Ah, kneading. That rhythmic, repetitive up-and-down motion that cats make just after outstretching their paws and digging their claws into something soft – like your tummy!
If you think about it for a second, no matter how common it to see your cat knead, it is still seems quite an odd behaviour for a cat to be engaging in. And unlike scratching – which is incredibly useful to cats because it gets the off the dead, outer layer of nail on their claws – kneading doesn’t seem to have as much rhyme or reason to it. Some cats will also knead on nearly anything, from blankets to rugs, to – well people, as already mentioned. Which, again, can be fairly strange.
But cats enjoy it; thoroughly it seems, and kneading appears to be quite a relaxing, de-stressing physical activity for them to perform.
Care to learn more about kneading? Keep reading. And if you have any thoughts on the topic, be sure to leave them in the comments down below!
The 411 on Cats Kneading With Their Paws & Claws!
Why do cats knead?
We don’t exactly know why cats knead, but we have got a lot of really great theories! The true reason why cats knead could be any or all of the following, or something we haven’t thought of yet! Some of these theories you may have already heard or guessed yourself, others are pretty enlightening:
1. Kittens knead their mothers to get milk, and so this may be a childhood habit adult cats don’t all drop.
Think of kneading as the feline equivalent of a human child sucking his or her thumb. When we’re babies, we humans need to this action to get milk from our mothers. Some kids, however, take a long time to drop this biologically drilled-in habit, and thus suck their thumb for a long time past when it’s no longer needed. This may be true of cats when it comes to kneading, too.
2. For the reason above, the act of kneading may bring a cat feelings of security and calmness.
Just as a human child might continue to suck his or her thumb because it helps reduce stress and anxiety, and bring a sense of security, happiness, and calmness, the act of kneading may be a relaxing physical action for a cat to perform, and thus a cat may never drop this action in adulthood because of its positive psychological benefit.
3. Cat kneading may be a behaviour used to flatten and make more comfortable surfaces outside (like grasses); and thus may be performed out of habit before a cat sits or lies down.
Can you imagine sitting directly in sharp grass when all you’d have to do to make your sitting spot a lot more comfortable is knead for a minute? Chances are good you’d develop the habit of kneading before flopping down for long periods of time in any spot.
Of course, you likely wouldn’t knead if you were just going to sit for a second and then move. But if you were going to have a nice long nap… well, it makes sense to preemptively make your spot more comfy if you’ll be there for a while.
Outdoor cats are probably still reaping the benefit of comfort while napping for this biologically ingrained habit today. But for all our indoor cats who knead, well, it’s true that there’s really nothing spiky about the surfaces cats sleep on indoors. That of course doesn’t stop them from kneading. Thus, while house cats don’t need to knead (yes, pun intended) to make their sitting and napping spots more comfy indoors, it’s likely they still act out this this long passed down evolutionary habit just because it’s ingrained in them; a biological remnant of their ancestors’ wild or outdoor cat days.
If this theory is correct, kneading is something like a cat’s prey drive, which obviously is a bit useless for pet cats, since we humans fill their bellies so well it’s essentially unnecessary for pet cats to ever hunt. It sure would come in handy in case a cat is ever separated from his or her owner, however: say in case a kitty wandered off too far and became lost.
This theory on cat kneading makes a lot of sense to me, as my cat, Avery, loves to knead specifically before he settles in to take a nap, usually in the evenings. Let me know if your kitty does the same, and when and where he or she is most likely to knead.
4. Kneading is a form of stretching, and thus may be used specifically for the sensation of muscle relief after stretching.
You know how we humans pull our arms behind our heads and push back our elbows to make our arms feel nice with a stretch? I’m sure that’s a funny looking behaviour, but it makes perfect sense why we do it because it makes us a lot more comfortable after it’s done. Kneading may primarily be about the stretching for cats, and how much better their arms feel after they’ve kneaded for some time.
Considering they usually do it before a nap, it may be a way to prevent them from getting too stiff before they sit. Maybe we humans should take note and start stretching before we sit on the couch for a long Netflix binge.
5. Cats have scent glands in their paws, and thus, may be kneading specifically to mark their territory.
You know how cats try to mark their territory by rubbing their faces, scratching, and even sometimes peeing on specific items? Cats have scent glands in a number of different places on their bodies: and the soft paws on their hand is one of them. Your cat may be using kneading as a method of saying, “This is mine!”
6. Female cats sometimes knead to tell male cats they are ready to mate.
While this may not explain why male cats knead, it does explain why a female cat may suddenly be increasing her kneading activity.
Have a female cat that’s not spayed and she starts kneading a great deal more than she’s used to, she may be in heat.
What does it mean when a cat kneads?
Regardless of which theories are correct about cats kneading, the end result of the kneading all boils down to the same core sentiments.
When a cat kneads, it’s happy. It’s relieving stress, relaxing its muscles, becoming less anxious, showing that it’s comfortable, and is obviously feeling secure. When a cat kneads, unlike when a cat purrs (because, as you may not have known, when a cat purrs he or she is not always communicating happiness), that cat almost exclusively is having positive emotions.
