Why do cats knead? Let’s explore and demystify this strange (but cute) cat behaviour.
Cats are mysterious creatures with a whole host of interesting (and at times perplexing) behaviours. One such behaviour is kneading — you might know it as “making biscuits” or “kneading dough”.
Kneading is a common cat behaviour, wherein the cat pushes their front paws in and out, alternating between left and right. They sometimes do this on soft surfaces, such as blankets or pillows, but other times they prefer to knead on their favourite people. It’s usually accompanied by an awful lot of purring (and sometimes even drooling!). It’s adorable to witness your cat in this blissful, almost trance-like state. But what exactly is kneading — and why do cats knead?
Related: Why do cats purr?
Kittens Knead Their Mums
When kittens are nursing, they knead the area around their mother’s teat to stimulate milk production. Many experts believe kneading is a leftover behaviour from their kittenhood. This is why, when a cat finds a warm, soft surface like your favourite throw or faux-fur blanket, you might find them kneading and even suckling on the material — they are reminding themselves of the comforts of nursing, and how protected they felt at this time. Most adult cats eventually grow out of the suckling, but kneading could be a sign the cat was weaned and separated from his or her mother too early.
Cats Knead to Settle down for Sleep
It’s been argued that cats occasionally knead as, prior to domestication, wild cats would knead and pat down foliage to make their sleeping surface soft and welcoming. This instinctive behaviour has followed them and maybe a part of their ritual as they settle down for a snooze.
Cats Knead to Claim a Space
Cats are territorial creatures. Given that they have scent glands in the pads of their paws that produce a smell unique to them, kneading is sometimes a way for a cat to mark their scent and claim their area. So when your cat kneads his or her paws on your blanket, they are scent marking and alerting other animals that they should back away from their territory. Similarly, when a cat is on your lap and kneading away, they are claiming ownership over their human. It’s their way of saying they love you very much and that you belong to them — you should be very flattered.
If you’re finding your cat’s kneading is taking its toll on your furniture, we have a few cat scratchers your cat will love.
Female Cats Knead When Going into Heat
If you have a female cat on your hands and she hasn’t yet been spayed (check out the health benefits of spaying your cat), when she goes into heat, you will notice her kneading more and more. You might see her lying on her side, kneading the air — especially when she sees a Tomcat that takes her fancy. She may also be getting louder, yowling, while restlessly pacing your home — or start marking it with her urine. These are all signs she’s available and ready to mate.
Once you spay your cat, you’ll notice a decrease in these behaviours. You’ll also avoid unwanted pregnancies.
Some Cat Breeds Knead More Than Others
We should point out that some cats appear to be “kneadier” than others — such as Siamese, Tonkinese and Balinese. These breeds are far more likely to be seen kneading and “nursing” on fabric like blankets. While there isn’t really a genetic reason for this, it’s likely because these oriental cat breeds require a longer weaning period than non-Oriental ones.
Related: A Beginner’s Guide to the Siamese
Cats Knead for a Good Stretch
Sometimes, cats knead simply because they love a good stretch. They’re pulling on surfaces and elongating their legs, working out kinks and limbering themselves up, so they are prepared for the adventures they have between well-earned naps.
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