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I have a 2 year old cat which we got from a cat shelter and has been with us for almost two weeks now. He's very friendly and enjoys a good stroke and has never used his claws in anger.

What frequently happens while he's being stroked is that he'll lie down and start kneading, but if the stroking continues, he'll extend one paw in the direction of the stroker (if you're crouched it'll be on top of the leg for instance) and start extending and retracting his claws rather frequently. It obviously hurts quite a bit. If you move the limb away he'll move his paw again so it doesn't seem accidental.

I'd like to stress that it doesn't appear to be an aggressive movement or that he's tired of being stroked, he'll continue purring and if you stop stroking him he'll rub against you until you start again.

I'm not sure whether this is a weird variation of kneading, because I've never seen it before and he's not exactly kneading per se (he doesn't move the paw at all), and the 'arm' will be at 90 degrees to the body (not underneath him)

What is this about, and how can I discourage this sort of behaviour?

  • I grew up with many cats, and several of them did this – Kik Aug 14 '15 at 18:40
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Some cats have weird habits. I don't think you can discourage this, because you would be sending mixed signals (I'm petting you, which feels good, at the same time as scolding you).

One of my cats only likes to be petted while standing (if he's sitting or laying down, he'll stand up when being petted), and then he'll stick one of his front paws out at 90 degree angle away from his body (just into the air). It's just a weird variation of kneading, and I suspect that your cat is doing something similar.

If it hurts because his claws are digging into you, I would recommend trimming his claws or using nail caps (Softpaws are a popular brand)

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  • And if you're not in the habit of trimming your cat's nails, I suggest that you do one nail at a time, until both of you are comfortable with the procedure. And remember, you only need to trim the front nails. – mhwombat Aug 14 '15 at 12:26
  • Also, using something like "Clipnosis" (or just binder clips) can really help with nail trims. Or you can train your cat to go into lateral recumbency on cue, and clip there. – Steven Gubkin Aug 14 '15 at 13:31
  • One of our cats does this as well... if you start petting her and she gets really "lost" in it, she will extend one paw towards you (or both if she's laying on her side) and actually stretch to touch you, then do a very strong and sometimes faster "kneading". – Doktor J Aug 16 '15 at 4:07
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All cats have similarities, but also wonderfully! they are their own little cat "people" too, take time to observe and enjoy.

Probably I'd say this is as little kittens do, the intention of kneading milk - but just mixed up an adult body behavior. He loves being stroked, held, and petted, and just doesn't quite know what to do with himself - he's just so very happy, feels so trusting and content just like a little kitten, but he is also an adult cat, so out come the claws for ultra kneading action! (It's his version of super sizing hugs!)

I'd say congratulations, for giving him the chance to have a family he can trust so fully, he sounds so happy! xox

Please don't mind the prickly claws (he's an adult feeling all the love and open honesty of a little kitten, and is obviously so happy and grateful for a second chance! Not many experience this again in life, and you've made that possible! (Be happy he is happy, You have done well!)

He certainly doesn't mean his prickly paws in any sort of aggressive form. So please endure! Enjoy knowing you have made one little cat very happy and relaxed enough to believe you are the ultimate mum :) as well as protected enough that he can act like a little kitten. You really have achieved something special! Especially since he is not standing or in any defensive position, just relaxed completely - standing would still mean "Ready to run if I must", so not completely off guard. (Some wild cats never lose this no matter the home, so be happy he is able, after all his adventures, to trust! It says a lot about his character and yours).

His feeling of security and love is in fact so strong he feels he can relax and be fully at ease again, not on guard, or afraid, (it's his highest praise) and a few holes are worth it :P

Maybe cats are good teachers, "Love is worth a few holes" :P I'd say lesson one accomplished. :P (Nanny McPhee eat your heart out)

As a side note (I did have a cat that did this and also stretched her arms out as you describe, I used to hold her paws when she did it and very gently press her paw, to retract the claws while talking gently, as you would a small baby, never hard, or to cause pain - She actually liked her paws being held and would sleep this way too, and wouldn't sleep until you were holding them ;). She eventually learnt that this was not correct behavior and understood how strong she was. But do it in their time not yours (just as you would with children) - Cats are smart they train us eventually :P

keshlam did remind me for indoor cats they will need to have claws trimmed (since I am used to indoor/outdoor cats that had a very big area to explore, we didn't really ever need to worry if they are getting enough exercise outdoor).

Absolutely never de-claw. Cats really have no chance without claws. It's their really last resort (called scaredy cat for a good reason, they hate fighting! and won't fight unless they really must, usually they run and are very shy creatures. If confronted please at least give them that).

Keep them in at night, well fed and loved and all should be good :)

(I have also worked with partially wild cats - that were used for breeding then dumped by owners - so have I a little experience in taming and re-socialising, trust that you have a precious opportunity).

Your cat is signalling that he accepts you as mum! - you will both learn and grow together - and you will have something special to show for it (yes maybe a few holes - but also a complete heart and happiness for both :) )

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  • 5
    Disagree strongly re claw trimming. For an indoor cat, an occasional trim is usually necessary, and if done properly (and if you give the cat time to get used to the process) it need not be a wrestling match. Easier if you've generally acclimated the cat to having their paws massaged, so they aren't "ticklish". Declawing, however, is surgical mutilation, equivalent to depriving a human of the first joint of each finger. – keshlam Aug 15 '15 at 3:12
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    @keshlam Yep fair enough, we had outdoor cats so claws did wear down naturally on trees and running about etc (but for indoor kitties, yes a light trim would be important if the can't naturally wear down) - ill update my answer (since I do still tend to think of cats as indoor - outdoor , and not just totally indoor - but there are lots of these little guys too ) so a good point. – StackBuddy Aug 15 '15 at 7:44
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In my experience, this is just a different form of kneading, and should be be taken as a sign of affection. Discouraging such behaviour by acting disapprovingly will be confusing to the cat in question.

Of course, it still hurts quite badly. I would recommend lifting the paws at the soft cushion, ever so slightly. This will make the cat automatically retreat their claws, without sending a 'disliking' signal. If done consistently, the cat will be quite careful with their claws around you, to the point of tumbling of your lap rather than using their claws.

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    Yes, even just lifting the paw slightly by placing one finger underneath it will retract the claws and, because it's done so gently, it's not an unfriendly gesture.. You can then set his paw back down where it was and repeat as many times as necessary. – David Richerby Aug 15 '15 at 9:14
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When mine pulls out her claws while kneading, I tap on the top of a claw which seems to irritate her as much as what she's doing to me. Only takes once or twice and she'll fold her arms under herself. I let her get away with it so long as she's just knead-clawing air; she knows the tap is coming if not.

I don't have retractable claws, but I'd imagine it's kinda like cracking your knuckles: You don't have to do it (but it feels good) and it annoys other people.

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    That, or pull the tip of the toe and the claw back. They can learn that we soft-skinned humans need to be kneaded more gently, it just takes time for them to get the idea that it's the grab-with-claws that we're objecting to. – keshlam Aug 15 '15 at 3:06

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