Your cat may be pawing at smooth surfaces because they are marking their territory. Cat paws have scent glands in them, so when your cat rubs at a smooth surface, it leaves its mark on the area and claims it. This is a message to other animals about who owns that space.
You may often see your cat doing this, and there are other potential explanations too, but scent marking is the most typical reason for this behavior. There is nothing to worry about, and you don’t need to try and stop your cat from doing this. It’s not an issue.
Why Does My Cat Paw At Smooth Surfaces?
There are three major reasons that your cat might spend its time rubbing its paws over smooth surfaces, and we’ll explore each of these below so you can better understand your cat’s behavior and what it is attempting to achieve.
Reason One: Spreading Pheromones
This is usually the commonest reason for a cat to paw and rub at a smooth surface. A cat’s paws contain scent glands, which can be activated by rubbing the paw across the surface. When your cat sits and does this, it is releasing scent from its feet.
It is similar to your cat rubbing its cheeks against objects. The cheeks also contain scent glands, so your cat will choose whichever body part is the easiest option for this. It may mark many of its common areas in this way.
A cat usually does this because it wants to communicate its ownership to other animals. It may be masking a scent left by another animal it doesn’t like, or it may be leaving its mark to tell others not to encroach on its space. Cats can do this if they feel threatened or just because they want to own a spot.
Territory marking is extremely common, even if other animals never enter your house. Your cat will scent-mark certain areas from time to time, ensuring that any potential intruder knows that this land has been claimed.
If your cat seems to be doing this a lot, you may want to check whether something is causing it anxiety or making it feel threatened.
Reason Two: Playful Behavior
Sometimes, cats will paw at a flat surface because they are playing. A shiny, reflective surface could particularly trigger this behavior because they will see movement in it.
If your cat is feeling very playful, it is likely to pad and paw at almost anything, and this can include smooth surfaces. It may like the sensation on its feet. Playful pawing will usually be accompanied by running around, jumping, hiding under things, and so on.
It is a good idea to let your cat do this, but keep an eye on it for any signs of distress.
If your cat seems upset by a shiny surface, you may wish to cover it up. A nervous cat might feel threatened by its own reflection, although most will soon realize that they have nothing to worry about and will lose interest.
Reason Three: Stressed Behavior
Sometimes, pawing is linked to stressed behavior and can seem almost obsessive. If your cat has to paw at smooth surfaces, it may be feeling unhappy and anxious, and trying to assert control.
There may not be any logical link between the stress and your cat’s pawing behavior, but your cat will exhibit other signs of anxiety. It may be very jumpy or nervous, and might have its ears flattened to indicate that it is unhappy.
If your cat seems to be almost compulsively pawing at something and not enjoying this or playing, you should talk to your vet. It is possible that your cat is ill or that something is upsetting it, and it does not know how to handle this upset.
Discuss what you can do with your vet, and get their advice. You should not leave your cat displaying distress behavior without taking action to help calm it down and make it feel better.
Can I Stop My Cat From Doing This?
There is no need to stop your cat from pawing at smooth surfaces (as long as it isn’t stressed), but if you want to, what can you do?
There are a few possible actions you can take that may discourage your cat from behaving in this way.
Step One: Increase Playtime
If your cat is bored and unstimulated, it may be using flat surfaces to play with because it has nothing else to do. You should try and spend a bit more time playing with your cat. Young cats in particular like a lot of play, but even older kitties will appreciate a ball of string or a laser pointer.
Step Two: Provide A Different Surface
If that isn’t deterring your cat, consider whether you could offer it a different smooth surface to paw at. For example, if your cat is constantly leaving paw smudges and dirty marks on your glass coffee table, could you give it a small sheet of glass or its own table to paw at instead?
You can then reward it for using the right surface, and discourage it from getting up on the wrong one. After a while, your kitty should get the message that there are some spots that are okay to paw at, and others that are not for it.
This should also help with scent marking, because it will mean your cat can still do this and feel secure in its territory, without wiping muddy feet all over a surface that you want to keep clean.
Step Three: Clean That Area
If your cat is obsessed with scent marking an area, it may be because it can smell something that it does not like in that spot. This could be another animal’s marks or a chemical or something similar.
Cleaning the area may discourage your cat from scent marking, because it could remove a smell that your cat doesn’t like, but it might also encourage further marking, because you will have removed your cat’s scent from that spot too.
Scent marking is a normal part of a cat’s behavior, so it’s best just to allow it to do so unless you need to stop it from doing this. It will probably stop after a while, especially if it becomes more relaxed and secure about its territory.
Step Four: Spray A Pheromone
Sometimes, spraying a pheromone in that area will discourage your cat from putting down its scent. You can buy products that contain smells that cats find calming, and this may stop your cat from wanting to leave its mark on an area.
Talk to your vet if you are concerned about your cat’s stress levels, and consider purchasing one of these products to get your kitty calmer.
Pawing at smooth surfaces is usually a means of activating scent glands in the feet, and cats may do this on a regular basis if they feel insecure in their homes or threatened. Some cats may do it even if they feel secure.
If it’s a problem, try to give your cat other options and discourage it from getting onto that particular surface. Using a pheromone-based product may help your cat feel calmer and more secure.