Cats

Why do cats knead?

Allie Simpson

Has your cat been rhythmically pushing their paws in and out against something soft? Cats kneading blankets or your lap is fairly common! It might look like your cat is trying to become the next contestant of the Great British Bake Off, but they’re actually doing something else.

 

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A picture of a tabby cat kneading a doughnut cat bed

Common reasons for cat kneading

Both young and adult felines may knead and purr when they’re content, comfortable, and happy – usually when they’re being petted. But they may also appear to knead on other occasions. Let’s clear up this purr-plexing mystery by taking a look at some other common reasons for kneading.

> Cats kneading to stretch

Cats love to knead after a nap as a means of stretching out their muscles. Just like we do, cats stretch out their muscles to release any tension from sore joints after they’ve slept in an uncomfortable position.

So if you catch your feline friend kneading after a catnap, they’ve not become a yoga master in their sleep – they’re just stretching out their muscles.

> Cats kneading for potential mates

Female cats in particular have an additional reason for kneading. Purring, stretching, and kneading the air while lying on their side is their way of telling male cats that they can approach for possible mating.

While this isn’t a sign that they’re immediately ready to mate, it’s the equivalent of a green light for male cats to advance.

> Cats kneading to mark territory

Cats scent-mark their belongings as a way of marking their territory and safeguarding what’s theirs. When cats knead their paws on the surface of something (humans included), they activate the sweat glands in their paw pads. This allows them to mark the item (or us) as theirs.

> Cats kneading to nest

We’re taking a walk on the wild side with this theory! Another reason why cats may knead is that it’s a behaviour passed down from their feral ancestors. Wild cats create a nest for themselves and their young by pawing at leaves and tall grass.

Kneading is dual purpose in this case as they can make the nest nice and soft as well as check for potential predators and yummy prey.

 

A picture of a striped cat lying down on its owner and kneading

Why does my cat knead me?

If you’ve ever been curled up on the sofa with your cat, you may have noticed they knead you. There are plenty of theories as to why they do this, such as marking their territory.

As we mentioned earlier, your cat forms a close bond with you and this can make them quite territorial when it comes to sharing you. But what are the other theories?

> Cats kneading soft clothing or materials

If you’re wearing a particularly soft jumper or wrapped up tight in a comfortable blanket, your cat may be kneading you because of the material. These types of fabrics make great sleeping surfaces for cats, so kneading them is their way of fluffing up a surface to get ready to sleep.

> Cats kneading to remember their days as a kitten

When your cat was a kitten, they would knead their mother to help stimulate milk production. Your lap reminds them of their mother’s warm and comfortable belly, so it’s possible that your cat is kneading you to remember their days as a kitten and to relive the comfort this gave them.

This instinctive trait from their kittenhood also explains why they may dribble as they knead; they’re expecting to get milk as they would from their mother’s belly.

 

A picture of a short haired cat kneading and suckling on a blanket

Cat kneading and suckling

These are common and natural behaviours for cats of all ages and breeds to display. Cats can use your fingers or skin for suckling, but they can also suckle on blankets and towels.

Cat suckling is a behaviour which resembles feeding from their mother as a kitten. It may be difficult to stop your cat from suckling but, like kneading, it’s rarely a harmful behaviour. In fact, you might want to take it as a compliment! Kneading and suckling can indicate that your favourite feline feels comfortable and content with you.

 

A picture of a tri coloured short haired cat kneading the sofa with claws

How to stop a cat from kneading with claws

Kneading is a very normal and natural behaviour for your cat. It can be quite harmless, but if you’ve noticed that your cat has started to knead with their claws out, there are things you can do to avoid that clawful scratching:

  • Give your cat a dedicated scratch post to use as an outlet for their scratching urges.
  • Encourage your cat to knead elsewhere. You can offer them a soft blanket or a toy.
  • Distract your cat with a treat or a toy. Flashing a laser onto the wall or across the floor is a great way to divert your cat’s attention away from kneading you.
  • Use a thick blanket, especially when your feline kneads with claws. This way none of your good blankets will be clawed (and neither will you!).

 

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