Why Does My Cat Put His Paw On My Face?


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As a cat parent, I’ve always been fascinated by the various methods that my cats use to communicate with me. Knowing the reasons behind their actions can be tricky but deciphering their behavior is rewarding. One such puzzling action that I’ve encountered is when they touch my face with their paw, and they usually do it when we’re cuddling or I’m staring at my computer desk.

Why does my cat put his paw on my face?

It’s a way for your cat to get attention, wake you up, or demand food. They might be expressing their affection, trust and marking you with their scent. However, they could also be asking for some personal space.

If you want to understand better what your kitty is trying to communicate to you by putting their paw on your face, then keep on reading!

Why Does My Cat Put His Paw On My Face?

Despite what many non-cat enthusiasts might think, if you’ve lived with a cat long enough then you probably know that our feline friends seek out our company and they’re masters at finding ways to communicate with us and express their feelings.

We’ve figured out that their meows are mostly directed at us, and that their body language is quite expressive if we take the time to study it, but what does it mean when they put their paws on our face?

Reason 1: To Get Your Attention

I don’t know about you, but I grew up with the notion that cats are autonomous creatures and that they don’t really need anyone. While it can be true to an extent, house cats that share their life with their chosen human crave attention.

A recent study showed evidence that cats “share social traits once attributed to dogs and humans alone.” In fact, cats are capable of forming secure and insecure attachments as a human baby would.

So, why and how often your kitty will place their paw on your face could also depend on whether they are more needy or confident in your relationship. There are different ways in which cats will claim your attention.

A hungry kitty will meow their demands from another room, or next to their food bowl if it’s empty, and if your cat is asking for cuddles, they might show you their belly or lay on your keyboard.

Of course, one of the most common ways a human and even a cat can get someone else’s attention is through physical touch. Take a moment and look at how this black kitty uses his paw patiently demanding his owner’s petting.

While this furry cat is tapping their owner’s arm, I’ve had my cats do the same to my face, especially if I happen to ignore them and they were close enough to reach me with their paws. When that happens, they usually want to snuggle with me, or they want me to make room for them to sit on my lap.

If your kitty is demanding attention by touching your face, all you have to do is figure out whether it’s the food they want, cuddles, petting, or something unique to them, like opening the balcony door.

Reason 2: To Mark You With Their Scent

We’ve often talked about the instinctive need of cats whether they’re wild or not to mark their territory. The most common way to do it is by urine spray marking or leaving claw marks on trees. Our domesticated house kitties aren’t so different, but there is another subtle way felines leave their mark.

Cats have scent glands on different parts of their body, the most common one is on their forehead. So, when your kitty headbutts you or other cats, it’s their way of saying hello and it’s a social exchange of scents.

Similarly, they have scent glands on their paws, and they can use them to claim their territory by scratching the furniture, thus releasing their pheromones. When your cat is marking your face with their paw, they don’t see you as an object to be claimed instead, they recognize you as a member of their family. This can be even more common in a multicat household where one cat will rub their face against yours, or place their paw on it to reestablish their scent on you.

Reason 3: To Show You Love

Whether your kitty is touching your face with their paw for attention or to mark you, these two things can also symbolize their love. We don’t ask for attention from people we don’t like, and the same can be said about cats. Marking us is also part of their love language, something the mothers would do to their kittens, or bonded cats do to each other.

I still think it’s important to note that when your fluffy overlord uses their paw to show affection the touch is unique. It’s usually gentle and soft, and they keep their claws sheathed. This gesture usually happens when you and your kitty are cuddling on the couch and they reach out to touch your face, purring loudly as they do so.

If you pay attention to their body language you will notice that they’re melting in your presence and they’re giving you the slow blink. In some cases, the slow motion of them putting their paw on your face can look like kneading. While kneading is also a sign of affection, your kitty might not understand that your skin is too soft for their claws, so always be extra careful when this happens.

Reason 4: They Want To Play

A cat’s paw language can be quite versatile, so looking out for different nuances like the type of movement, the speed, whether the claws are sheathed or unsheathed. These small details can give you an idea behind your cat’s thought process. If your kitty is reaching out to touch your face, your arm, or your leg, and before you know it they immediately runoff, then they’re probably in a playful mood and they want to engage in play. Unlike the soft paw movement of love, this playful gesture might look like tapping or swatting, quite similar to what they’d do to their stuffed toys.

This could’ve been triggered by your hair’s movement, or even your nose which they might playfully try to bite! Your kitty could simply be too bored to play with their toys and they want you to move the ribbon instead. If your kitty is patting you on the face with their paw demanding play, the best thing you can do is actually play with them.

According to the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, “if you don’t provide your cat with opportunities for predatory behaviors, he may become obese, bored, and frustrated. He may develop a stress-associated disease or respond aggressively toward you and other animals within your household.”

