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Why do Cats Knead?

Picture of sitting on the sofa with a woman

Kneading is one of the most common behaviors noticed in domestic cats, where the feline pushes both in and out with its front paws and alternates between the left and the right. Some cats will perform this motion on soft surfaces, some will do it on their beloved human companions, whereas others will even do it in the air when they’re resting, with their belly up.

But why do cats knead? If you’ve ever asked yourself this question, we’ve come up with several answers, and you can find them below.

Nesting

One of the most probable reasons for kneading is the cat’s need to make a little nest. This type of behavior likely goes back from when they used to spend their time in the wild, and they had to make the grass patch as comfortable as possible so that they could rest there for several hours.

Tall grass areas are still the favorites of wild cats as they can take a nap without worrying about unwanted visitors discovering them. This phenomenon is synonymous to what we do when trying to get in the right position before finally managing to fall asleep. We toss and turn and rearrange our cushions and covers until we find just the right position. And that’s just what cats do in this case.

Milking

Kneading is important when the bond between the kitten and the mother is still under development. Furthermore, it is physiological, which means that the kittens are both genetically predisposed to kneading their mother’s belly and as a result, the mother’s body produces oxytocin, which makes it easier for the milk ejection reflex to happen.

In other words, it both stimulates milk production and makes it easier for the cat mommy and cat children to feed and be fed.

Affection

Every cat parent will feel relieved that this is actually true. If your cat instinctively starts kneading whenever you’re around, and even more, he or she does it specifically on you, he or she is one of your biggest fans. It is also considered a relaxation technique. Cats soothe themselves when they knead, and they also show their guardians that they like and trust them.

Ownership

There are many ways that cats claim things and places as being their own. One of the best-known techniques they use is when they rub the sides of their face on virtually every reachable surface from their living environment. They do the same with their cat parents, and they even do it with the other cats and dogs they live with.

On their feet, they have tiny little scent glands, so kneading can be a way of marking you as belonging to them.

Going into heat

This type of behavior is usually noticeable in female cats, who will tend to be more affectionate and knead a lot more than they typically do. If there’s a male cat in the household, they will show their interest in mating by kneading on him.

Stretching

We’ve already established that kneading is very relaxing and soothing for cats, and so they’ll do it whenever they extend and flex their paws. When they’re really content, you might notice that there’s also a bit of drooling going on, but that’s quite logical, too.

When they were young, they needed to drool to ensure that they can suck their mother’s milk as effectively as possible. Besides, their saliva has healing properties so that if the mammary glands of the cat mom do get hurt by the kitten’s tiny teeth, the scarring process begins as swiftly as possible.

As cute as it might sound, if your cat kneads on you and starts drooling, he or she might consider you an actual member of the feline family – and even a mom replacement.

Showing happiness

Cats usually show their contentment by purring, but purring is extremely complex and can mean a lot more things other than the fact that the cat is happy right now. Depending on its frequency, it can even be a solicitation, where felines ask their human guardians to feed them. Purring also has an important healing property as some frequencies can promote bone density growth while others will ensure that soft tissues get a bit of extra help in the way of being healed.

Similarly to purring, kneading is used by cats when they’re happy. Expressing contentment can be done via kneading, but unfortunately, not all cats do it. Some studies suggest that only about one in every one hundred cats can and will knead, and the absence of this phenomenon cannot be associated with being taken from their mother too early.

Managing Kneading Episodes

If you are the owner of a cat who’s absolutely head over heels in love with you, you might have a little trouble handling all the kneading situations that might occur throughout a day. One way of making sure that you do not feel uncomfortable is to make sure that your cat’s claws are always trimmed.

Another method you could use is to hold a blanket nearby so that you cover your lap each time your cat comes to knead on you. All veterinarians and researchers agree that you should never punish your cat for wanting to knead on various surfaces and your lap. For domesticated felines, this activity has an important role – it relaxes them, it makes them happy and content, and it also gives them a feeling of reassurance, that they own you and that they are part of your family.

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