It can be hilarious, sweet, or even painful at times, but our cats need to knead. Why? The behaviour starts from a very early age for cats. As kittens, they knead their mother’s stomach to stimulate milk production while they are feeding. This gives us a window into the cat psyche. The action of kneading to receive their mother’s milk, as babies, is such a positive feeling for them they carry it on into adulthood.
So, is that the answer to the question? Do cats knead because it feels good for them? That’s a big part of it, but an adult cat also has a few other reasons up their sleeve for why they love to knead.
Blankets and Soft Objects
Soft and pliable materials, such as blankets and pillows, make for great cat kneading traps. All cats should have some soft objects they can regularly interact with at home. These are the triggers that remind them of being a kitten. Often you will see a cat knead a soft blanket for a while then plop down and fall asleep. This moment is fun and satisfying for them because of its association with nursing.
Most cats have a deep love for their owners and will seek time on their laps, or laying on their chest, etc. Direct contact is important for maintaining a healthy cat-owner relationship, and when you show that kindness, they return it in their own way. This often takes the form of kneading and shows they love and appreciate you. The tough part with kneading people is some cats will knead with their claws out, not realizing they are hurting you. The best thing to do in this case is to slip a layer of material underneath their paws. Don’t scold them – they won’t understand why you are upset when they are showing love. Cats also have scent glands in their paws and will knead their owner to mark them as ‘their territory’.
Looking for a Mate
Female cats have been known to knead when looking to attract a mate. In some cases, they will lay on their side and knead the air. It is theorized this behaviour shows a potential mate that they are welcome to approach.
Some theories exist around cat kneading as a pre-domestication behaviour, where cats would pat down surfaces and other things like foliage to create a soft spot for them to lie down or even give birth. This may also explain why cats seem to fall asleep after kneading a soft material.
Excitement or Stretching
Ever notice your cat get all revved up and run over to the carpet, then try to lift it off the ground with aggressive kneading? That’s just how some cats express themselves. It may be funny or weird, but when they feel overwhelmed a quick angry knead can be just what the doctor ordered.
Additionally, some cats knead while they stretch. It’s usually not a behaviour that lasts very long, but when stretching out (as cats love to do), they will knead their paws upward and hook their claws in so they can get an extra good stretch.
There are many reasons cats knead, and it’s mostly harmless. If your cat kneads with their claws out, and they are either causing pain when they knead you or ruining household items, try your best to stay on top of trimming their claws. If you don’t want to trim their claws, you will have to live with whatever damage they do to the furniture, but you can avoid the pain by wearing layers or slipping a blanket or something soft underneath their paws.