Why Do Cats Put Their Paws On Your Face?

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A cat can put its paw on your face for different reasons. Sometimes, it’s communicating something. Other times, it’s accidental.

As a cat parent for the past decade, I’ve noted that my two cats usually put their paws on my face when cuddling them.

The kitties use no claws. No struggling to get down. No growling or hissing — only purring and putting their paws on my cheek.

It’s cute. 

But I got curious about the different messages my cats might be communicating. So, I researched the cat parenting world for the meaning of a cat pawing my face. 

I found some interesting facts. And today, I want to share the results with you.

9 Reasons Your Cat Put Its Paw on Your Face

When your cat puts its paw on your face, it might be trying to communicate different meanings, including: 

1. Expression of Love

The most straightforward reason your cat puts its paw on your face is to express love and affection. 

Cats are naturally cautious animals and are reluctant to expose sensitive body parts like the stomach and paw. When your cat places its paw on your face, it displays trust and love.

The paw-on-the-face is a way to bond with you.

Signs Your Cat Puts Its Paw On Your Face As Sign of Love

When your cat touches your face to express love, it might show other signs, such as:

  • Soft purrs
  • Eye contact
  • Slow blinking
  • A calm body language
  • Kneading your face gently
  • Relaxed paw pads: no tension while touching your face
  • Gentle touch, showing the desire to interact without causing harm or discomfort
  • Licking

You’ll likely witness the affectionate paw-on-your-face when you’re cuddling your face.

How To Respond

The best way to respond to a calm face pawing is to:

  • Pet your cat to return the affection.
  • Stay calm and relaxed to encourage your cat to feel secure and loved.
  • Talk to your cat softly. While your kitty won’t understand the word, it will sense the affection in your tone.
  • Offer treats or favorite toys to enhance positive association with the affectionate behavior further.

However, every cat is unique. Observe your cat’s reaction to your response and act accordingly.

2. The Cat Is Craving Your Attention

Your cat can gently paw your face to demand attention from you. Cats are social animals and often seek human interaction and companionship.

Placing its paw on your face is one clever way for your cat to win your attention. By pawing your face, the kitty captures your focus and indicates that it wants you to pay attention. 

The attention your kitty might be requesting includes the following:

  • Petting  or cuddles
  • Need for food
  • Desire to play
  • Seeking comfort and security from physical touch

Signs Your Cat Seeks Attention By Pawing Your Face Gently

Other signs that show your cat paws your face for attention include:

  • Persistent, gentle touch at your face to get your focus
  • Non-aggressive paws 
  • Rubbing against you with their face or cheek while pawing your face
  • Nuzzling its head against your face
  • Following you around the house
  • Meowing softly to show a desire for attention

How To Respond

When your kitty paws you on the face for attention, you can:

  • Acknowledge the gesture by making eye contact and show you know its presence.
  • Pet your kitty if your cat is requesting for petting or cuddling.
  • Invite your cat onto your lap to bond and give it attention.
  • Engage your cat in interactive play with its favorite toys.
  • If your cat continues to seek attention, provide a safe place where it can relax. That might be a cozy bed, a cat tree, or a quiet corner.

Pro Tip: You can trim your indoor cat’s nails to help prevent scratches. Don’t do this if your cat has outdoor access, as they need their nails to defend themselves and to climb.

3. Your Car Considers You a Family and Needs You To Smell the Same

To kitties, scent is everything. Your cat has scent glands on its head, face, paws, tails, flanks, and anal glands.

Your feline friend uses these scent glands to place its scent on objects, other cats, and humans they consider family. The scent glands in the paws release pheromones that deliver chemical messages when a cat presses its feet on something or someone.

While scenting usually means marking territory, claiming possession, or dominating others, the gentle paw might be your cat’s way of making its world smell like it. Smelling the same makes the cat familiar to you, comfortable, and safe.

