If you have a feline lap warmer, chances are you’ve also experienced the added bonus of a kitty massage known as “kneading”. The term was presumably coined due to its likeness to kneading bread. And even though your cat is not truly making biscuits, the question still remains: why do cats knead?
Town and Country Animal Hospital loves cats as much as you do, so we were eager to answer this age old question.
Why Do Cats Knead?
If you haven’t seen it, kneading is the rhythmic motion cats make with their paws, pushing in and out against a soft object such as a kitty bed, couch, or lap.
Kitten memory – Kneading starts in kittenhood, when kittens nurse from their mother. The kneading motion helps to stimulate their mother’s milk. Even though kneading a soft surface past the nursing age doesn’t yield milk, adult cats associate this motion with the comfort and rewards of nursing.
Love, love, love – If your cat is sitting on your lap and you’re petting it, it’s likely it will knead in response. It’s essentially telling you it loves you right back. Some cats never extend their claws when kneading, but if your cat does, this can mean that love hurts! To help this, try placing a towel on your lap with your cat on top. Trimming its nails on a regular basis is also a good idea.
Yoga cats – Stretching feels good to your cat just as it feels good to you. Cats may knead to work out all those kinks from all those naps (ha!).
Making a nest – Cats in the wild ensure their comfort and safety by making their sleeping surfaces more inviting. One way they do this is by kneading down tall grasses and brush to make a soft and comfortable bed for sleeping and bearing their young. Kneading in domestic cats could be a throwback to this wild behavior.
Marking territory – Cats are territorial creatures and scent mark their areas to safeguard their turf. Kneading with their paws activates the scent glands located in the soft pads on the bottoms of their paws, effectively marking the object as theirs (including you!)
Cats have many interesting and endearing quirks, and kneading is one of them. The question of why do cats knead has many theories, and likely many more than those listed here. Whatever the reason your cat kneads, it’s a natural, normal, and common cat behavior.