Why do cats knead?
What does it mean when a cat kneads and purrs you?
When a cat kneads you, it is nothing short of adorable. They often find the softest blanket around (or it may be your tummy!) and will knead to their heart’s content as if in a daze.
They’ll purr, stare off at a wall or object of their affection, maybe even put the blanket to their mouths (and drool!), and really get into “the zone.”
This kneading behavior communicates to most owners that their cat is happy and loving; it often also indicates that a cat is preparing a soft bed or place to relax, clean up, or just take a nap.
It is adorable! Still, this behavior is pretty cryptic. It may also be out of character for your otherwise spunky, confident, loud, and excitable cat to suddenly start kneading as if they are ready to cuddle.
Find out where this funny feline behavior comes from, why they do it, and if that means your cat is happy, relaxed, or just acting on instinct.
Why do cats knead blankets?
One hypothesis as to why cats knead is because they are reminiscent of their days as kittens. If you have ever seen kittens nursing, you will see this same rhythmic behavior in your adult cat.
A kitten will grab onto the mother and knead with both legs while she is nursing. This helps stimulate the mother’s milk production. To put it simply, your cat acts on instinct.
Milk contains hormones and growth factors that contain trace amounts of oxytocin, but as indicated through research, these levels decline fairly rapidly immediately after the first few days of breastfeeding.
Instead, science suggests that the act of sucking on newborns releases oxytocin – so if you find your cat kneading blankets, soft surfaces, you, or even stuffed animals or other pets around the house, they’re doing it because the familiar motion of kneading and nursing activates the pleasure center of their nervous system.
And, if your cats purr while they do it, this doubly indicates that they are happy.
Why do cats knead their owners?
As mentioned above, kneading is reminiscent of the early days of nursing a cat as a kitten. The breastfeeding mom is comforting and the act of kneading allows them to review these movements.
If your cats tend to knead you, they are doing so out of affection, which means that they feel very comfortable and affectionate. It is a sign that they come to you for comfort and companionship.
Unfortunately, if you don’t cut your cat’s nails regularly, this can be very painful! Sometimes your cat will come to you when you are lying in bed and will climb onto your stomach and dig in with their sharp nails.
It’s hard to get them moving because you don’t want to discourage affection from them, but you also don’t want them to leave tons of tiny scratches all over your stomach.
The best thing you can do to combat this problem is to have a spare, soft, furry blanket around that you can quickly throw over your stomach when your cat tries to jump onto your lap or wants to jump on your bed and climb on your stomach.
Fleece blankets tend to work well for this; Avoid blankets that can tear and become stringy from damage. Also, go for something washable.
Cats also knead to mark territory
Cats are extremely territorial, and the mere act of kneading objects with their claws and paws also releases their scent.
There are actual scent glands on the underside of a cat’s paw pads that can communicate to other cats who have been there, what a cat’s current mood is, and its reproductive status (and more).
If your cat is intact and female, it is also possible that she is kneading objects or air to indicate that she is in her reproductive prime and ready to mate. This will also be accompanied by other signs that your cat is in heat.
Keep in mind that thousands of adoptable cats are euthanized each year in the United States due to overcrowding of pets. You can help reduce this problem by spaying and neutering your pets to prevent accidental litters.
Additionally, fixing your cat will reduce unpleasant or undesirable behaviors such as marking, yowling, spraying, territoriality, and aggression.
How to stop your cat from kneading?
While you don’t necessarily want to discourage your cats from kneading altogether, consider ways you can encourage them to knead in the right place at the right time.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Keep your cat’s claws trimmed (monthly)
- Establish a designated spot where your cat can or is comfortable kneading. Sometimes they just require a designated soft blanket placed in a strategic location in your home.
- Provide a cat bed or blanket just for them in their favorite spot.
- Consider spraying your cozy space with Feliway; This product is made from a synthetic feline facial pheromone and marks a space as “safe, friendly, comfortable”. It can be really beneficial for anxious cats.
- If you don’t want your cats to knead you, keep the treats close by and call them to a place where they can knead. Pet them as they get into the grove so that they feel encouraged to relax.
Never punish your cat. Instead, encourage them to act on the behavior in the right place at the right time by following the tips above.