Why Does Kitty Give You Love Scratches? The Surprising Reason Behind Your Cat’s Gentle Claws


Cats often scratch people softly for a variety of reasons. Some common motivations for this behavior include communication, bonding, marking territory, overstimulation, playing, kneading, feeling good, redirected aggression, and more. While an aggressive scratch is meant to harm, most soft scratches are not intended to cause damage. Rather, a cat softly scratching someone is trying to convey a message or interacting as they naturally would with another cat. Understanding the motivations behind this common feline behavior can help cat owners better interpret their pet’s actions.

In this article, we will explore the primary reasons why cats sometimes scratch their owners or other people lightly. By learning why cats scratch softly in certain situations, cat owners can better understand their pet’s body language and meet their needs.

Communication and Bonding

Cats often scratch people gently as a form of communication and to strengthen their bond. When a cat lightly scratches you, it’s typically a friendly gesture showing affection. For example, your cat may give you soft scratches as a greeting when you come home. According to ICATCare.org, “It has been postulated that scratching behaviour (scratching repeatedly on a vertical surface for example) may in part be a visual signal, but scratching also deposits secretions from glands in the paws onto the scratched object and this may convey some meaning to other cats” [1]. So those light scratches on your arm are your cat’s way of marking you with its scent and saying “hello.”

These gentle scratches can actually help strengthen the social bond between a cat and its human companions. As explained by BJ Bangs, “Scratching…is one way cats scent mark their territory and those in their social group” [2]. When a cat scratches you softly, it is identifying you as part of its social group and territory. So while the scratches may seem annoying, they are actually a sign that your cat feels bonded to you.

Territory Marking

One of the main reasons cats scratch their owners lightly is for territory marking. Cats have scent glands in their paw pads, so when they scratch a surface, they are depositing their scent as a way to mark their territory (Source). By lightly scratching their owner, a cat is essentially marking them as belonging to their territory and claiming ownership. The light scratches serve as a territorial signpost for other cats that this human belongs to them (Source).

So when your cat reaches out to give you a soft scratch, it’s not meant to be aggressive or hurt you. It’s your cat’s way of showing affection and marking you as part of their domain. While the scratches don’t typically cause damage, it’s important to try and discourage this behavior if the cat starts scratching excessively.


Sometimes when you’re petting your cat, especially around sensitive areas like the tail, it can become overstimulated. As described by the Dumb Friends League, cats can go from enjoying the attention to suddenly feeling there is too much stimulation, which can trigger an abrupt reaction like light scratching. Light scratches are often an involuntary response by the cat to signal that petting is starting to overstimulate them.

According to the Humane Society of Huron Valley, petting-induced or overstimulation aggression is common in cats. The overstimulation can quickly go from pleasant to too much for the cat to handle. When the cat reaches that threshold, it may react with light scratches or bites to make the petting stop. This serves as a warning system to indicate the cat is becoming uncomfortable and overstimulated.


One of the most common reasons cats will softly scratch their human companions is simply because they are playing. Kittens and younger cats especially have a strong instinct to play-fight as a way of practicing their hunting skills. According to My Arlington Vet, when a cat softly bites or scratches you, they are not trying to attack but are just being playful. This is totally normal kitten behavior.

When cats scratch you softly while playing, it shows they are excited but still able to control their claws. As the Pet Assure article explains, cats have an innate ability to retract their claws when playing with humans to avoid causing harm. So those soft scratches are your cat’s way of showing affection during play, without injuring you.


Kneading is an instinctive behavior that originates from when cats are kittens nursing from their mother. Kittens knead their mother’s belly to stimulate milk flow while nursing. This kneading motion involves pressing their front paws in and out, which adult cats continue even when there is no milk to extract. When your cat kneads you, it is reminiscent of the bonding experience with their mother as a kitten.

While kneading may look cute, it can sometimes involve light scratching on human skin from an adult cat’s claws. A cat kneading your lap or chest may inadvertently leave small scratches because the motion involves digging their paws into you. To prevent skin irritation, try clipping your cat’s nails regularly or placing a blanket between you and your cat during kneading sessions.

It Feels Good

Scratching releases feel-good endorphins in cats, which gives them pleasure and satisfaction. When a cat gives you a soft scratch, it’s experiencing this rush of endorphins and transmitting the good vibes to you. According to the Human Society, scratching is “an enjoyable exercise for cats.”[1] The act of extending their claws and dragging them down a rough surface stimulates nerves under the claws, releasing those mood-boosting endorphins.

So when your cat delivers a gentle scratch, it’s simply experiencing a sensation that feels really good and wants to share it with you. A soft scratch can be your cat’s way of showing affection. Cats learn that scratching elicits a positive reaction from their human companions who perceive it as a sign of bonding. According to Chewy, scratching is “one of the ways cats spread their scent and show love.”[2] So go ahead and enjoy those soft feel-good scratches from your affectionate feline.

[1] https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/how-stop-cats-destructive-scratching
[2] https://be.chewy.com/why-do-cats-scratch/


Some cats scratch to administer a healing lick afterwards. When a cat licks a spot that was just scratched, it deposits antibacterial agents from its saliva onto the area. This can help clean and disinfect minor scratches or wounds inflicted during play or territorial disputes with other felines. The instinct to lick a scratched area may stem from early feline evolution when cleaning wounds was essential for preventing infection (1).

According to cat behaviorist Marilyn Krieger, “Cats have scent glands located around their mouths, cheeks, forehead, chin, tail base and between their paw pads. When your cat rubs against you, he deposits this scent on you as a way to claim you as his territory.” Scratching and then licking is a way for cats to mix their scent gland secretions with your skin’s oils, marking you as theirs (2).

So in short, a healing lick after a soft scratch may be instinctive grooming and bonding behavior stemming from cats’ ancestral origins.

(1) https://www.quora.com/Why-does-my-cat-lick-whenever-I-scratch-him-right-above-the-tail
(2) https://www.purrfectpost.com/why-do-some-cats-lick-themselves-or-the-air-when-you-pet-them/

Redirected Aggression

Sometimes cats will redirect aggression toward another animal to their human owners instead. According to the ASPCA, this often happens when a cat sees another cat outside through a window and goes into an aggressive or defensive state, but then takes out that energy on their owner instead [1].

This redirected aggression typically involves deeper scratches from the cat as they are in an aroused aggressive state. The Cornell Feline Health Center notes that the best way to prevent this is to keep cats away from windows and doors where they are likely to see outdoor cats that will trigger this response [2].

If a cat does show redirected aggression, it’s important not to punish them as that can make it worse. Give them space to calm down and consider using synthetic pheromones to ease their anxiety, as well as keeping them physically and mentally stimulated [3].


In summary, cats scratch softly for a variety of reasons including communication, bonding, territory marking, overstimulation, play, kneading, feeling good, redirected aggression, and medicinal purposes. While soft scratches can sometimes be annoying for owners, they are a normal part of cat behavior and come from natural feline instincts.

To manage soft scratching, provide cats with appropriate outlets like scratching posts, trim their nails regularly, use humane deterrents, give them plenty of playtime and stimulation, and watch for signs of illness or stress that may lead to increased scratching. With patience and by addressing their needs, soft scratching can be minimized. Understanding why cats scratch softly helps owners peacefully coexist with this common feline behavior.

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