Cats have an endearing and sometimes puzzling behavior known as kneading, where they rhythmically push their paws in and out against a soft surface, but what drives this feline habit, and why do cats do it?
Understanding Cat Kneading: What Is It?
Cat kneading, also known as "making biscuits," is a behavior that involves your cat repeatedly pushing their paws in and out against a soft surface. This can include blankets, pillows, or even your lap. While it may look like they are massaging or treading on the spot, there is a deeper meaning behind this action.
Kneading is an instinct that cats have inherited from their ancestors and it serves various purposes for them. It may seem odd to us, but for cats, kneading is an essential part of their behavior and communication. Whether you are a new cat owner or have had feline companions for years, understanding the reasons behind this behavior can help strengthen your bond with your furry friend.
Cats Knead Out of Instinct
Kittens begin to knead almost immediately after birth as a way to stimulate their mother's milk production while nursing. As they grow, this behavior continues and becomes a way for them to mark their territory by leaving behind scent from the pads of their paws. This instinct is also linked to their wild ancestors who would knead down tall grass or leaves to make a comfortable spot for themselves to sleep.
Your Cat Wants Attention
Cats are known for their independent nature, but they still crave attention and affection from their owners. Kneading is one way for them to show that they want your attention and love. When your cat kneads on you, it's a sign of trust and affection towards you. They may purr or even nuzzle against you while kneading to show how content they are in your company.
Kneading Is How Cats Show Affection
You may be still wondering, “Why does my cat knead me?” Cats may purr or rub against their owners to express their love, others may show it through kneading. This can be seen as a way for cats to reciprocate the affection they receive from their owners.
It's also believed that this behavior brings back a sense of comfort and security for cats, reminding them of the happy moments spent with their mothers as kittens.
Kneading Helps Cats Mark Their Territory
As we mentioned earlier, kneading is a way for cats to leave behind their scent from the pads of their paws. This serves as a territorial marking behavior and is especially prevalent in multi-cat households where they may need to establish boundaries.
By kneading on objects and people, cats are essentially saying "This is mine" and leaving their mark for other animals to pick up on.
Cats Are in Relaxation Mode
Have you noticed that your cat often kneads when they are in a state of relaxation? That's because this behavior releases endorphins, also known as the "feel-good" hormones, which can have a calming effect on cats. Kneading helps reduce stress and anxiety in cats, making it a soothing and comforting act for them. This is why many cats will knead before settling down for a nap or while they are already asleep.
They’re Soothing Their Anxiety
Helping reduce stress, kneading can also serve as a self-soothing mechanism for cats with anxiety. It's believed that the repetitive motion of kneading can bring a sense of comfort and security to anxious cats, similar to how humans might twirl their hair or tap their feet when feeling nervous.
If you notice your cat kneading more frequently during times of change or stress, such as moving to a new home or introducing a new pet, it could be their way of coping and calming themselves.
A Form of Stretching
Kneading is not just a behavior reserved for cats, but it's also seen in other animals such as dogs and even some primates. It's believed that this behavior stems from the need to stretch out their muscles after periods of inactivity.
This could explain why cats often knead when they first wake up or after prolonged napping sessions. Just like how we might do a few stretches when we wake up to loosen our muscles, cats knead as a way to stretch out their paws and claws.
This is also why you may notice your cat switching between kneading with their front paws and back paws. It's a full-body stretch for them.
Cats Are Making Their Bed
Cats are known for their love of sleeping, and kneading can also be seen as a way to prepare their sleeping spot. In the wild, cats would use kneading to soften up tall grass or leaves as a comfortable place to sleep. This instinctual behavior still exists in domestic cats today, which is why they may often knead on soft surfaces before settling down.
By kneading and making their bed, cats are essentially creating a cozy spot for themselves to nap in and marking it with their scent through the pads of their paws.
Kneading Can Be a Mating Behavior
During the mating season, female cats may knead on surfaces to release pheromones and attract potential mates. Male cats may also knead as part of their courtship ritual by displaying their strength and virility through this motion.
If you have an unspayed or unneutered cat who kneads excessively, it could be a sign that they are in heat or trying to attract a mate.
Ready to Go Into Labor
Just like how they would knead their mother for milk as kittens, pregnant cats may start to knead on surfaces and objects around the house as they prepare to give birth. This behavior is a way for them to release tension and stimulate milk production in their mammary glands.
When Kneading Could Become a Concern & How to Handle It
While kneading is a natural and common behavior in cats, there are times when it could become a concern. For example, if your cat suddenly starts kneading excessively or aggressively, it could be a sign of pain or discomfort.
This could be due to an injury or underlying health issue, so it's important to observe your cat and take them to a veterinarian if necessary. Some cats may have a habit of kneading with their claws out, which can cause scratches or damage to furniture and other surfaces.
Here are some ways to handle this behavior:
Trim Your Cat’s Nails to Prevent Injury or Damage
To prevent any injuries or damage, make sure to trim your cat's nails regularly. This will also help reduce the sharpness of their claws and lessen any potential scratches when they knead.
Redirect Your Cat with Toys or Treats If You Need Them Off Your Lap
If your cat tends to knead on you and it becomes uncomfortable or unwanted, try redirecting their attention with toys or treats. Distracting them with something else to focus on can help prevent the behavior from continuing.
Pay Attention to Any Signs of Stress or Anxiety
If you notice your cat kneading excessively and out of the ordinary, it could be a sign of stress or anxiety. Pay attention to any changes in their environment or routine that may be triggering this behavior and try to address those issues.
Through kneading, cats communicate a variety of messages to their owners and other animals. It can be a sign of comfort, affection, stretching, preparation for sleep, or even a way to mark their territory by using their claws to dig into surfaces and release pheromones from the sweat glands on their paws. While it may sometimes become a concern, understanding the different ways cats use kneading can help owners better care for their feline friends.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do cats knead me so much?
Your cat may be kneading you as a sign of affection or comfort, or they may be trying to mark you with their scent. If the behavior becomes excessive or uncomfortable, try redirecting them with toys or trimming their nails.
Why do cats like to knead on you?
Cats like to knead on their owners as a way to show affection and mark their territory with their scent. It is also an instinct for them since they learned this behavior as kittens when nursing from their mother.
Why do cats knead me and purr on me?
Cats knead and purr on their owners as a way to show affection and comfort. Kneading can also help stimulate milk production in nursing mothers, so it may be a way for them to show their caretaker instincts towards you.
Why do cats knead on me with their paws?
Cats knead with their paws as an instinct from when they were nursing from their mother as kittens. It's a behavior that shows love and comfort from your cat.