Kneading is a behavior that pet owners commonly observe in their cats. This is when felines rhythmically push in and out with their paws, alternating between left and right. The motion is sometimes referred to as “making biscuits” or “kneading dough” because it resembles a baker hard at work.
Cats typically knead soft surfaces, such as pillows, bedding, other animals, and people. Some even knead the air, purring loudly while having their bellies rubbed. Some cats retract their claws while kneading, but others fully extend them with each motion. The rhythm is enough to send some cats into an almost hypnotic state, purring and drooling as their jaw relaxes. While most cats only knead with their front paws, some felines get all four into the action.
So, why do cats knead? No one is exactly sure why, but several hypotheses exist. We’ll discuss the most likely ones here.
Throwback to Kittenhood
Kneading is first observed in kittens as they drink milk from their mothers. In this case, kneading is an instinctive way to stimulate milk production. It could be that adult cats continue to associate kneading with the comfort of nursing, so they perform this motion when feeling particularly content and relaxed. Some cats even suckle the surface while they knead, promoting this theory even more.
Sign of Affection
If your cat begins purring and kneading your lap as you pet him in his favorite spot, he might be attempting to return the affection you’re showing him. Unfortunately, your cat doesn’t know his sharp claws are digging into your skin. And the more affectionate he is, the harder he digs.
To prevent your kitty’s love from causing you pain, try placing a thick blanket on your lap for him to lie on. You might also adjust his paws so they rest on a surface other than your bare skin. Additionally, keeping your kitty’s claws trimmed can make his kneading less painful. Whatever you do, don’t punish your cat for this completely natural behavior.
Method of Creating a Soft Surface to Lie On
Your domestic cat’s wild ancestors often kneaded down grass, leaves, or other relatively rough surfaces to make them more comfortable for sleeping or giving birth. When your cat kneads his bedding before settling in for a long nap, he might instinctually be doing the same thing.
Technique for Marking Their Territory
The soft pads on the bottom of your cat’s paws contain scent glands, which the animal might be using to mark his territory when he kneads his favorite objects—yes, including you. In the wild, this would be one way to tell other cats that this is his turf, so intruders beware.
Sign Your Cat is in Heat
Female cats are known to knead their paws right before going into heat. In this case, the behavior is a sign of her willingness to mate. Kneading may also be accompanied by persistent yowling, urine marking, extreme affection, and restlessness. The only way to eliminate these natural behaviors is to have your cat spayed.
Get More Cat Behavior Advice at Germantown Vet
Kneading is typically a harmless, quite cute behavior. However, if you have any concerns about bad cat behavior, feel free to contact Germantown Vet online or call us at 240-252-7467 with any questions you have.