Signs Your Cat Paws Your Face to Smell The Same

 You can observe several signs that your cat is transferring its scent to you with the face pawing, such as:

  • Repeated pawing, allowing your cat to spread its scent to you and make your smell familiar and comforting to it
  • Head bunting or rubbing its face against you to mark you with its scent
  • Purring because of the affection and the desire to bond with you
  • Rubbing against you with other body parts to spread the scent
  • Cuddling close to your face while pawing
  • Licking and grooming your face

How To Respond

Your cat’s need to make you smell the same is a natural behavior driven by instinct to bond. You can respond in a way that strengthens your bond and makes it feel more secure and connected.

Here’s how you can respond:

  • Allow the interaction and let your cat establish familiarity and comfort. Your cat will interpret it as affection reciprocation.
  • Gently rub your cat’s head or cheeks with your hands to enhance the scent exchange and strengthen your cat’s bond with you.
  • Offer quality time with your cat. Sit together, pet it, play with it, and provide a comfortable environment.

Pro Tip: When your cat marks 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.

4. Your Kitty Wants to Wake You Up

According to Hill’s Pet Nutrition, if you were sleeping and you woke up with a tiny toe on your cheek, your kitty might be trying to get you up. When that happens, most kitties want to be fed.

To stop your cat from interrupting your sleep, offer enough food in its dish before bedtime. Your cat will have something to eat as cats feed throughout the night and not wake you up.

Signs Your Cat is Pawing You To Wake You Up From Sleep

When your cat paws you to wake you up, it is a behavior to get your attention. Your cat may:

  • Paw persistently at your face, hand, and arms to ensure you wake up
  • Retract its claws to avoid aggression
  • Purr while pawing your face
  • Paw your face and head to the food to ensure you understand its request
  • The cat might be restless to show it’s hungry

How To Respond

The main reason your cat will paw you to wake you up is because it’s hungry. The best response would be to:

  • Provide food or water if it’s close to its feeding time because hunger or thirst could be the reason for its behavior.
  • Create a comfortable sleeping environment with a cozy bed, toys, and a scratching post to keep your cat occupied if it wakes up early.
  • Establish a routine so your cat knows when to expect attention and meals and is less likely to wake you up.
  • Spend a few minutes of your time giving your cat attention to help them feel reassured.

However, not all cats are the same, and establishing a new routine might require more time.

5. The Cat Is Being Playful

Felines are playful, especially kittens. If you’re relaxing with your kitty, it might start to paw or swat at your face, hands, and feet in an attempt to play.

The touch is always soft and controlled, and your cat won’t use its claws or apply much pressure, indicating it’s in a playful mood. Your kitty will move its paw slowly and deliberately during play.

Signs Your Cat Put Its Face on Your Face as a Playful Gesture

When your cat is playfully pawing your face, it will show other signs like:

  • Playful vocalizations such as chirping and telling
  • Playful body language— your cat can assume a crouched stance and wag its tail
  • Purring 
  • Initiating playtime
  • Engaging eye contact
  • Twitching or wagging tail

How To Respond

The best way to respond to a playful pawing include:

  • Engage your cat in an interactive play to satisfy its playful mood.
  • Set aside plenty of playtime to fulfill your kitty’s playful instinct
  • Offer a scratching post to redirect the playful pawing onto an appropriate surface
  • Use puzzle feeders or treat-dispensing to encourage mental stimulation and physical activity while rewarding your cat’s effort.
  • Provide toys for your cat to play with

Play is essential for your cat’s physical and mental well-being. If your cat is pawing your face for being playful, you should provide appropriate outlets for their energy.

6. The Cat Don’t Want To Be Held

While most cats will paw your face to seek your attention, some will do so to communicate that they don’t want to be held or given attention. By putting the paw on your face, your cat might be saying you’re too close and should give it some space.

If your cat paws at your face while you’re holding it, it could be a subtle way of saying, “I want to be let down.”

