Why Cats Need to Knead!
by Rita Reimers, Multi Cat Behavior Expert
Cats: Making Biscuits, Working the Dough, Happy Paws, Mashing Potatoes. If you have a cat, it’s no doubt that you have heard some of these cute slang terms for cat kneading.
Kneading is when a cat moves his feet back and forth rhythmically, kneading some invisible dough with his paws as he purrs away happily. It can be quite comical to watch.
But do you know why your cat is exhibiting this behavior?
Most kittens, as well adult cats, exhibit kneading behaviors; it is perfectly normal and harmless. Simply put, cats need to knead! There are many circumstances when you will observe your cat kneading, and there are specific reasons for each one. The list below will help you to understand, and even encourage, your cat to work those feet.
In Every Cat there is a Kitten
A cat’s urge to knead is a throw-back from their kittenhood; kneading is an instinct that is deeply ingrained and linked to self-preservation and bonding with their mother cat. Young kittens use this kneading motion on their mother’s breasts to stimulate her milk to flow. When kittens purr along with kneading while nursing, they are telling momma cat that they are alright. This also helps mom and kitten to form a close bond.
Although you will see it occur more frequently in young kittens, adult cats will often mimic this nursing behavior as well, when they are feeling extremely contented and mellow. Your cat may even suck on the blanket or pillow at the same time, further simulating nursing with his mother and the warm feelings it brought him.
Cat Happy Zone
If your cat is feeling extraordinarily content, you will most likely see him exhibiting cat kneading behavior at various times throughout the day. He is communicating with you that he is happy and all is right with his world. Some cats will even knead with their paws up in the air while they are being held, or while lying on their backs on the floor or bed. Your cat is feeling relaxed, happy, and secure when he is kneading.
Making Their Bed
In the wild, cats knead the ground and the grass in order to create a comfortable place in which to sleep or give birth. If you observe your cat, you will often see him kneading the blankets or his kitty bed just before he curls up to go to sleep. He is making his sleeping spot “just right” for his slumber time.
Marking Their Territory
Cats have scent glands located in the pads of their feet. Kneading will stimulate these glands to excrete their scent, which is a warning for other cats to stay away from his spot. This is a scent that you cannot smell; only other cats can detect it. You’ll see this behavior happen particularly in your cat’s favorite napping area, or even on your lap, as he leaves his scent and claims you all for himself.
How Cats Say “ I Love You”
Cats will often knead on their owner’s laps to express love and affection. One of the highest compliments your cat can pay you is to knead on your lap; it means that your lap is one of his favorite and most relaxing places to be.
While having your cat knead your lap is a sweet and endearing trait, it can also be very painful for you. While some cats are good about keeping their claws retracted, others fully extend their claws with each knead to give their feet a good stretch. Keep your cat’s nails trimmed so you can enjoy this loving act of bonding with your cat, without the sting of his sharp claws spoiling the moment. You can also place a pillow or soft blanket between your lap and your cat, to help to protect your lap from his nails.
Kneading to Self-Soothe
A cat might also knead if he is feeling neglected or is experiencing stress due to household changes. If your cat is obsessively kneading, he might be using kneading behavior to self-soothe, mimicking the warm feelings he experienced with his mother cat when he was a young kitten.
If you notice that your cat exhibiting extreme kneading behavior, try spending more one-on-one quality time with him. Play with your cat, brush him, or just hold him and talk to him in a loving tone of voice every day.
As you can see, cat kneading, or cats making biscuits, is a common cat behavior that is usually a sign of a happy and contented cat. Should it become a constant preoccupation, however, if might be a sign of emotional distress in your kitty.
Give your cat plenty of daily playtime, attention, love and affection, and you will have a happy and well-adjusted cat that will be happy living in your home for the rest of his life.