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Why do cats cross their paws? Our Maine Coons reveal all

Many cats cross their front paws. If you’ve watched your cat cross its paws it’s logical to wonder if all cats cross their paws. Nothing looks quite as relaxed as a cat with its front paws crossed. Could there be a reason why cats cross their paws?

Just as we cross our arms or legs because it feels comfortable, cats cross their paws to relax. You’ll often see a cat lie upright with their front legs extended forward, stretch one paw forward and then cross it over the other. Once their paws are crossed, a cat often watches what’s going on around it as if waiting for something to happen.

In the following photos, our Maine Coon, Rosie, demonstrates exactly how cats often adopt a crossed-paw position. She does this more than any of our other cats.

Tortoiseshell blue smoke Maine Coon stretching then crossing her paws

We studied our four Maine coons over several days to determine if cats cross their paws in specific circumstances. We took note of mood, times of day, and location to see if and when they chose to sit or lie with their paws crossed.

We looked for every possible crossed-paw combinations. What we discovered was very enlightening.

The real reasons why cats cross their paws

Most people say cats cross their paws because it feels comfortable to them or because they are relaxing but how do they really know this?

They don’t! They are just assuming this. Unless someone is blessed with the ability to read a cat’s mind, they cannot claim categorically to know why cats cross their paws.

We decided to watch when our cats crossed their paws to see if it was obvious at the time why they were doing it.

Cats spend a lot of time each day relaxing or sleeping. This is behavior is instinctual and ensures they store plenty of energy for hunting and survival.

As they rest, they adopt comfortable positions, and crossing their front paws while lying upright happens to be one of these. With their front paws crossed, a cat is relaxed yet still ready to spring into action should the need arise.

Other crossed paw positions such as on their side or back, signal a cat is even more relaxed and not expecting to have to move off in a hurry. This really is a sign that they feel totally safe and secure and in no danger whatsoever.

Why do cats cross their front paws?

Lying upright with front paws crossed

Tortoiseshell black smoke Maine Coon with crossed paws

This is the position two of our cats are in when they cross their paws the most. Our Maine Coon Mona (above) crosses her paws the most as she waits for us to come to bed. She feels safe on our bed and knows she has nothing to fear.

Sometimes as Mona lies like this with her paws crossed, she is watching our two younger cats playing around on the end of our bed. We call this her spectating position. She obviously finds it comfortable.

Rosie (below) often sits on this rug in our dining room with her front paws overlapping. From here she has a good view of the stairs, the kitchen, and the dining room. We believe this is why she chooses to relax here the most.

She’s ready to move if she has to but is quite chilled out at the same time.

Maine Coon cat with her front paws crossed

Lying one one side with front paws crossed

When a cat stretches out to sleep on one side, its front paws are often stretched out too. When the top front paw is just in front of the bottom front paw it looks like a cat is crossing its paws.

This certainly looks like a comfortable position so we assume this is why cats choose to lie like this. I’ve seen a cat’s paws crossed in this position as the result of a big stretch. The cat suddenly stretches its paws. They come off the ground and when they relax again, they are often crossed.

This is Fred. He was on one side with his front paws crossed. He twisted his back legs into the air as I took the photo and was clearly very comfy.

Lying on their back with front paws crossed

Our Maine Coon kitten, Oscar was caught on his back with his front paws crossed. He was sound asleep in his bed when he stretched and let his front paws cross over in front of his face.

He must have felt comfortable – possibly aided by the fact that the heated floor was on!

Why do cats cross their back paws?

Lying upright with back paws crossed

I can’t comment on this position as I’ve never seen a cat lying upright with just its back legs crossed. Though with cats, anything is possible.

Maybe a cat would adopt this stance if it was bursting for a pee and there was a queue for the litter tray…

Lying one one side with back paws crossed

Fred found a plastic tub to play in. After moving in a selection of his toys, he was exhausted so took a nap. His little back paws are crossed and wedged on the wall of the tub – the height of comfort.

Lying on their back with back paws crossed

If a cat were to lie on its back with its back paws crossed it would have to engage muscles. This would require a bit too much effort in such a relaxed position so is unlikely to happen.

I can’t claim it’s impossible, it’s just a position I’ve never seen a cat in. But you know cats – they are full of surprises!

Do cats ever cross all their paws at once?

Cats have been known to cross all four paws at once. Here’s how:

Lying upright with all paws crossed

I have yet to notice a cat with all paws crossed as it is lying upright. Front paws, yes, but as a cat in this position often sits on its paws, it’s difficult to know what its hind legs are actually doing.

Lying one one side with all paws crossed

You might see front paws crossing each other at the same time that back paws are crossing each other.

This is a very relaxed stance and is a sign of a contented cat who feels safe in its environment. Cats choose to lie like this simply because it feels comfortable.

Sometimes cats cross their back paws over their front paws when they sleep in a curled position. This is a great way to keep warm and protect their vital organs from possible predators – not that any of those should be lurking in our home!

Mostly white calico cat curled up asleep with paws overlapping

Lying on their back with all paws crossed

I have yet to see a cat in this position but as cats are great contortionists, I’m sure its possible.

Why cats lie on their backs with their paws crossed

It’s a fact that a cat only exposes its belly in front of people it trusts. If your cat rolls over as you enter a room this is a sign of how much it believes you are not a threat.

Paw positions can vary widely when cat is on its back but the message remains the same – “I trust you.”

When a cat on its back crosses its front or back paws you can be sure it is doing it because it just wants to.

Why cats stretch and then cross their paws

Just like us, cats can become stiff if they’ve been in one position for a long time. If you spot your cat stretch a paw and then cross it over the other paw, it is probably just getting a bit more comfortable.

When do cats cross their paws the most

Our study of our four Maine Coons carried out over three days revealed that there is no special time when cats cross their paws at the most.

There seems to be no specific trigger for a cat to cross its paws. They do it some days and not others and the time of day varies.

We’ve never seen one of our cats standing or sitting with its paws crossed. The crossed paws stance is definitely something they adopt when lying down, awake or asleep.

There is no evidence to suggest a cat makes a decision to cross its paws – it is just something they do.

The oddest paw crossing we noticed

I saw Rosie lying like this at the top of the stairs yesterday. I couldn’t work out what she was looking at so intently.

As I photographed her, I asked her what her paws were doing. It was funny because she immediately looked at them as if she had understood me!

She stayed like this for about 5 minutes more and then came down for her tea.

Cat noticing her paws are crossed

Other cat paw positions

While we’re on the subject of cat paw positions, here are a few more popular ones in our house.

The Sploot

This is when a cat lets its tummy touch the floor with one leg splayed out each side.

Below, Fred is splooting as he attacks my feet!

Kitten splooting as he bites his owner's toes

Tucked under

When a cat tucks all its paws out of sight under its body it is said to be loafing. The ultimate loafing position hides their tail too.

Ginger cat loafing to conceal paws and tail

Folded

Cats love to fold their paws – probably more than crossing them.

Red smoke Maine Coon Kitten with its paws folded

Straight

Then theirs the stretched out and uncrossed position.

Red smoke Maine kitten lying on its side with legs out straight

Above their head

This is the ultimate laid back cat pose.

Red smoke kitten on its back with paws above head

Why do cats cross their paws? Conclusion

There may not be a deliberate reason at all for a cat to cross its paws – it could well be something they just happen to do because they can.

The truth of the matter is no one really knows if their is a reason why cats cross their paws. We can only assume they do this because it feels comfortable.

It is also probably safe to say a cat crosses its paws when it feels secure.

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