Signs Your Cat is Pawing at Your Face Because It Doesn’t Want To Be Held

When a cat paws your face because it doesn’t want to be held, it will show signs of discomfort or stress. Your cat might:

  • Paw with extended claws, showing that the kitty is uncomfortable or feels threatened
  • Squirm, fidget, or try to wriggle out of your grasp, indicating restlessness
  • Flatten its ears against its head to show displeasure
  • Dilate its pupils, indicating fear, stress, or discomfort
  • Hiss, growl, or meow in an agitated tone because of discomfort
  • Attempt to escape by climbing over your shoulder, digging its claws into your clothes, or pushing against your chest with its hind legs
  • Avoid eye contact to communicate the discomfort of being held
  • Bite or nip your hand to trigger release
  • Breathe rapidly to indicate stress or discomfort

You should pay close attention to these signals to respond appropriately.

How To Respond

If your cat doesn’t want to be held, you should respect your cat’s boundaries. You should:

  • Put the cat down and give it space. Trying to force the cat to stay might trigger undesired responses.
  • Offer affection in other ways, such as playing or providing treats. While the cat might not want to be held, it might still enjoy sitting close to you.
  • Engage in interactive play with your cat using toys like feather wands, laser pointers, and interactive puzzle feeders.
  • Let your cat initiate contact
  • Redirect your cat’s attention by offering an alternative activity to divert it away from uncomfortable situations.

Cats have different personalities and comfort levels. If your cat doesn’t want to be held, you should respect its boundaries and respond appropriately to maintain a positive relationship and trust.

7. Mimicry – Mimicking How Humans Hold Their Loved Ones

Your cat can gently paw your face to mimic how humans touch the faces of their loved ones. Science and vet used to think the only creatures that did communal mimicry were dogs, happy to copy their parents’ actions.

Many assume cats are aloof, but some cats will mimic small actions you might take. While your cat doesn’t have the same emotional depth and understanding as humans, its actions can resemble human gestures.

If it sees you holding or caressing someone’s face gently, it might imitate it as a form of social learning.

Signs Your Cat is Pawing Your Face as a Mimicry of How You Hold Your Loved Ones

If your cat is pawing your face like how you hold your loved ones, it might exhibit some signs to indicate this behavior. Your cat might:

  • Paw you gently without claws to express affection and non-aggressiveness.
  • Assume a relaxed body language with soft ears and eyes.
  • Purr in contentment.
  • Seek eye contact to communicate affection and trust.
  • Vocalize affection by chirping or trilling.
  • Mirror your movements. For example, if you stroke your loved one’s face gently, your cat might use its paw in a similar stroking motion on your face.
  • Nuzzle or rub its face against yours to feel safe and comfortable
  • Kneading

Understanding that your cat mimics how you hold your loved ones will help you respond appropriately.

How To Respond

When your cat paws your face to mimic how you hold your loved ones, you can respond in a positive and nurturing way. You can:

  • Stay calm and relaxed during the interaction to prevent your cat from getting startled.
  • Respond with gentle affection if you’re comfortable with your cat’s pawing. Use slow and soft strokes on their back or head. Mimic their behavior in a nurturing way, as this can strengthen your bond.
  • Speak to your cat in a soothing and reassuring voice. While cats don’t understand human language, they respond positively to gentle tones.
  • Reciprocate the gesture by touching your cat’s face with your fingertips to create mutual affection.
  • Engage your cat in interactive play using their favorite toys to redirect their energy and provide a positive outlet for their social interactions.

8. Your Kitty Is Stretching Has Accidentally Put Its Paw on Your Face

Sometimes, the pawing on the face is accidental. Your feline friend will just be stretching and happens to misjudge where it is and just shove its paw on your face.

No question, the pawing might be a little unpleasant or poke you in the nose, but it’s because it’s an accident on how your cat moves. The kitty didn’t intend to poke you in the face but isn’t going to stop it because it’s comfy.

When your cat stretches, it might extend its paws, which can inadvertently land on your face if you are nearby.

Signs Your Cats Has Paw Your Face Accidentally

When your cat accidentally paws your face during stretching, there might not be specific signs to indicate the accidental nature of the interaction. 

However, you can observe the context and your cat’s body language to understand if the touch was unexpected.

