Why Do Cats Knead?

Cats are curious creatures, which are sometimes severely misunderstood by their pet parents. For example, one specific activity brings immeasurable joy to all felines, but not so much to their owners. We’re talking about kneading.

Cats can knead on anything – from your furniture to your bare skin. Unfortunately, this often results in unpleasant scratch marks all over the place.

Felines start kneading when they’re still newborn kittens. They’re doing it while sucking milk from their mothers’ nipples in order to stimulate the flow of the nutritious liquid. Some kitties never grow out of this habit, whereas others are doing it only on special occasions.

The soft motions of the kneading usually involve the front paws, but some cats use all four. And when their claws extend, the scratch marks are painful and unsightly. Contrary to the result, when felines knead, they actually get sheer pleasure out of doing it and they enjoy it even more than playing with their favorite cat toys.

Cats can knead on any type of soft surface, including:

  • Sheets and blankets
  • Pillows
  • Bed or couch
  • Toys
  • Clothes
  • Their owners

Yes, feline furballs often knead even on their pet parents. We’ll cover the reasons why below, but first we’ll focus on why they’re doing it on other surfaces apart from their owners’ skin.

Why do cats knead on a surface?

Young kittens, as well as their adult and senior counterparts, can knead on all soft surfaces in your house or apartment. Here are the basic reasons behind this type of behavior:

Out of habit

Some furballs never grow out of their kneading days when they were still sucking from their mothers’ nipples. Kneading is a daily activity for newborns and some older felines keep doing it simply out of habit. It’s a basic, inborn instinct, which they develop from day one. So it’s understandable for them to perceive it as something natural even as they grow older.

Don’t judge your furry pal if it happens to knead out of habit. After all, the popular saying “old habits die hard” is just as easily applicable to felines as it is to human beings.

Reminiscing the old days from kittenhood

Why do all kittens knead? Because the pressing of their paws to both sides of their moms’ nipples stimulates the flow of milk. All cats remember this, regardless of their current age. They also remember how soft, warm and comforting their moms’ bellies used to feel like.

Your fluffy pet might be trying to bring back the memories of its kittenhood while it’s kneading on a soft, warm blanket or on your clothes. Even if this is painful to you, your kitty doesn’t intend to inflict any pain. In fact, it’s showing you how much it likes the thing it’s kneading on, because it’s reminding it of its happy and relaxing kittenhood.

Seeking soothing, comfort and relaxation

Even though kneading is usually associated with a joyful experience, some cats might knead when they’re stressed out. Felines can experience emotions just like we can. They can feel devastation, anxiety, depression, sadness and other unpleasant things, which require soothing.

The reason behind your pet’s actions can simply indicate that it’s trying to calm down and to find some comfort. In such cases it will start kneading on some velvety, warm fabric, whether it’s a piece of furniture or clothes.

Needless to say, you should try to provide some comfort by speaking in a soft, low voice and petting your furball with gentle strokes. If the kneading happens to be constant, you might want to seek a vet’s advice as your kitty could be trying to deal with a case of chronic anxiety.

Preparing the surface for a nap

The last most common reason for this type of feline behavior is actually quite similar to a human’s one. Think about how you adjust your own pillow and blankets before you go to sleep. Your fluffy pal might be kneading on a soft fabric because it wants to make it more comfortable in order to nap on it.

Cats sleep a lot and they can do it in a variety of positions. They can also make a sleeping spot out of anything – from the uncomfortable, hard countertop to your own pillow.

This, however, doesn’t mean that they aren’t picky. In fact, felines are notable for their whimsical and capricious behavior. So if you’ve spotted your kitty kneading right before it starts snoozing, then it was simply trying to prepare the surface for its daily nap.

Why do cats knead on their owners?

As much as we love our cats, the experience of having them knead on our bare skin is insufferable. Not only is it tingly, but it’s also painful when they start extending their claws. As if dealing with cat hair isn’t difficult enough, having our pets use us as a scratching post is an absolute nightmare!

Nevertheless, when a kitty kneads on its pet parent, it’s actually flattering. It means that your pet trusts you, loves you and is feeling perfectly safe and comfortable in your presence. Here are the basic factors that make cats knead on their owners.

Demanding attention

Some feline breeds, like the Oriental Shorthair, love being the center of attention. Others are quite shy and don’t express their need for social interaction often.

But kneading is one of the methods your precious furball might use when it demands attention. Playing sessions, tasty treats, pleas for more food or for petting – cats want it all. If you haven’t paid attention to your fluffy pal for a while and it starts kneading on you all of a sudden, it’s probably trying to get you to spend some bonding time with it.

Confusing humans with their feline moms

This particular occurrence is a factor in newborn kittens only. When they’ve been weaned prematurely, adopted or taken away from their feline moms at an early age, they might confuse their humans with actual cats.

Thus, it’s common for a newborn to start kneading on you as you’re feeding it with a syringe or a dropper. It might also start doing it while you’re hugging it because it’s mistaking your warm and soft skin with its biological mother’s body.

Marking the territory

Even the most amicable or laid-back cat can start acting out territorially. Kneading is one of the ways felines scent-mark what’s theirs.

They have scent glands in numerous places all over their tiny bodies, including their paws. So, when they’re pressing them continuously onto something, they’re marking it as their own. It’s basically your beloved kitty’s way of saying that you’re his/ her special human being.

Expressing affection

Lastly, kneading on a human is a cat’s way of expressing its affection towards said human. Your kitty doesn’t need to purr in order to show you that it’s feeling delightful in your company. Feline devotion can be expressed in a variety of ways and kneading is just one of them.

Regardless of how painful it may be, don’t punish your pet for doing it. It’s actually a good thing. It’s a natural, inborn activity, locked within every kitten’s instincts. When you can’t handle it, just encourage your pet to do it somewhere else or simply get a warm towel and gently place it right underneath its paws.

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  • August 24, 2017
  • Fun
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