Is there anything better than having your cat jump up on your lap, start that purring motor, and knead you with those cute little paws of theirs? No. No, there isn’t. It’s absolutely adorable – maybe a bit painful, but you don’t care. Your cat is showing you affection, and that’s all that matters. Still, you might be wondering: why do cats knead before they curl up into their tight little ball of warmth? Is it something they only do with their family, or will they do the same thing with their local Cat Sitter?
Should we view in the same light as a dog turning in circles before having a snooze? Or is it a bit like a child sucking their thumb? In this article, we’re going to get to the bottom of the question: “why do cats knead?”
Before we ask “why do cats knead?”, let’s find out what kneading exactly is
Kneading is a cat behaviour in which your kitty will use their two front paws to knead or massage a soft surface. They may extend and retract their claws, and the behaviour is usually accompanied by purring. Some cats may also relax their jaws or bite down on the edge of a blanket or pillow. It’s a bit of an odd behaviour to describe, but if you’ve ever seen it, you know exactly what we’re talking about.
Cats generally knead when they’re relaxed or getting ready to lay down for a nap or longer snooze.
Some of the theories behind the kneading mystery
Cats haven’t been living in domesticity for very long, so there’s a lot that we are still learning about them. In fact, while humans have coexisted with cats for 4,000 years, it was only in the last 100 years or so that we would even consider allowing cats into the house. Now, they’re some of our most beloved furry friends. What that means is that we’re still trying to figure out some of their odd, adorable behaviours. Here are some of the most widely accepted answers to the question, why do cats knead?
- It’s a remnant from kittenhood. When your fur baby was, well, an even smaller fur baby, they kneaded their mum to stimulate the release of milk. The fact that your cat will recreate this scene of comfort and love is pretty telling of your relationship. You remind your kitty of those happy early days of life. It’s a pretty special bond!
- It could be instinctual. You’ll notice that your cat often kneads soft materials like blankets, a pillow, or your lap. This may hark back to your fur baby’s wild days, when they would tamp down soft grass for a well-hidden snooze.
- Your cat could be marking territory. Cat paws have scent glands, so it’s possible that your feline friend is telling the world, this is my human! Just as a little reminder that your cat actually owns you.
- It may have something to do with hormones. It’s not a hugely popular opinion, but some experts suggest that female cats knead more during estrus. The idea is that your kitty is showing off her moves to all the males in the area. But, both sexes will knead pretty much all of the time, so estrus may not be a huge factor.
Kneading versus scratching
You’ll notice that your cat uses their claws when they knead, but it’s important to differentiate kneading and scratching.
Scratching is a behaviour that cats will use to sharpen their claws and mark their territory. It’s this behaviour that might have your stress levels rising as you see your furniture, carpets, and rugs destroyed. As frustrating as it can be, scratching is a normal behaviour that you cat needs to do to stay healthy. The good news: you can channel this behaviour, which you can read about in our article on how to stop your cat scratching the furniture.
But as we learned by asking the question “why do cats knead?”, kneading is not destructive. It’s an affectionate, gentle behaviour that shows you that your cat is happy and comfortable. In other words, Cat Owners should never discourage kneading.
Bring on the knead!
If you’ve got a kneading cat on your hands, congratulations! Your cat loves you, trusts you, and sees you as the perfect napping place. If the claws are painful, you might place a towel or pillow on your lap – they’ll love the extra cushion!
The next time someone asks why do cats knead, you’ve got the information! Now, sit back, let your kitty hop up on your lap, and enjoy!