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Although it seems that only felines stretch their paws (because they do it very often), the truth is that all animals adopt this behavior. If stretching was an international sport, cats would be at the top of the rankings.

The owners of the four-legged fluffy pets noticed that they arch, rub against their feet, stretch their paws at them, after they eat, when they wake up, etc. Have you ever wondered where all this behavior comes from?

Cats can stretch one leg at a time (front or back), they can extend both front legs at once, or they can arch their back, stretching their hind legs. Most of the time, this behavior comes from the affection they have for the owner, it can also come from the variety of ways in which cats communicate, to put their muscles into action when they wake up from sleep or a nap, after they eat, or to leave their scent on you.

Below I will describe the most common ways in which cats stretch their paws and why.

What does it mean when my cat stretch its paws on me or to me?

Cats show their affection in ways that are often not recognized by their owners because some people do not know for sure if cats are really affectionate. Since cats express their emotions differently from humans or other animals, it is normal to sometimes miss these precious moments. But if you’ve ever wondered if your cat loves you, you bet it does!

This behavior can be a sign of seeking attention or affection from the owner. Cats often solicit our awareness and care when they are bored, and many times this behavior translates into bringing us their favorite toy, rubbing their heads against our feet, and stretching their paws on us.

The line between “my cat does this because it wants attention” and “because it loves me” is very thin. Nonetheless, we, as their owners, represent something to them!

Another reason is that cats have poor near eyesight, and they can often stretch their paw at you for this reason – to make sure you’re “there” with it, and this makes them feel safe.

Why do cats stretch their front paws (one at a time or both at the same time)?

Cats usually stretch out their both front paws after sleep, but there are times when they reach one leg at a time. A cat sleeps an average of 12 to 16 hours a day but these hours aredivided into short periods of sleep. They do not sleep as long as people – at least 8 hours per night. Therefore, a cat will stretch its front paws often.

It is known that their brains, during sleep, block most of their muscles so that the cat does not become a sleepwalker. Very rare are the cases when cats jump up from a dream! When they wake up, they stretch out, and especially on the front legs. Staying still for a few good minutes will lower the blood pressure and muscle stiffness will install. Stretching will help them get the blood flowing again in their muscles.

As I said earlier, cats also stretch when they want attention or when they are affectionate with us.

Another reason cats stretch one or both front paws is because they are hungry. There are cats that are used to asking for food when they are hungry, similar to the behavior of dogs. The cat learns over time that if it stretches out to you and meows, it gets something to eat. In other words, if you feed the cat every time it does this, it learns that this body movement brings its meal. Many cats will also adopt this behavior in the morning when you sleep – they do this to wake you up and feed them.

Stretching their paws could also indicate pain. It is known that cats are very good at hiding their pain, unlike dogs who like to “complain” about anything all the time. Unfortunately, when a cat shows signs of illness, it is often too late. But there are also cases when the cat can come to show you that something is wrong with its paw (a cut, sting, etc.), and it will do this by stretching its paw to you. If, however, you notice that your cat is limping and has no cuts, no bites, etc., but the leg is painful, it is best to see a veterinarian.

Why do cats stretch their paws when they greet or approach you?

Cats show their affection for the owners in several ways: they push or rub their head against us, they rub their body against our feet, they vocalize, bite lightly (nibble), they knead with their paws, purr, they follow us everywhere, they bring us gifts, or they stretch their paws at or on us.

Another reason they reach us with their paws is that they want to mark us with their scent. Cats have scent glands in their paws, and this behavior can mean that your cat wants to claim you – to leave its scent on you. This behavior is best observed when cats push or rub their heads and face against us; they have scent glands around the mouth and on the chin too. They are said to do this because they like being part of your family; it is a way in which they show their social affiliation.

Stretching their paws towards you may also be a precursor to kneading, which is also a behavior that shows their affection, but we will discuss this in the following lines.

Why do cats stretch their paws when you pet them?

Petting a cat is a sign of love coming from a person. From my point of view, the fact that a cat stretches its paws when is petted, or after, indicates total trust from the cat towards the owner – the cat feels comfortable around you. Or they can express their affection for you – you petted it and the cat will respond by stretching its paw on you.

Why do cats stretch after they eat?

After eating, cats may stretch out to put get their muscles moving again because they have been in an awkward position for too long (the bowl is too low or too high) or it may be a sign that they are full and happy.

Why do cats sleep with their paws stretched out?

Cats are adorable when they fall into a deep sleep, away from the everyday world. Experts in feline behavior say that when a cat exposes its belly in front of the owner, it has full confidence in it. Most of the internal organs are in the abdomen, and if the cat lies on its back with its belly up and its paws outstretched, it exposes its most sensitive area in front of the owner. The stretching of the paws during sleep comes from the same confidence they have in the owner. You will never see a cat that feels in danger, sleeping with its belly up and its paws outstretched!

Why is my cat stretching its back legs when it sees me?

Maybe your cat was just taking a nap when you came home and you took it by surprise. But even so, your cat still comes to greet you, stretching out its back paws to get its muscles running.

This behavior can also occur due to discomfort in the hind legs. As I said before if you notice that your cat is limping and/or meowing in pain, go with her to a veterinarian.

What does it mean when my cat stretches its front and back paws at once?

Maybe your cat just woke up from a long nap in which it sat motionless for a long time or maybe it just finished eating. Regardless of the moment, your cat will stretch its front and back legs to get the muscles moving.

What does it mean when a cat opens and closes its paws?

The motion in which a cat opens and closes its paws is called kneading. This behavior starts when the kittens are nurtured. They will knead the mom’s belly while sucking, to stimulate milk production. It is said that cats that were weaned and still adopt this behavior, do it to show their affection towards the owner.

Sometimes cats can knead the air; a moment in which they can also spread and retract their claws.


Cats can stretch their front or back paws, one at a time or all at once for various reasons. The most common reasons are:

  • They just woke up and put their muscles in motion;
  • They have just finished eating and they feel full and happy;
  • They are happy to welcome you;
  • They show their affection;
  • They feel safe with you;
  • They want to leave their scent on you – to mark you.

If for some reason your cat starts limping and is in pain, go with it to a vet for the proper treatment.

I hope you found all the information you were looking for in this article about cats and stretching.

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Happy Cat Care!

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