange!

    • I know this is two years late, but have you tried a thin stream of running water, obviously one that won’t soak him. My cat does this in the bath to (seemingly) indicate that he’s thirsty, turning the tap on (lightly, so he doesn’t get soaked) means he drinks from where the water meets the side of the bath. I know cats prefer running water to still water and he may have watched you or someone else showering and associated the shower with a more desirable water source.
      If you can’t turn the shower on very slightly (such as with a single pressure electric shower) you could try filling up a fresh bowl of water (shiny metal bowls confuse cats as to where the water level is and they are less likely to drink from it as they want to avoid getting water on or up their nose, ideally a coloured ceramic (or enameled metal) bowl is best, especially in a “passive” colour such as blue or green, as opposed to red or strong yellow which signify danger in the animal world.

  5. Our cat Monte did this the first Christmas when I threw an empty plastic card packet on the floor, that could have been the water thing, bet ever since he has done it if he wants something, usually treats! Bedroom mirror is the door where the upstairs treats are kept, kitchen cupboard for downstairs treats, patio doors to go out and bath to go to the loo! So, definitely his way of communicating 😹

  6. My cat is indoor, but I do let her come outside with me for picnics in the backyard every now and then. She likes to paw like that on the back door to plead with me to let her out. However, she also seems to do this to other objects (eg. pieces of cardboard, notebooks, flat plastic surfaces, paper) for fun. I know she’s in a playful mood when she starts doing this.
    The behavior, when applied to smooth things on the ground reminds me of cats digging for moles. My initial thought would be that maybe the smoothness perplexes them because they can’t dig into it, just as a frozen lake would in the wild. However, this behavior doesn’t extend to smooth floors like tile or wood, at least not that I’ve observed.

  7. My cat does this when he wants me to feed him. He wakes me up pawing at the headboard an during the day he paws at a glass covered picture. The latter means he wants me to get the fishing pole and play with him. I have other cats so he is not lonely!

    • Thanks for sharing Susan. When my cat wants me to get up and get involved including feeding him, he licks the side of the bed. It gets me up!

  8. Pingback: Does your cat try and hide food? | Pictures of Cats

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