You’re likely to see:

  • Your cat is unfocused and relaxed, with half-closed eyes and a calm demeanor
  • No reaction or change in behavior after the accidental touch (cats react when their response is intentional)
  • Continued stretching without any sign of agitation
  • No attempt to repeat the pawing or any interest in your face afterwards

How To Respond

When your cat accidentally paws your face during stretching or other activities, respond calmly and gently to avoid startling or frightening your cat. You can:

  • Stay calm and composed so your kitty doesn’t perceive the interaction as threatening.
  • Avoid sudden movement or loud noises that might trigger your cat to use its claws.
  • Redirect the cat’s paw away from your face without jerking or pulling it abruptly.
  • Continue with what you were doing. For example, continue the petting session if you were petting your cat before the accidental paw.
  • Provide a distraction if you’re uncomfortable with your cat’s paw on your face.

Your cat is unique, and the way it receives your response can vary.

9. The Cat Wants to Bond With You

Your cat can put its paws on your face with the intention of bonding with you. Doing this is a mimicry of its kitten behavior that uses its paws to touch and explore its mother’s face to bond and seek comfort.

Your cat might exhibit similar behavior, trying to strengthen its bond with you in a nurturing manner.

Placing a paw on your face is affectionate in the feline world. When your cat extends this gesture to you, it might be a way of expressing its love and fondness.

Signs Your Cat is Pawing Your Face to Bond With You

When your cat paws your face with the intention of bonding, some specific signs and behaviors can indicate their affectionate and social motives. They might include:

  • Gentle pawing without the use of claws
  • Relaxed and content body posture
  • Purring to show a strong sign of bonding and contentment
  • The cat will try to maintain eye contact to communicate trust and affection
  • Kneading against your face to show comfort and affection during bonding
  • Your kitty seeking more interaction with snuggles or sitting close to you

You should respond appropriately when these bonding behaviors accompany the face pawing.

How To Respond

You should respond appropriately to your cat’s bonding behavior to nurture a trusting relationship. Some ways to respond to your cat’s affectionate pawing and boding gestures include:

  • Pet your cat by stroking its head, back, or chin
  • Use a calm and soothing voice to communicate with your cat
  • Engage your cat in interactive play to provide physical and mental stimulation that strengthens your bond
  • Allocate more quality time with your cat. You can sit together or play more to bond through quiet companionship.

Should You Let Your Cat Put Its Paw on Your Face?

How comfortable you are with face-pawing is a huge factor in letting your cat put its paw on your face. However, too much pawing at your face can cause unpleasant consequences. 

You can risk:

  1. Scratches: Cats have sharp claws, and even gentle pawing can lead to accidental scratches, especially if your cat becomes startled or anxious during the interaction. The scratches can cause skin irritation or, in rare cases, infections.
  2. Unhygienic: Although cats are generally clean, they aren’t clean enough to stop bacteria transfer. Cats use their paws for various activities, including using the litter box and grooming themselves. When they paw your face, bacteria and germs can be transferred, potentially leading to skin issues or infections, especially if you have open wounds or sensitive skin.
  3. Eye Injuries: Cats occasionally reach out with their paws and may accidentally touch your eyes. Even a gentle touch near the eyes can cause discomfort or lead to eye injuries.

To mitigate these risks, you can trim your kitty’s claw with a cat nail clipper to minimize the chances of scratches. 

Pro Tip: You shouldn’t unintentionally reward your cat for undesirable behavior. Ignoring or redirecting negative behavior is the best way to eliminate that behavior.

What if My Cat Doesn’t Put Their Paws on My Face?

Not all cats put their paws on their owner’s face, and that’s perfectly normal. Cats, like humans, have distinct personalities and preferences. 

Some cats are naturally more inclined to engage in physical touch, while others may express affection differently.

If your cat doesn’t put paws on your face, it doesn’t mean they don’t love or bond with you. Your cat might have a different way of showing affection and building connections.

