Cat Health

Why Do Cats Knead?

May 13, 2021

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Why Do Cats Knead?

The rhythmically pushing in and out against a soft surface is called kneading, or making biscuits, and is something almost all cats do. It seems cats usually knead when they are in a calm, and content state but never when they feel agitated.

While every cat had their own personal style when performing this ritual, the question remains, why do they do it? There must be some evolutionary purpose for kneading that explains this, some what, pointless behavior, and in this article we have found a few.

Reasons Cats Knead

There are actually several natural reasons cats knead, and most begin shortly after they are born. But, not all cats knead, and some may do it only occasionally.

Some cats may bite, drool, purr or use back and front paws while kneading, but it really depends on your cats preferences. Regardless of your cats style of biscuit making, almost all the reasons for kneading are positive.

Returning Your Affection

Your cat might knead and purr while sitting in his owners lap being petted. The cat is kneading to show his affection and the kneading is your cat’s way of petting you back. It is definitely a bonus if your cat kneads you and not others. It means your cat is making you their special person.

Expressing Happiness

Adult cats often knead when they are feeling happy and content. This may tie in with the theory of residual behavior from kitten-hood. Kittens associate kneading motions with nursing from their mother.

They once felt warm and safe with their mother and litter mates, and those comforting feelings associated with kneading have followed them into adulthood. Some cats have been known to suckle on the surfaces they knead on, which also proves the residual behavior theory maybe correct.

Memories Of Being A Kitten

This theory relates to the one above and begins specifically in your cat’s infancy. Cats actually start to knead instinctually as kittens, while they are nursing, to help stimulate their mothers’ milk production.

Even though your cat might be beyond the nursing stage, he may still enjoy the comforting feeling he associates with kneading that results in food-love.

Marking Their Territory

Cats can be very territorial and use their scent to mark their property or area. There are actual scent glands in the soft pads on your cat’s feet that produce interdigital semiochemical (a signal to another).

This could mean that kneading is your cats way of activating the scent glands on his paws to mark surfaces and convey ownership. While it may seem strange that a cat wants to mark his human as property, it is actually a sweet compliment. Your cat is marking his particular human as safe.

Your Cat Is Feeling Needy

There maybe occasions when you notice your cat purring while he is kneading. Most likely this means your cat is simply trying to get your attention. He could be hungry, want to be let outside, or just in need of some petting and scratching.

Preparing For Naptime

Another theory for domestic cats kneading is that it is a cat behavior, that has been passed down from cat’s wild ancestors. Wild cats will paw at piles of leaves or tall grass to create a nest for themselves and their young to relax and nap in.

By doing this to the ground area they are not only creating a nesting spot but they are also checking for predators, prey or dangerous things hidden in the foliage.

Stretching Out

A major function of your cat’s physiology includes stretching. While cats are known to enjoy using a scratching post, part of that includes the awesome stretch that occurs in their arms and backs when they scratch.

When cats knead, they are also getting that great stretch, and their claws can naturally shed the outer sheath as a bonus. Kneading also helps cats break in new claws that are just growing in.

Going Into Heat

Female cats may also knead when they go into heat (also known as oestrus). PetMD states that when they do this it demonstrates to male cats that they are ready to mate.

They may display other behaviors along with this, such as being overly vocal, displaying more affection than usual and begging to go outside. Neutering or spaying may decrease this behavior if they are related to oestrus. Of course, neutering is ideal and can help avoid unwanted pregnancies as well as prevent some diseases.

Why Does My Cat Knead Me And Not Others?

Cats can be picky about  a lot of things, and at the top of that list is scents. If both you and another person are equally doting on your cat, but only one person receives the biscuit making, it’s possible that your cat prefers the smell that they associate only with that person.

When Kneading Hurts?

Kneading typically increases in rate and strength in direct relation to your cat’s feelings of happiness and comfort. When your cat extends his claws as he kneads, it can be painful. Make sure your cat’s nails are always trimmed, and if needed, you can place a towel on your lap between your cat and your exposed skin.

If that doesn’t help and your cat is digging his claws in a little too much, try putting a soft barrier between you both like a pillow or a blanket.

You may also want to encourage your cat to lie down and relax by stroking them while gently pushing them down into your lap. You can also distract your cat with a fun toy and he will quickly stop sinking his claws into your lap.

How To Stop Your Cat From Kneading On You?

If for some reason you do not love your cat’s attempts to knead on you, there are things you can do to redirect his affection. When you sit down, put that thick and soft blanket next to you on the couch or chair.

When your cat begins to knead on you, gently pick him up and put him on that blanket. As he kneads on the blanket, praise him, pet him, and offer a cat treat on the blanket. You can even train him to do this on a verbal cue, so when he approaches you for kneading, you can ask him to go to the blanket.

Final Thoughts

Kneading is a normal and natural cat behavior and shows you he is happy. Never punish your cat for kneading because it will scare him and making those biscuits is a part of his DNA. Your cat does not know this behavior is wrong, and punishment can irrevocably damage the relationship between you and your feline friend.

If your cat begins kneading obsessively, it could be a sign that something is wrong and it maybe a good idea to contact your veterinarian.

Amy is a life long cat lover and writes for several pet related websites. She is passionate about helping pet parents create a healthy and happy lifestyle for their fur-babies.
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