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When I pet my cat, he often curls his toes, and extends / retracts his claws. I guess it's a sign that he enjoys getting petted, however this is not something I appreciate when he's lying on furniture and his claws scratch and pierce the surface. Normally, he doesn't cause damage to furniture; he likes his scratching post, but this is an exception.

Is there any way to tell my cat to avoid extending his claws when he is being petted, or is the only way to avoid damage to always take him on my lap (not that I appreciate him clawing my clothes either)? Is there another way to prevent this?

  • Does your cat do this only once, like a normal stretch which ends up in grabbing a hold with claws of whatever happens to be there? Or is it the repeated motion with paws (and claws) known as "kneading"? I don't see the word "repeat" in the question. The posted answers seem to fit anyway, I'm just curious about it. – Esa Paulasto Jan 7 '14 at 7:40
  • @EsaPaulasto It's repeated motion. – Athari Jan 7 '14 at 7:50
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    I haven't seen this answer yet - you can trim cat nails cutting of the sharp end (do not cut into pink quick). It's painless procedure comparable to trimming nails in humans and it doesn't prevent cat from climbing and otherwise enjoying life (as oppose to declawing which is a painful procedure prohibited by animal cruelty laws in many countries) – Maciej Piechotka Nov 24 '17 at 22:36
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This behavior is known as "kneading", and is an instinctive behavior that stems from feeding on its mother's milk. Kittens knead at their mother to stimulate milk production while feeding, and the behavior tends to reoccur whenever they are feeling extremely relaxed and contented.

Not all cats maintain this behavior into adulthood, but many do.

Since it is both instinctual, and reinforced during early kittenhood, it is unlikely you will ever train your cat to stop. However, a solution that may work is to get your cat his own blanket.

One of our cats kneads pretty regularly, even when no one is petting her. She does so most often on a soft red throw blanket, that we keep on the back of the sofa (one of her preferred resting/kneading spots) for that very purpose. This avoids damage to the furniture, and when company comes over, we can just put the blanket away.

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  • One of my mother's cats (mistreated by a former owner) used to knead me for a while. It took forever for him to trust me before that, but when he did, it got a bit too ticklish. So I picked him up and put him off. He whined and never did it again, but he still liked me. I missed the kneading, though. – aschultz Jan 11 at 3:47
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Well, the short answer is no. This is just an unconscious reaction to the pleasure of being petted and so your cat is stretching out to enjoy. Humans do that too, we just don't have sharp claws that wreak havoc as a result. :)

At any rate, you don't want punish the cat for enjoying the petting, you'll send very mixed signals and possibly result in an even more undesirable behavior. You might consider stopping immediately when that happens, but that's as far as I would take it. The reality is, if you have cats, some furniture damage is almost unavoidable.

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A direct answer to your question: no, I don't know a way to actually prevent kneading, but redirecting it to another material may be possible.

You can try to train a cat to recognize a certain surface as a no-kneading surface, but I think it needs to be something easy for the cat to distinguish from other materials. I'm thinking of a leather sofa for example; you can train the cat not to tread/knead on leather while all other materials are okay.

Then again, it can result in a situation where the cat remembers the rule only when you are near and the rest of the time when that cat feels like kneading it won't matter what's under its paws. Perhaps this would still be better than nothing?

I have trained one of my cats to avoid kneading on my own skin. Especially in summer but also around the year I like to dress lightly at home. Wearing shorts and T-shirt all year, and having a cat that liked to knead a lot whenever brushed and petted. While in my lap she would knead on my skin like in a trance. Every time she started doing this on my skin (arm, leg, whatever exposed) I gently lifted her paws off and moved them on cloth nearest to the cat at the moment. Usually that cloth surface was either my jeans or T-shirt or a pillow.

It took time and many attempts at kneading on skin going by, but eventually that cat learned to notice what was under her paws when she felt like kneading. Success was noted when the cat started to knead on skin and then immediately moved her paws herself onto a cloth surface.

What I mean by "gently lift off her paws" is that I put my fingers under her "ankles" just behind paws and lift the paws up a little, then carry the paws sideways to the nearest cloth surface, moving the cat just so little in the process so as not to disturb her kneading too much. If a pillow was nearby, I would not move the paws at all but just lift them and move the pillow under her paws. She did not get a message like "kneading is bad". For her kneading is okay when she does it on cloth. As I said, it eventually worked out great :)

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  • I just wish they'd knead something other than the tender skin of my inner elbows. – Anton Sherwood Feb 1 '17 at 9:16
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I have one who kneads all the time. He showed up as a feral kitten, around 4-5 weeks old. Couldn't find his mom and he was too afraid to come near anyone for the first month. He didn't get the mothering he needed and is a little immature. He likes to knead on my shoulder and nurse on my shirt.

I don't think he will ever stop, and I do NOT want to punish him. He turned out to be super cuddly and just loves being held and petted. I don't want that to change.

A few things have helped. When he digs in with his claws, I will pick up a paw and hold it. He still flexes his paws, but it doesn't hurt. I keep a thick dishtowel near the sofa and drape that over me when he comes to nurse and knead. His claws don't go through it. Finally, I bought cat milk at the pet store, the kind that's formulated for cats to digest. I give him about an ounce of milk every night. That seems to push a few of his kitten buttons and he doesn't want to nurse and knead as much when he gets his milk.

I wish he would stop, but I can live with it. Like I said, this guy went from feral to about the most affectionate cat I've ever had. I'll take a few claws in the shoulder for that. He's not doing it to hurt me.

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Trimming cat nails may help you from gettings scratches by your pet. You can do it one a week or daily as per your pets growth rate. Cuddling will be a lot easier if there is not sharpen claws of your pet.

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  • This is the approach I use. To prevent furniture or skin damage, you only need to make the claw blunt by removing just the very tip of the nail. Also, you only need to do the front claws. I check my cat's nails regularly while I pet them. Usually, there's only one nail (if any) that needs trimming, so it's a very quick process and the cats are co-operative. – mhwombat Dec 31 '18 at 6:00
  • if your cat lives indoor only you can do this,but outdoor cats need sharp claws to protect themselves and to hunt. – trond hansen Dec 31 '18 at 7:10
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I have a similar experience as Esa...

Only one of my cats came to me not already declawed, and that one likes to kneady-paw a lot.

If I gently lift up her paw when she's doing it she tends to tone down the claw extension. It's not perfect but it allows for cuddling which is nice.

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I have been able to perduade cats to kneed with minimal or no claws, by a combination of making uncomfortable noises when poked and gently tapping the paw tips or lifting them away from me. Remember, cats successfully train each other to go easy on the claws...

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