My cat will usually meow to get my attention for a game session, and if I don’t reply they’ll tap me with their paw and then run to their toy to show me what that tap was for. So, make sure to discern between your cat’s loving touch and a playful paw tap, by paying attention to their overall behavior and body language.

Reason 5: It’s A Sign Of Trust

If you’re a new cat owner, or you’ve adopted a timid kitty then putting their paw softly on your face could be their way of testing the waters or trying to show that they trust you. Cats also use their paws to explore the world around them, so they will often bat at things to see what will happen.

Naturally timid cats or cats that have been traumatized by previous owners might use this tactic to see if they can trust the human that has adopted them. They might be trying to see what will happen if they do touch their new owner, will it result in play, cuddling, or a negative experience?

Cats that have been previously encouraged to play in an aggressive way and attack their owner as a way to initiate a playful interaction might tap your face if it’s in close proximity. Then again if your kitty gently puts his paw on your face during cuddling, they’re truly showing that they feel secure enough to be this close to you.

According to Dr. Lauren Finka, a lead researcher in feline behavior “providing the cat with choice and control is key to ensure they feel happy and comfortable during interactions. This includes gently offering a hand to the cat and letting it decide if it wants to interact or not, usually indicated by it rubbing against the person’s hand.” If you’ve done everything to make your kitty comfortable then touching your face is their way of taking a step towards you.

So, letting your new kitty make the first move, like touching you with their paw, is also the key to a healthy cat-human relationship based on mutual trust!

Reason 6: They’re Mimicking Your Behavior

It can be difficult to understand the meaning behind a cat’s behavior since they don’t really speak our language, so we spend most of our interactions with our cats through physical contact. We pet them and we touch their faces and when a cat puts their paw on our face it’s natural to assume that they’re copying our behavior.

This could be our way of anthropomorphizing our cats like many people call cats evil when they see them play with their prey, while the truth is it’s a hunting behavior based on their need to survive.

Well, while the latter can be partially true, researchers have found a Japanese cat called Ebisu that’s a literal copycat! Kristyn Vitale, from Unity College, tells us that “People think of cats as solitary and antisocial, but this study reinforces the idea that they’re watching us and learning from us.” If we listen to Vitale then it’s safe to assume that there are cats out there that can mimic human behavior on a larger or smaller scale.

I’ve seen one of my cats open a sliding door which they wouldn’t know was possible if I hadn’t opened it in the first place!

Reason 7: They’re Claiming Their Personal Space

Not every paw resting on our face is a sign of love, in some cases, it could be your cat’s way to establish distance between you and them. Cats are known for their independence and that they mostly want us to act according to their needs and expectations, and since cats can be somewhat unpredictable these can change.

One moment you’re swooping in to give your kitty a kiss on their cute little nose, and instead of hearing the usual soft purr or sweet little meow of acknowledgment you’re met with a paw. I’m sure it’s a familiar picture whether it has happened to you or you’ve seen videos with cats stopping their owner’s approaching face with their paws as they try to kiss them.

In case you haven’t here’s one that will definitely make you laugh!

Like you can see in this clip, this gesture is usually calm, but if you push too hard your kitty will either get up and leave or push that paw against you more aggressively. That’s why it’s important to listen to what your cat or in this case your cat’s paws are saying to you and respect their boundaries.

Reason 8: They Were Stretching

While deciphering your kitty’s body language will definitely benefit your relationship and teach you when is the right time to show them some love, a paw in your face could simply be a coincidence. You might be looking for a motive, but there’s a chance that your feline companion was simply stretching, and their paw landed on your face. Some cats might remove the paw right after it lands on your face while others might find the position comfortable enough to leave the paw resting there.

Why Does My Cat Put His Paw On My Face When I’m sleeping?

I think there’s no better lullaby than a cat’s purr and the soft warmth of their fur as they settle down to sleep next to you, and it must be one of the highest feline compliments as cats will only do that if they feel secure around you especially when they’re the most vulnerable.

Cats will also choose to sleep in different poses and areas of the bed. One of my cats will snuggle under the blankets and then move to my feet while the other one prefers to occupy my pillow. Sometimes the kitty that sleeps next to my face will rest his paw on my hair and it often ends up on my face.

Touching you or rubbing against you while you’re asleep is usually a sign of trust and love and it could be part of their kneading behavior that they usually do when they’re preparing to sleep. I usually interpret this as a good night, but if it happens during the night I know that it’s usually my cats’ effort to wake me up and get my attention. The reason why a cat would wake you up by putting a paw on your face will differ from one cat to another. They might feel peckish, they might want to play, or they’re simply asking you to scoot over. 

Should I Stop My Cat From Touching My Face?

