All cats are different, but they all share similar habits. From sleeping all day long through playing with cardboard boxes to pouncing on your feet, cats are peculiar creatures and many of their behaviors may seem to be bizarre at first glance. However, most of them have hidden meanings. This also applies to kneading. While this mysterious behavior seems to be rather pointless for many cat owners, you may be surprised by the possible reasons for this quirk.
What is kneading?
In brief, kneading is a repetitive and rhythmic motion of a cat’s limb. It is when your feline shifts their paws back and forth on soft objects and surfaces, e.g., on a blanket, linen, carpet, or your lap. Most cats, both young and old, like to knead. This specific activity resembles the way people make cookies or knead dough, hence its name.
When it comes to possible techniques, they may vary depending on the cat. While kneading, all of them alternate between left and right paw, however, some of them will do it with their claws fully extended, while others will keep their claws retracted. Also, some kitties may use only their front paws, while others will use all four limbs.
5 reasons why cats knead
There are several reasons behind this strange cat habit. Let’s quickly take a look at some of the most plausible among them.
1. It reminds them of kittenhood
One of the most common theories explaining why cats knead refers to their kittenhood. When cats are little, they push their limbs back and forth onto their mother’s mammary glands to stimulate the flow of milk. The memory of this blissful time is activated each time a feline kneads, which makes them think of their early days and their mother’s love. It also evokes a whole load of positive feelings that refer to nurturing time, which gives them comfort and makes them easily chill out.
2. It makes them feel safe
After birth, kittens usually knead their mothers. As they grow old, they associate this behavior with the feeling of security and safety they were given in the past. Once your cat feels no danger at all and is completely relaxed, they may knead on you. Purring is another common way in which your cat says: “I feel safe with you.”
3. They are marking their territory
Kneading may also serve as the way cats mark their territory. Cats have scent glands around their body, including their pads. While rubbing them along objects and places, they are able to distribute their scent there. This is an easy way to show their presence, mark their territory, and inform other felines that they should keep a wide berth.
4. They are preparing a space before sleeping
Have you ever noticed that cats are more likely to shift their paws right before they settle down for a snooze? This is the way they are making their bed. The reasons for this can be found in the times they were mostly outdoor animals. Wild cats make nests on the ground, and moving their limbs alternately enables them to smooth down the surface to get rid of unwanted grass and pests before falling asleep.
5. Kneading may help them stretch their muscles
Kneading is a sort of yoga for cats. They usually do it after sleep in order to relieve tension accumulated in their muscles. Lengthening the body is a great way to relax and get rid of muscle tension.
Why do cats like to knead their owners?
If you are lucky to have a clingy cat who loves spending time with you and usually sleeps on you, you have probably seen them kneading your lap. Even though such behavior may seem to be cute, it can also be painful if your cat uses their claws while doing this. So, is there a good reason why adult cats tend to knead their owners? There are several theories used to explain their behavior:
- They mark you as theirs. Scientists who study cat behavior usually highlight that cats are territorial and have an inherent need to mark what they claim belongs to them. However, marking is not confined to distributing their scent over objects. Many domestic cats also mark their owners.
- Your clothes are so soft. Our feline friends adore sleeping on soft surfaces. If you wear soft clothes, like a woolen sweater or a furry vest, your cat will treat it as a great sleeping surface. Kneading is natural when your cat feels comfortable and wants to settle down for a nap.
- They treat you like their mother. As we have already explained, kneading allows kittens to communicate with their mother. It is frequently said that it is an instinctive behavior – kittens knead to stimulate the flow of milk and to show how joyful they are. If your cat shifts their paws onto your laps, they transfer these positive feelings to you.
How to stop your pet from kneading?
Cats tend to knead their owners because they love and feel at ease with them. Even though such behavior may seem to be adorable, it can sometimes be problematic, especially if your cat is expansive and digs their claws into your legs. When kneading becomes a hassle, you can use some simple techniques to discourage them. For instance, when your cat does it, put them gently on another surface, e.g., in their bed, offer them a toy, or encourage them to select other spots in the house by using a special pheromone spray.
Even though kneading can be painful for you, remember that you should never punish your cat for it, as this can have a negative impact on their mental health. Be consistent, take them off your lap when they knead, and always remember to trim their claws to prevent hooking on your clothes.