Why Do Cats Knead?

Why Do Cats Knead?

A kitten kneading a white blanket.A kitten kneading a white blanket.
A kitten kneading a white blanket.A kitten kneading a white blanket.

Table of Contents:

  1. Why Cats Knead
  2. Discouraging Inappropriate Kneading

Even seasoned cat owners would agree that felines are enigmatic critters. Their habits are often strange and few regular behaviors raise more questions and concerns than “kneading.” Maybe you’ve spotted your own kitten rhythmically digging their paws into a soft object like a blanket or perhaps you’ve patiently sat on the couch while they “made biscuits” in your lap.

Why Cats Knead

No, your cat isn’t practicing their culinary skills. Feline experts have, however, offered several theories to explain this unusual, instinctual behavior.

  • Kneading is a vestigial behavior from a cat’s nursing days: Kittens first begin to knead during their very early days. Digging their paws into their mother’s bellies helps to stimulate milk production. It’s possible that grown cats still associate the behavior with comfort and sustenance. That could explain why soft surfaces like furniture, carpeting, blankets, and stuffed animals are popular targets for feline kneading.
  • It helps cats mark their territory: Even domestic cats are territorial and driven by scent-based communication. Kneading on surfaces (including human surfaces) activates scent glands in a cat’s paw pads and helps them mark an area or item as their own.
  • Kneading indicates comfort or helps calm stressed cats: If your cat is feeling happy, kneading may be their way of letting you know. You’ll likely hear them purring too. Alternatively, a cat who is feeling stressed may begin kneading a favorite surface as a way of calming themselves down.
  • It creates a more comfortable resting place: It’s possible that kneading creates a softer, more comfortable surface for cat naps. This behavior could be something today’s cats learned from their wild ancestors, who slept in piles of grass.
  • Kneading signals that a female cat is interested in mating: Kneading the air is one of several methods that a female cat may employ to attract potential mates.

Discouraging Inappropriate Kneading

Your cat’s kneading can turn on a dime from adorable to annoying if they insist on doing it with their claws out. Follow these guidelines to avoid painful scratches and damage to household furnishings.

  • Never discipline your cat for kneading: Negative reinforcement may have negative consequences, encouraging cats to double down on unwanted behaviors like destructive kneading. Don’t risk souring your relationship with your four-legged friend.
  • Keep your cat’s claws short: Regular nail trims can ensure your kittens claws can’t serve as dangerous, destructive weapons. Need help? Ask your veterinarian about nail clipping during your next visit to their office. They’ll be happy to help.
  • Divert your cat’s attention with treats and toys: Not in the mood to be kneaded? A treat or favorite toy could help direct your cat’s attention elsewhere and save your lap from claw marks.
  • Offer special, kneadable surfaces: Consider purchasing a particularly thick blanket and encouraging your cat to knead this surface instead of others. Catnip and pheromones can help make these kneadable surfaces particularly appealing.

Kneading is a normal feline behavior that doesn’t typically present cause for concern. It’s one of the many quirks that make cats a favorite pet across the globe. Make sure to contact your veterinarian immediately if you notice any new repetitive habits or sudden behavioral changes.

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