What is Cat Kneading and Why Do Cats Knead Their Owners?

Puka Vu

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cats knead

​Cats are quirky, wondrous creatures with a drive for play, naps, and curiosity! They serve as our playful companions, the source of entertainment, as well as our loving friends.

​The bond between humans and felines is often so intense and can be demonstrated in a variety of ways. Humans often show their affection towards their cats by hugging them, kissing them, snuggling with them, and playing with them. Felines reciprocate this affection with head butting, snuggling, purring, meowing, and kneading.

First-time cat owners may not quite understand what kneading is or why it happens.

Cat Kneading
Does this sound familiar to you?

Then you are in the right place! In this article, we will take a peek into the facts and answer the most common questions related to cat kneading. What is it? Why do cats do it? What makes them do it? Why do they knead their humans?

What is cat kneading?

Cat kneading is a very common (and positive) physical demonstration of affection. It often begins with you (the owner) sitting or lying down. The cat will then jump up and join you, usually on your lap.

Your cat will typically begin to purr, turn in a circle, close his eyes softly, and start pushing into your lap with his front two paws. Their toes extend, and if they are not declawed, you will likely see their nails come out. The nails may catch on your clothing or skin, but your cat is not trying to cause you pain. The two front paws will alternate pushing into you and (if you use your imagination) it will resemble the same movement of kneading pizza dough (hence the name)!

Some cat owners have nicknamed this movement, and you should feel free to do the same! Some examples of these nicknames include paddling, making biscuits, kitty massages, or even marching. If you have had the pleasure of being kneaded by your cat or have witnessed a cat kneading then hopefully it made you smile with joy because the kitty sure was!

Why do cats knead things by their paws?

cat knead

It all begins with kittenhood!Each newborn kitten is carefully and thoroughly licked clean by his mother. His eyes are not open, he does not have the ability to walk yet nor can he hear. With the lack of these vital senses, you may think that the kitten is unable to find his mother let alone communicate with her.

Interestingly, this is false! After he is given his very first bath from mom,the newborn kitten scoots himself along in search of his mother’s nipples. The kitten will then instinctively begin to suckle on his mothers nipples. For the milk to be released, he must knead the sides of the nipple with his two front paws. The feeling of her kittens nursing and purring inspires mom to relax and purr as well.

Kittens will continue to feed on their mothers until around the age of four weeks old. Kittens are weaned by slowly being introduced to solid food and should be completely weaned off of their mothers by eight or ten weeks old. The reason why cats continue to knead after kittenhood is not entirely clear. However, we do know that almost every cat will continue to knead from kittenhood to his senior years.

What makes cats knead?

What makes cats knead?

In general, it is purely leftover kittenhood instincts that encourage an adult cat to knead. They are passed the point of kneading for food. However, they will replicate the motion on a soft blanket, their cat bed, each other, you, or anything else that is soft and warm.

Some people believe that adult cats knead things to make them more comfortable before a cat nap. It is believed that their much larger ancestors will knead grass, weeds, and other areas, smashing them down to make a bed. So, it is possible that the instinct changes from a feeding movement to a sleeping movement.

Other people have found that females will often knead things before going into heat to demonstrate their desperation for a mate. Another reason theyknead may involve the scent glands in their paws. Located on the underside of a feline’s paws are glands that leave a scent that is unique him. Therefore, adult cats may be kneading in an attempt to “claim” their favorite people, objects, and places in the home. The scent left by these glands is not detectable by the human nose, but it sends a clear signal to fellow felines in the home.

Why do cats knead humans?

The simple answer is that your cat is kneading you because he loves you and he is trying to show you affection. However, there may be a deeper explanation.

As we have discovered, cats begin kneading as kittens in an attempt to extract milk from their mothers. Therefore, it may be safe to say that your cat is kneading you because he sees you as a mother figure in his life. This should be a very flattering explanation because it means that you made him feel warm, safe and loved just as his mother once did.

Another explanation could be that he is “claiming” you with his scent glands. In this case, he is attempting to place his unique scent on you in hopes that other cats will stay away. Regardless of the explanation, when a cat is kneading a blanket, object or you, it is a good thing, and it should bring you joy!

It is important that owners understand not to punish their cat for kneading. This is true even if his claws dig into your skin. Simply move him to another area or put a blanket between the two of you. Cat kneading is a natural way for felines to show affection, and that should never be punished.


Puka Vu

We’re a little team of cat owners and carers whose main aim is to help you make the best choices when it comes to cares for your furry friend.

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