Anyone who has shared their home with a cat has seen their fair share of odd behavior. Whether nighttime prowls, scratching everything in sight, or leaving you presents of dead animals, our furbulous felines do a lot of things that can be rather off putting. But one adorable habit that can leave some pet pawrents puzzling is when cats knead.
When your kitten pushes their paws in and out on you like they are trying to knead your leg like dough, it may seem cute and cuddly. As time goes on, you may wonder why your adult cat still wants to turn your tummy into bread. If you want to know why your cat kneads, let’s explore the reasons behind this unusual behavior.
The Root of the Behavior
Kneading begins with newborn kittens, and starts before their eyes are even open. As littermates instinctively search for food, they find their mother’s nipples, and clamp their little paws around them to stay attached. Soon, they find that kneading around their mother’s nipples brings forth the milk they desire. Indeed, the motion does stimulate milk production and help it to flow. At this stage in their life, this action of touching and receiving food is comforting and safe. But what about when cats grow up?
One theory about why adult cats continue to knead is that they may have been taken away from their mother too early before they were finished weaning, and so retain that behavior. However, almost all adult cats knead regardless of when they were separated, as do cats in the wild, so it’s more likely that they still associate this behavior with comfort, security and fulfillment. Deep down, they may be looking for a tasty reward, as some cats suckle at the corner of a pillow or blanket while kneading. One thing is clear. When your cat kneads, they are feeling content.
There could be another reason why your cat continues to knead that has to do with survival instincts. In the wild, cats will use that kneading behavior to tramp down grass or foliage and make a bed. There are also scent glands in a cat’s paws that leave their scent behind when kneading or scratching to mark territory or objects. It may be that your cat is kneading you to tell all other animals that you belong to them! And one last reason could be hormonal, as unspayed female cats often knead just before they go into heat to signal to males that they are ready to start mating.
Encouraging the Behavior
A cuddly, kneading cat is simply adorable! Many cats purr while they knead, and some become so relaxed and trance-like, they may even drool! One cat may use their front paws, while another may get all four paws in on the action. There are cats who are gentle in their pushing, and others who can be ferocious, especially on their furvorite person. An anxious cat may knead to feel safer, while another may be telling you they missed you when you return home.
Whatever the instinctual reason behind it, when your cat kneads you, they are showing they love you and feel safe. And while that is comforting, sometimes the kneading itself isn’t very comfortable! There are cats who use their claws when kneading, which can feel like ten tiny daggers digging in and out of your skin. Or ripping up your clothes, blankets or pillows! While the behavior is completely normal, it may not be desirable. But instead of discouraging the behavior, you should look for ways to let your kitty do what’s natural without harming you or your stuff.
If your cat loves to include their claws in the bread making, you should trim them regularly to reduce the damage. If the kneading is still too painful or uncomfortable, consider putting a soft towel or blanket near you that you can place between your body and your kitty’s paws so she can still feel close to you. If you are still feeling bothered by the kneading, perhaps move your cat to another spot near you where they can knead safely. No matter what you do, be sure not to punish your cat for exhibiting this instinctual behavior.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Since scientists and researchers have come up with several reasons why cats continue to knead through adulthood, there are other steps you can take to deal with your cat’s kneading. If your unspayed female cat kneads before she goes into heat, consider getting her spayed. Some cats knead more on blankets and clothes before settling in for a nap, so get them their own pillows, blankets or bed to knead on instead, and set them on them when they start to knead where you don’t want them to. And if you’ve got a ferocious kneader who is showing other territorial traits, perhaps using a pheromone product can make them feel safer and reduce their need to mark.