Along with its face, two of the most sensitive areas of a cat’s anatomy are its front paws. They contain a high concentration of nerve cells and if you try to touch one, you’ll probably find it retracted out of reach.
Cats often shake one or more of their paws and there are various motives behind this cute action.
By far the most common reason for cats to shake their paws is to flick something from their surface. A cat will shake all four paws vigorously, one after the other, to remove water. Occasionally, a paw shake is an attempt to relieve pain, detach an irritant, or to signify injury.
4 reasons why cats shake their paws
A cat’s paw shake is a reflex action and can occur for a variety of reasons. Here are the most obvious:
1. To dry them
If a cat walks through water, it will shake its paws to help them dry. With each shake, water droplets are expelled from their paw pads and surrounding fur.
A cat’s paw shake is the equivalent to us shaking our hands dry when we don’t have a towel.
A cat paw shake is so fast it’s difficult to see what is actually happening.
Here’s a, incredible slow motion clip of our Maine Coon kitten, Freddy, shaking all of his paws in turn.
2. To remove debris
As cats run around and explore, all sorts of dirt, dust, and other debris attach to their paws. They are able to sense this and every so often will vigorously shake it off.
One of our cats came home one Sunday afternoon shaking and chewing at his paws. He had trodden in tar which was preventing him from spreading his toes.
We called an out-of-hours vet who advised us to soften the tar by massaging it with butter. This took a few hours, was painstakingly slow but eventually removed the tar.
3. To relieve pain
Several things can cause paw pain and the natural reaction from a cat is to shake the paw that hurts.
Pain might result from any number of causes including:
- A bad landing after a jump
- A cut
- A sore spot
- An insect sting
- Embedded debris such as glass, a stone, or a grass seed
- A damaged claw
If a cat shakes its paw because of any type of wound or sting, it will also keep licking the affected area.
Take a look to see what the problem is and administer first aid or arrange a trip to the vet if necessary.
4. Cat litter issues
If your cat leaves its litter box shaking each paw vigorously, leaving a trail of litter in its wake, you can deduce that the litter you are using is causing the problem.
Some litter brands and materials are worse for tracking than others. Change to a variety that is designed not to track to alleviate this problem.
With four cats, we soon notice when a litter tracks! We are very happy with World’s Best cat litter. It clumps well, is dust-free, and stays in the litter box.
It’s conveniently available on Amazon – here’s a link to see reviews and the current price.
How cats shake their paws
Unlike dogs, a cat’s paws can rotate in both directions to aid with climbing and gripping.
This flexibility means when a cat shakes its paws, every bone within its legs seems to move in different directions.
When they detect something unwanted attached, the nerves in a cat’s paws send signals to its brain to shake and remove the object.
A cat will sometimes sit as it shakes a paw and sometimes keeps walking, as in the video above.
The disapproval paw shake
Some cats might shake their paws when they are not wet, not dirty, and not injured. If you notice none of the usual reasons for shaking paws, it can be a signal that something is not to your cat’s liking.
This paw shake of contempt is indistinguishable from the usual type. It might happen at the food bowl if the food is not favorable or your cat has eaten enough.
A cat might show disdain for loud noises or music by shaking a paw. It’s worth bearing this in mind as your cat might be giving a clear sign that something you’re doing is very annoying!
When cats are taught to shake paws
Some cats – Maine Coons spring to mind – behave in ways we normally associate with dogs. They react well to training and can be taught to shake paws for treats.
I have never attempted to train a cat to perform any type of trick such as shaking my hand with its paw, but some people have success in this area.
If you want to train your cat to shake paws in this way, it will probably require a lot of patience and be easier with a younger cat.
If a cat doesn’t want to learn tricks, don’t persist as you could easily cause it to become stressed.
The saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” springs to mind. Obviously, substitute the word “dog” with “cat” in this case!
When paw’s shake during a cat’s sleep
You may have spotted your cat flat out on its side, sound asleep with its paws seemingly shaking. Sometimes this is accompanied by little meows and squeaks.
Movement like this can occur during a cat’s REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. This is the point in their sleep when cats can have dreams just like we do. You’re quite likely to notice their paws, whiskers, and tails twitching.
Muscle spasms and paw shakes
It is possible for a cat to have shiver-like tremors which can affect its paws.
This involuntary muscle trembling is known as fasciculation, which is a condition where muscles tremble, twitch, or spasm uncontrollably.
This condition can affect cats and normally occurs in response to an irritant and is not usually related to any medical condition. Trembling or twitching can result from a genetic condition that’s untreatable but harmless.
Occasionally, fasciculation is a symptom of disease. Some medical conditions cause muscle trembling, so if your cat begins to shake its paws or any other part of its body regularly for no obvious reason, it is best to seek a full diagnosis from a vet.
Why declawed cats shake their paws
It is quite shocking that some people are completely unaware of how traumatic the declawing procedure is for a cat.
Declawing a cat is not comparable to a manicure. Imagine having the first bone of each of your fingers completely removed and you might start to get the idea.
Couple this with the facts that those are the very bones in its toes that a cat walks on and uses in daily life to stretch, and grip.
Without its claws, a cat can’t scent mark, relieve itches, or climb. No wonder a cat finds life after declawing confusing and painful. It’s a cruel and debilitating operation.
Avoid declawing a cat at all costs unless for a valid medical reason such as cancer and then only affected claws and bones should be removed.
If you adopt a cat without claws you are likely to notice it shake its paws in various situations.
Behavior issues that cats often develop post declawing such as eliminating outside of the litter box and biting are often the reasons you’ll find cats who have had their claws removed in shelters.
Using a litter box is painful for declawed cats. Walking can be agony for the rest of their lives because they have to relearn walking without the first joint of every toe.
Every paw shake could well signify pain in a declawed cat’s paws and it is tragic to witness this.
So please avoid declawing a cat and spread the word far and wide to ensure everyone becomes completely aware that should never be considered as an option.
Why do cats shake their paws? Conclusion
Front paws or back paws, most of the time, there is no cause for concern if your cat shakes theirs. They are probably just wet and it’s shaking them dry.
Always examine your cat’s paws if it is shaking them incessantly – you may discover an injury or something you cat needs help removing.
If you’re at all concerned by shaking paws or any other trembling, always take your cat to the vet for a check-up.