From my research (correct me if I’m wrong or if your cat does something that suggests otherwise!), it seems that a cat will not knead when terrified, overly anxious, or miserable. A cat may knead to make itself feel better or less anxious, but the overall sentiment of the physical action of kneading is that performing this action is getting the cat to become happier, less stressed, and more secure. So take note: when cat kneading = content cat.
Why do cats knead on blankets?
We’ll cut to the chase here since you probably already get the picture from the above comments.
Cats likely knead on blankets because:
- It’s an ingrained habit from their childhood – they would knead on a blanket in the same way a human child would suck on his or her thumb; like a reflex.
- Kneading on a blanket is comforting and anxiety reducing for a kitty, again, same as a human child sucking on his or her thumb.
- Kneading in general is a habit your cat is used to performing before sleeping or sitting for long periods of time. Outdoors it would help make the spot kitty chose more comfortable, indoors on a blanket, it’s a bit useless for that reason, but it’s still performed because, like your cat’s prey drive, but it’s biologically ingrained and so not an easy habit to kick just because it’s no longer technically useful.
- Kneading is like a stretch, and so kneading on a blanket makes a cat’s muscles feel nice the same as when we humans stretch out.
- Your cat may be being a little territorial, and claiming the blanket as his or her own spot.
- If you have a female cat who’s been kneading a lot lately and she isn’t spayed, she may be in heat.
Obviously, cat’s don’t just knead on blankets. They knead in clothing like sweaters, scarves, and coats often as well. But in any case, the reasons behind the kneading are the same, your cat just happens to be taking his or her claws to different “victim” objects. 😉
How can I get my cat to stop kneading on clothes?
Honestly, use the same tips I listed for getting cats to stop scratching furniture: find ways of discouraging kitty from kneading where you don’t want him or her to knead, and (more importantly) find ways of encouraging kitty to knead elsewhere. Like having a dedicated blanket or (like I have) a sheepskin/fur specifically for your kitty to knead on. You can also donate a sweater you aren’t fond of – preferably something woolen since cats adore kneading in wool. I spoke about these types of items briefly in my article about scratching post alternatives, so check that out in case you’re interested.
Place your dedicated kneading item in a spot your cat already loves hanging out, then when your cat starts kneading on an item you don’t want him to knead on, pick your cat up and plop him on a knead-approved item. Your cat will get the hang of using the knead-friendly spot eventually.
Why do cats knead on people?
Ah, the belly knead. Or the leg knead. Or arm, or whatever body part your kitty happens to love kneading on.
I’m going to level with you here, Avery doesn’t do this and I’m a bit grateful (as I hear it can be pretty painful, but we’ll get to that later!).
Cats knead on people for the same reason they knead on blankets. Because it’s a habit, because it’s relaxing. They knead on humans because they’re used to kneading before naps (and obviously, when your cat starts kneading on you it’s likely he or she is going to take a nap on you shortly after). Your cat may also be trying to claim you as his or her territory with the scent glands on his or her paws. Yup, you’re the equivalent of a blanket to your cat right now.
What does it mean when a cat kneads on you?
Well, it’s sort of a compliment. When a cat is kneading on you, it’s likely it’s trying to scent you and say to all other cats, “This is my person!”
Since cats really only knead when they’re happy and comfortable, it’s a little bit of your cat admitting that you make your cat happy and comfortable, too. Your cat is not going to knead on a person it doesn’t inherently trust and feel really content to be around.
Of course, your cat could also be trying to tenderize you so it can eat you! Kidding, but this was a joke made on Catster I thought was too good not to share!
How can I get my cat kneading on me to be less painful?
While you may appreciate your cat for kneading on you to show you his or her affection, you may also not appreciate the kneading itself so much – as it can hurt!
How can you deal with a cat kneading on your tummy, leg, arm, or other body parts without discouraging the behaviour or scolding your cat for doing something that’s very positive and very natural for cats to do?
Keep a blanket near the spots where your cat is most likely to knead on you (such as on the sofa next to where you watch TV). When your cat stars kneading, lift your cat for a second, placing the blanket between your tummy and your cat, then plop your cat back down on the blanket, so you get a buffer between your cat’s claws and your poor skin.
Obviously, if your cat’s nails are trimmed, the kneading won’t be so painful as if they are allowed to grow, so keeping your cat’s nails trimmed is especially important if you have a cat who likes to knead on you.
What other names are there for kneading?
Apparently, it’s a thing to call cat kneading something besides kneading. A thing I didn’t know about until I Googled around to research the topic for this article. Cat Health has an excellent list of other names used to describe kneading, so I’m going to quote them on this one:
- Making muffins
- Kitty acupuncture
- Happy paws
- Making biscuits
- Playing the piano
- Mashing potatoes
Do you use any of these names? Do you use a different nickname for kneading that isn’t listed here? Tell me in the comments and I’ll add to this section any new ones!
Thoughts About Cat Kneading?
What do you think about cat kneading? Does your cat knead on blankets, clothing, strange objects, you?
Do you enjoy watching your cat knead? Did you realize it was always associated with a positive emotion?
Why did you think cats kneaded before reading this article? Did any of the theories strike you as odd? Were any of them new to you? Were any convincing?
Do you call cat kneading something besides “kneading”?
As always, would love to hear your thoughts down in the comments below!