Some of the ways might include:

  • Head Butting or Head Bunting: Cats often nuzzle or gently bump their heads against their owners as a sign of affection and trust. The behavior is known as head bunting — a way for cats to mark you with their scent, indicating that you are part of their social group.
  • Kneading: Cats knead with their paws by pushing in and out against a soft surface, such as your lap or a blanket. Kneading is a comforting behavior cats often display when feeling safe and content. It originated from kittenhood when they kneaded their mother’s belly to stimulate milk flow.
  • Purring: Cats purr for various reasons, and one of the most common is contentment. When your cat purrs while sitting near you, it signifies relaxation and trust.
  • Cuddling: Some cats enjoy cuddling with their owners, whether sitting on your lap, curling up next to you, or sleeping on your bed. Seeking physical proximity is a clear sign of affection.
  • Slow Blinking: Slow blinking at your cat is a way to communicate trust and affection. Cats often respond with slow blinks, indicating they feel safe and comfortable around you.
  • Mutual Grooming: Mutual grooming is a bonding behavior among cats. If your cat licks your skin or hair, it shows trust and affection. You can reciprocate by gently brushing your cat.
  • Being in Your Presence: Cats that spend time in your presence, whether sitting nearby or following you around the house, express their affection and trust. They feel secure when they’re with you.

Each cat is unique and has a different way of showing love and affection. It isn’t a must. Your cat paws you. Instead, you should look out for your kitty’s method of showing affection and appreciate it.

How To Stop Your Cat From Putting Their Paw on Your Face

While cat pawing your face can be cute, it can sometimes be uncomfortable and unhealthy. 

Pro Tip: 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. Having your cat’s paw on your face might not be hygienic, especially if it’s an outdoor cat.

If you want to discourage your kitty from pawing behavior, you can use several strategies.

You can:

  • Give your cat attention if that’s what it’s seeking and you’re available. Acknowledging your cat’s need will discourage face-pawing.
  • Buy an automatic feeder to dispense food at regular mealtimes if your kitty paws your face because of hunger. If your cat realizes that pawing won’t result in immediate feeding, it may gradually stop the behavior.
  • Give your cat distance if it requests personal space. Don’t engage it.
  • You can ignore your cat. While your cat might initially respond by escalating the behavior, it will eventually stop since it is getting no response.
  • Redirect its attention: When your cat attempts to paw your face, use a toy or treat to redirect its attention.
  • Set physical boundaries: If your cat tries to reach your face while you’re sitting or lying down, create a physical barrier. Use your hands or a small pillow to block access to your face.
  • Provide alternative affection: Offer alternative ways for your cat to express love, such as petting them on their back, chin, or head. 
  • Teach basic commands: Cats can learn basic commands. Teaching commands like “off” or “no” can help when you want them to stop the pawing behaviors.
  • Avoid encouraging the behavior: Sometimes, petting your cat on its face can encourage it to reciprocate the gesture. Avoid initiating face-to-face interactions if you prefer not to have your cat paw your face.
  • Consult a professional: If your cat’s behavior persists despite your efforts, consult a veterinarian or a professional animal behaviorist. They can provide personalized advice and strategies to address specific issues.

Why Do Cats Put Their Paws On Your Face: In Conclusion

Your cat can put its paw on your face for several reasons. While the above are the nine most common ones, it doesn’t mean a complete list. There could be more.

Consider the context and your cat’s body language to decode why your cat paws you on the face.


Why Is It When I Pick Up My Cat, She Puts Her Paw on My Face?

For the most part, a cat will put her paw on your face when you pick it up because she loves you and wants to show it. Other times, it might be a sign that your cat wants you to stop petting them but still wants to be close.

Do Cats Recognize Their Owner’s Face?

Cats can’t differentiate human faces like people do because they rely more on scent and body language to recognize people. According to a study published in the Journal of Animal Cognition, cat could recognize their owner less than 50% of the time.

Why Do Cats Touch Your Face With Their Nose?

A cat can touch your face with its nose, mouth, and chin area to spread its scent and express its affection. It might be a sign your cat claims to possess you.

About Laura Martin

I'm Laura Martin. I get excited about all things cat related. I love my two cats - Dom and Kitty. When I'm not playing with my two feline friends, you can probably find me hiking. And yes, I have a 9 to 5 job. Although if you asked me I'd rather spend my time blogging and educating other cat moms and dads about what it takes to raise a healthy cat.

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