Why Do Cats Knead?

The reason is pretty adorable ❤️

cat kneading with a rolling pin

So you’re on the couch scrolling through Netflix when your cat struts over with that adorable purr, and you know exactly what’s coming. She’s about to stretch out her front legs and press back and forth into you with her paws like she’s giving you a little massage. But what exactly is she doing — and why?

Your cat’s kneading, and it’s actually an instinctual behavior for cats.

The Dodo spoke to Dr. Rachel Barrack, a veterinarian at Animal Acupuncture in New York City, and Katie Armour, a project coordinator at MSPCA Boston Adoption Center,
to find out why cats knead.

Why does my cat knead me?

When cats rhythmically press into something with their paws, it’s typically called “kneading.” You might have other names for this adorable (and slightly painful) practice — like “making biscuits,” “making bread” or “making muffins” — basically making any sort of delicious and carby treat.

Cats begin kneading when they’re kittens. A kitten will knead her mother to let her know that she’s ready to eat and to stimulate milk production.

"Kittens knead on their mothers while nursing," Dr. Barrack told The Dodo. "Many cats carry this behavior into adulthood and may knead their owners, other furry siblings or bedding."

Here are some reasons why cats knead.

She's feeling happy or comfortable

Cats seem to knead when they’re feeling happy and content, which is why cats will usually purr while doing it.

"If you do have a cat who kneads their bedding, or better yet you, it's because they're feeling very loved and comfortable," Katie Armour told The Dodo. "You should absolutely take this as a compliment!"

So if your cat likes to knead you, it’s a good thing. Because cats like to knead when they’re content, your cat kneading you means she's happy when she’s around you.

She's stretching

Cats love to stretch, and kneading may be another way for cats to stretch. When cats knead, they’ll often put their legs and paws out in front of them, which stretches their legs, paws and backs.

She's marking their territory

Cats may also knead to mark their territory. Cats have scent glands in their paws, so by kneading their cat tree, scratching post or bed, they’re leaving their scent and making sure other cats or animals know it’s theirs.

Your cat might also knead you to mark you as her own. Cats rub their faces and butt their heads on their owners as a way to mark them because they have scent glands in their cheeks and foreheads. Your cat kneading is just another way to let others know that you’re hers.

She's making a sleeping spot

Similar to the theory about how dogs dig in their beds as a natural denning instinct, it’s believed that cats also might have used kneading in the wild to help soften dirt or pat down leaves for comfy sleeping quarters.

So while your cat probably doesn’t have to make her bed out of dirt, the behavior of kneading her bedding probably carried over from wild ancestors.

She's ready to mate

Female cats may knead the air to show that they’re open to mate. If a female cat is lying on her side, stretching and kneading the air, she’s likely letting other cats know that she can be approached.

She's communicating with you

Kneading could also be a way that cats communicate with their owners. Dogs are pretty good at expressing themselves, but cats are a little more protective of their feelings. This is likely because dogs have been domesticated and living with humans for a lot longer than cats. So kneading is one way for cats to tell their humans they like them.

Why do cats knead blankets?

Cats knead soft objects, like blankets, because it mimics the feeling of kneading their mothers while nursing. Nursing is a comforting feeling, so your cat might associate kneading with the comfort of nursing.

So if your cat is kneading a blanket or a pillow, it might be because it’s calming and soothing to her.

Why does my cat knead me but not someone else?

If your cat kneads you but not your significant other or friend, it’s likely because she feels bonded to you. If she doesn’t knead someone else who lives in your home, she might not be as closely bonded to that person, or your cat might just feel calmer and more comfortable around you. (So take it as a compliment.)

How to stop your cat’s kneading

When cats get really into kneading you, it can actually hurt sometimes (those claws are sharp)! And if your cat likes to knead everything, she can tear up your furniture, rugs or clothes.

So if your cat gets a little too excited with her kneading, there are some ways to encourage her to do it in appropriate ways or to just get her to stop scratching you:

  • Distract your cat with a toy or a treat when she starts kneading.
  • Trim your cat’s claws if they’re too sharp.
  • Put something in between you and your cat when she kneads, such as a blanket or towel.
  • Use a pheromone product to encourage your cat to knead in certain locations, like on her bed. You can get this pheromone spray from Amazon for $21.10.

Just don’t punish your cat for kneading. It’s an instinct, so you don’t want to make your cat feel bad for doing something that comes naturally to her.

Basically, cats kneading are super cute, but they also have reasons for doing it. And if your cat is kneading you, it’s definitely a good thing since it means she’s happy (even if it’s a little uncomfortable for you).

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