As cute as the gesture of their soft paw on your face might be, it can have some unwanted consequences. First of all, it’s important to remember that accidents can happen. By placing their paws on our face we’re faced with a weapon our kitties use to defend themselves or attack. Most of the time they keep their claws sheathed, but if something in that moment startles them or something triggers the fight or flight instinct, then you might end up with a scratch.

Even if your kitty is stretching their paws towards your face the tips of the claws can retract and catch on your skin.

If or when this happens remember that there’s no reason to blame or shout at our cats because it’s not something they can control, especially if they got scared or frustrated. After all, we’re responsible for how we handle our feline companions and how safe and relaxed we make them feel around us.

Apart from unfortunate accidents, having your kitty’s paw on your face is not the most hygienic thing. Our cats walk around the house, they use their litter box, and some might even have the freedom to go outside.

Yes, cats are clean animals, but that doesn’t mean that their grooming is enough. While feline diseases mostly affect cats, some can be transmitted to humans, and these diseases are called zoonotic diseases. You might have heard a few of these diseases, like salmonella poisoning, which can affect a cat if they catch and eat a bird.

Skin infection like ringworm often appears as a “round, red, itchy lesion with a ring of scale around the edge”. The most notorious of these diseases is Toxoplasmosis, which the Cornell University states that while most people infected by this Toxoplasma show no over signs of disease, “people with weakened immune systems and infants whose mothers are infected during pregnancy can develop severe illness from this parasite.”

That’s why it’s important to wash your hands after you’ve petted your kitty, and avoid letting them sleep on your pillow, especially if they’re an outdoor cat. Similarly, it’s best to avoid letting your kitty put their paw on your face, in case they accidentally scratch you or cause something as simple as skin irritation.

I mean there are so many other ways of showing your kitty that you love them and receive that love back, so I’m sure we can leave paws out!

How Do I Stop My Cat From Touching My Face?

When faced with unwanted feline behavior, the first step you need to take is to figure out the reasons behind it. As I’ve explained above there are numerous explanations as to why your cat is touching your face. If your kitty is putting his paw on your face while you’re asleep or they keep persistently tapping you then it’s possible that they want food, or they’re bored, and they want to play. In some cases, I’ve been awakened by my cat’s fast tapping me in the face because there was a stuffed mouse lost in my hair, or they wanted me to move and free up their rightful sleeping spot.

What helped me solve the persistent mewing and constant paw patting was an automatic food feeder. I can’t recommend this easy solution enough, and it’s a great way to avoid your cat’s frustrated hungry meows throughout the whole day. You can check our review on 5 different feeders, or you can click here and see my number one pick, the Cat Mate C500 on Amazon! I promise you your hungry kitty will have no reason to tap you on the face!

Cats are animals that hunt during the late hours of the night, so it’s also possible that your kitty is terrorizing your sleep because they’re bored. The best way to ensure that your feline companion will sleep through the night is if you tire them out by playing with them before going to bed. Keeping the bedroom off-limits can also help reduce your cat’s paw interventions and help you enjoy a full night of sleep.

The same need for hunting games can occur during the day, and if your kitty keeps placing their paw on your face to initiate play then it’s time to take a break. Find what toys excite your kitty and recreate a hunting experience. This way you’ll help your kitty stay fit and healthy mentally as well as physically! If on the other hand, cuddling is what they desire then you can either indulge or change the way they request their petting through positive reinforcement.

According to Feline Practitioners “It is important that rewards are not unintentionally given for undesirable behavior. Ignoring or redirecting negative behavior is the best way to eliminate that behavior.”

Instead of petting them straight away or worse shouting at them, make sure to remove their paw from your face and wait a few moments before petting them. Help them lose the association of petting with putting their paw on your face. Slowly your kitty will learn that this is not a method they want to use if they want to get cuddles or any type of attention from you.

Cats can be trained, but it might take longer to change old habits that have been reinforced by your acceptance over the years. If you’re struggling with changing this behavior, then try to avoid your kitty’s paw as much as possible by making sure your face isn’t within reach. And last but not least, be patient with your furry friend, since all they think they’re doing is showing you love!

Closing Thoughts

No matter the reason behind your kitty’s obsession with your face one thing is certain, they want to lay their paws on it because they trust you.

Cats wouldn’t do this if they didn’t!

On the other hand, if it’s a defense mechanism, then you better listen to your cat’s request. After all, we need to learn that before restricting a certain behavior we need to consider what this behavior means and find ways to ensure that their needs are being met.

Now tell us, does your cat puts his paw on your face, and have you figured out the reason why behind it?

Marina Titova

Marina was cat-struck 8 years ago. It was early autumn when Dante, her grey cat, found her and adopted her. They’ve been inseparable ever since. Dante has been a great cat-teacher and BetterWithCats.net seemed like the perfect place to share his cat-knowledge.

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