If your kitty taps you with his paw, he's most likely looking for you to pay attention to him, according to the American Animal Hospital Association. Pawing is an attention-seeking behavior that a cat will use to see if you'll respond to him, especially if he's bored, anxious or hungry.
When your cat gets lonely or bored, he may seek you out and try to get your attention by either meowing at you or touching you with a paw. He may just want to be stroked if he's anxious, or he may want you to play with him. Kitties need at least 15 minutes of interactive play with you each day to keep from becoming obese or developing behavioral problems, according to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Florida. Wave a cat toy on a string in front of your kitty to try to engage your cat's attention and motivate him to exercise. This also helps to tire your kitty out before bedtime so he'll sleep through the night without bothering you.
A kitty that expects to be fed at a certain time of day or is free-fed but has an empty bowl may come up to you and give you a tap with his paw to remind you to feed him. Some cats may come up to you while you are sleeping and give your cheek a tap to wake you up so you can feed them. A full gravity feeder can help prevent an alarm-clock kitty from waking you if his bowl is empty. Another option is to set up a timed feeder, which has compartments filled with your cat's portions that open at preset times during the day.
Cats like to communicate with pheromones, chemicals they produce in their scent glands to mark their territory and even their owners. The bottoms of a kitty's feet contain scent glands that leave behind pheromones when he touches you with them. The presence of his scent on you comforts him and marks you as familiar -- he's saying "you're mine" with his scent. You may even notice that he starts with a tap with one foot but then proceeds to knead on you with both feet. This is a comforting behavior that reminds of nursing from his mom. To avoid any accidental scratches during tapping or kneading, keep your little one's nails trimmed or cover them with soft nail caps, available in pet supply stores.
If you like when your little guy comes over and gives you a tap with his paw, you can encourage this behavior. Teach him to do it on command by giving him a verbal cue when he does it, such as "paw," and following immediately with a treat. When he learns the connection, he'll be more than happy to repeat the behavior for a yummy reward.
On the other hand, don't respond to a hungry kitty that tries to wake you with a tap of his paw. Getting up and feeding him will only encourage this undesirable behavior. Instead, ignore your kitty when he's trying to get you to feed him. Feed him on schedule.
- San Francisco SPCA: The Paws and the Claws
- Catster: Cat-Speak Dictionary: Rubbing, Nose-Taps, and Kneading
- Catster: Why Do Cats Knead?
- Cat Behavior Associates: Scent Communication
- PetPlace: Is Your Indoor Cat Bored? 12 Ways to Prevent Boredom
- Mind in the Lower Animals in Health and Disease, Volume 1; William Lauder Lindsay
- SPCA Florida: Exercising With Your Pet
Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, finances, crafts, food, home improvement, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared on City National Bank's website and on The Noseprint. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.