Why do cats dig their claws into you?

Have you ever felt the pain of your cat’s claws digging into your skin when you are trying to cuddle them or stroking their belly?? Well, let me tell you, it’s not like getting a massage or a manicure. You can’t just relax and enjoy the pampering of your pet. 

Cats’ claws are more like weapons than a beauty tool. They are not even nails, just grow out of their front toes. They’re sharp, curved, and retractable instruments that help your cats hunt, climb, defend, and mark their territory.

Imagine if your friend suddenly stabbed you with a knife when they were hugging you, you’d be shocked and hurt, right? That’s kind of what happens to us when our cats dig their claws into us. But don’t worry, I’m here to explain this scratchy topic. Let’s get to the point of the matter…

What is pawing behavior in cats?

Before we delve into the reason why your cat digs its claws into you, let’s first understand their pawing behavior.

Cats often use their paws to communicate with their human companions. They also use vocalizations such as meowing or purring to express their emotions. For example, if they are hungry or thirsty, they may paw at you and meow loudly until you give them food or water. Moreover, if they are feeling joyous or content, they may purr softly and knead your lap or chest with their paws.

When they paw at us, it typically means nothing noteworthy. However, sometimes they do just to draw our attention to inform us when they are ill or in discomfort. So, it’s completely normal for cats to paw at you unless it’s a matter of serious health or behavioral issues. 

Why do cats dig their claws at owners?

So, why do cats dig their claws at their owners? It’s not because they’re trying to hurt you or get revenge for petting a street animal in front of them (unless you did). There are a few more reasonable explanations:

  1. Kneading Behavior: 

Just like with their paws, cats use their claws to knead soft surfaces such as blankets, pillows, or your lap. This behavior came from their kittenhood, when they kneaded their mother’s belly to stimulate milk production. While kneading you, cats feel comfortable and safe, resulting in digging into your thin clothes or unfortunately your skin.

[To learn more why your cat kneads you, click the link and watch the video.] 

  1. Sharpening their Claws:

While your pet is in the best of moods, they can dig their claws into you just to sharpen them. If your cat doesn’t have the proper tools for the job, they could decide to use your clothes, furniture, and of course YOU!! It is not because they are upset, they could be as pleased as pudge. To them, “Well, I’m just sharpening my beautiful claws”, but you’re on the receiving end of Freddy Krueger.   

  1. Playtime gone Sour:

Now, let’s talk about some “not fun” times, where your feline digs into you because they are not in a fun mood. In particular, when your cats get too much of good things like stimulation overload, the response can be wild such as biting, clawing, swiping, or aimless running. 

Moreover, if they are in a hyperactive state, they can dig their claws into your skin when you try rubbing their irresistible squeezy belly. [also read why do I get the urge to squeeze my cat]  

  1. Fear or Anxiety:

Cats can experience fear or anxiety just like any human during a horror movie or a stressful situation. They may use their claws to defend themselves or escape from a perceived threat, such as a loud noise, a stranger, or another cat. 

  1. Pain or Discomfort:

Finally, cats can dig their claws due to pain or discomfort. For example, when you’re trying to pet them on their sensitive area or wound, they may scratch you. Sometimes they may scratch themselves just to relieve an itch, an infection, or an injury. 

How to respond when your cat digs their paws at you

Now that you have an idea of what causes their claws to swipe your skin, it’s time to respond. Before reacting in an inappropriate way, you need to know how to respond to this behavior. Let’s take a look at some possible responses:

Stop what you’re doing

If your cat digs you with their claws while you are showing affection, then it could be a sign that they have enough for that moment. Control your emotions and give your kitty some space. 

Observe their body language

As we said, fear or anxiety can make them scratch you. So pay attention to their body language. Find out if there is anything that scares or stresses your cat and fix it. On the other hand, if they are pawing you and seem playful, then bear with some minor scratches. After all, their happiness is what matters.

Redirect their behavior

One of the easiest ways to respond to their clawing behavior is to redirect them. You can use toys and other positive reinforcement, such as treats or praises, to divert their attention. This will help them to focus on playing rather than digging their sharp claw into your skin.  

Check if cats are experiencing any medical issues

Last but not least, find out whether your little kitty is experiencing any health issues. For example, check if they have any sores, infections, or other injuries that make them feel uncomfortable when you try to cuddle or pet them. So, make sure to treat their wounds to avoid their clawing attacks. 

What to do if you want to prevent your cats from digging their claws into you

As a cat owner, you surely love your kitty baby more than anything. But sometimes love can be painful. Just like when they dig their tiny sharp claws into you through your clothes. That time, one thing kept circling into your mind, “how to stop this behavior?? Is there any possible way?” Yes, there is. And we are going to talk about that in this section. So, let’s have a look-

  • Provide adequate scratching posts: If there are insufficient tools for cats to sharpen their claws, then you become the tool. So, to avoid becoming their clawing sharpener, and keep your cloth, bed, carpet or other furniture safe, you have to provide them with an adequate scratching post.  
  • Trim their claws regularly: Another way to prevent your cats from stabbing you with their paws is trimming their claws. It will decrease their scratching tendency. It’s true that cats don’t like to trim their talons. Therefore, you have to do it in a proper and safe way so that your little feline doesn’t get hurt. 

If you are a new cat parent then watch this video on how to cut cat’s claws and learn how to trim with step by step guidance, also some extra tips to make the procedure simple and comfortable.

  • Train cats to retract their claws: Training your cats to retract their claws can be a challenging task. However, with patience and consistency, you can teach them to retract claws while interacting with humans. Start slowly and gently by touching their paws, then gradually increase the time length. Keep training sessions in daily routine until they have completely mastered it. 
  • Increase your cat’s trust in you: Trust is the foundation of any relationship, even with your cat. This clawing behavior often happens when you bring them as kittens, or rescue them from traumatic situations. Then what is needed most is trust. To do so, provide them a safe and comfortable environment, play with them, groom them, and give them lots of cuddles and pets.      

When should you seek professional help for your cat’s clawing behavior

As we said, digging claws into their owner is a normal thing for a cat. However, sometimes it became a matter of concern. In that time, what you require is help from professionals. So, when should you do that?

Well, if your cat scratches or digs its claws into you with aggression like hissing, biting, swatting, or growling, then you should consult with an animal behaviorist. 

An experienced feline behaviorist or a veterinarian can help you to identify the causes of their clawing behavior. Besides, they will provide you with the best solution to manage it. If your cat has any underlying health issues, they will rule out the problem that may be affecting your cat’s behavior and well-being.


And that’s all, folks. We’ve covered everything you need to know about your cat’s claws, from why they dig them into you to how to prevent them from doing so. Hopefully, you’re feeling like a claw master now, ready to handle any scratching situation with your feline friend.

But wait, there’s more. We want to hear from you! Do you have any tips or tricks for managing your cat’s claws? Have you ever tried any of the alternatives to declawing? (We won’t judge, we promise) Let us know in the comments below.

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