Why Do Cats Knead?
Why do cats knead? If you’ve ever wondered why cats feel the need to knead, this is for you.
Why do cats knead? That’s a good question, isn’t it?
Let’s face it, cats can be odd creatures and their many traits and behaviors have a tendency to baffle us at times.
For example, their need to be in tight places, that ritualistic grooming routine they go through after each and every meal and of course, that cat kneading.
Today, we at Easyology Pets will tell you what it's all about.
What is kneading?
Cats make the kneading motion when they push in and out with their paws, alternating between each side. While some cats knead with their claws completely retracted others extend their claws as they push out and retract them as they pull back.
So, the question is…why do cats knead in the first place?
To answer that let’s first look at how cats knead. The term kneading comes from its resemblance to the kneading of dough. Most often cats knead on soft surfaces that give little resistance. Things like blankets, pillows, another cat or even you at times. Usually the kneading is also accompanied by deep purring and even the occasional drooling as your cat really gets into it. It’s such a Zen like experience for some, it can appear that your cat is in a trance while knead, it’s that kind of relaxing.
Why do cats knead?
Depending on who you ask, will depend on the answer you get when it comes to why cats knead. But, most experts agree that it is an instinctual behavior. Kittens knead their mother’s belly as they prepare to nurse, and this motion is thought to stimulate the release of the milk. Others will tell you that cats that knead where taken away from their mother too early and that it is part of a separation type of anxiety that follows them into cathood.
But for the most part all cats knead, no matter if they stayed with their mother through the duration of their kittenhood or not. Most, experts agree that the early weening theory doesn’t really hold water. Instead, most say that it’s simply a comforting behavior cats exhibit. Much like some humans fluff the pillows or rub or massage their significant other.
Some even say it dates back to when wild cats would pat down grass, leaves and other objects found in nature to soften them up. This way they were nice and cozy for sleeping, giving birth or just hanging out.
But going beyond the comfort explanation there is a potentially more practical explanation. You see, cats have scent glands in the soft pads of their paws. When they knead, they pass on some of the oil from these glands to the object they are kneading. This way, the cat can sort of mark their territory and claim a spot as their own.
Which means that when your cat kneads you…they’re essentially saying that you belong to them. This whole leaving their scent behind thing is also one of the reasons why cats scratch so much. In the wild cats will often scratch trees and other objects in the perimeter of their home. Because, along with the secretion from their glands the scratches also leave a visual clue saying essentially, no trespassing.
What can you do about the kneading?
Typically kneading is not a problem, but just like anything else there are cats that knead excessively.
If your cat kneads too much, the first thing you’re going to want to do is to make sure you keep their claws trimmed. Otherwise you’ll be putting yourself at risk of being scratched. Plus, you’ll find snags all over your home and on your clothes. Another practical piece of advice is for you to keep a nice folded towel, or other soft and fluffy object next to where you sit so that when you cat does come to knead you, you can protect yourself and your clothing.
If the kneading causes you any discomfort or really starts to bother you, one thing experts say you can do is to gently push your cat down into a laying position. As they begin to settle in, they’ll often go to sleep. You can also hold their paws, so they can’t knead, or you can simply pet them. You can also distract them by offering them a toy or a cat treat. Anything to break the pattern.
Punishing or scolding your cat doesn’t work. Remember, we are dealing with thousands of years of instinct and they won’t know what you’re punishing them for.
One thing you may also want to be aware of is the fact that a female cat may start to knead right before she goes into heat.
This behavior often sends a signal to male cats that she’s willing to mate. This type of kneading is often accompanied by loud meowing and wailing. She does this to draw attention to herself. She may also start to restlessly pace and may even mark her territory. Another thing you may notice is a change in her posture as you pet her. She may become extremely affectionate and assume the mating position as you pet her. Again, these are instinctual behaviors, so there is not much you can do. The best way to handle this particular type of kneading and its associated behavior is to simply have your cat spayed.
The bottom line, kneading appears to be an instinctual behavior and totally and completely normal and natural. Again, just like anything there are those cats that tend to overdo it. If that describes your cat, then give a few of our suggestions a try.