If you're a cat owner or have spent time around these enigmatic felines, you've likely witnessed a curious behavior known as "kneading." It's a remarkable sight to observe when your cat rhythmically pushes their paws into a soft surface, like your lap or a cozy blanket. It is one of the most common cat behaviors. Although it may come across as an uncomplicated gesture, this behavior has a deeper layer of complexity. Understanding why cats knead is a window into their complex psychology and a way to strengthen the bond between cat parents and their furry companion.
In this blog post, we will explore the intriguing behavior of cat kneading and try to understand why cats do it. From the biological roots that harken back to their kittenhood to the various emotional and physical motivations, we'll uncover the secrets behind your cat's kneading rituals.
What Is Cat Kneads
Cat kneading, referred to as making biscuits or baking, is a charming and common cat behavior in which a cat rhythmically pushes its front paws in and out against a soft surface, like a blanket or a person's lap. This kneading behavior often involves the extension and retraction of their claws, resembling the motion of kneading dough. If your cat's claws are sharp or seem uncomfortable, it's important to trim your cat's nails or use nail guards.
The kneading, often called "making biscuits" by cats, signifies comfort and contentment. It also hearkens back to their kittenhood when they used this behavior to stimulate milk flow from their mother's belly during nursing. Kneading in cats is a complex behavior that can also function as a means for them to mark their territory using scent glands in their paw pads and to express a range of emotions.
Why Do Cats Knead
Comfort and Relaxation
Cats frequently knead when they are in a state of contentment. It's as if they convey, "I feel safe and happy in this place." When a cat kneads, they are likely to enjoy their current situation, whether it's snuggling in a cozy spot or receiving affection from their owner.
Kneading is a cat's behavior rooted in a kitten's earliest days. During nursing, kittens knead their mother's belly to encourage the milk to flow. Some cats retain this instinct as adults, finding comfort in the familiar motion. It's a reminder of the nurturing and warmth they experienced in their infancy.
Cats possess scent glands in their paw pads, and when they knead, they deposit odor markings onto the surface they're working on. This is a discrete method for cats to establish their territory and communicate their presence to other cats, even if we may not perceive the scent ourselves.
Cats are complex creatures with a wide range of emotions. Kneading can be their way of expressing different feelings. For example, cats may knead more intensely when particularly happy or excited. On the other hand, gentle kneading can be a sign of relaxation and contentment.
Kneading involves the repetitive extension and retraction of a cat's front leg muscles. This action helps them stretch their muscles and keep them limber, which can be especially important after periods of rest or inactivity.
Some cats are savvy enough to use kneading as a way to get their owner's attention. If your cat kneads you and you respond with pets, cuddles, or verbal interaction, they may learn that kneading is an effective way to solicit attention and affection.
Cats often choose soft and comfortable surfaces for kneading, such as blankets, pillows, your lap or other soft objects. Many cats knead blankets as a comforting and instinctive behavior they carry over from kittenhood. Some cats knead and purr at the same time. It's a way for them to recreate that cozy, secure sensation.
This behavior can become a habitual comfort ritual for adult cats that have been kneading since kittenhood. These cats may continue to knead throughout their lives, particularly when they are in situations where they feel safe and relaxed.
One theory claims that adult cats who kneaded excessively were prematurely separated from their mother cat. However, research indicates that nearly all cats engage in kneading behavior, irrespective of the age at which they were weaned from their mother.
Soothing and Self-Comfort
Cats might engage in kneading when they experience anxiety or stress. In such cases, a stressed cat may knead as a way to create a soothing and calming environment. The rhythmic motion can be calming, similar to how humans might rub their temples or fidget when nervous. So, if your cat is kneading during a particularly noisy thunderstorm or in a new environment, it could be their way of self-soothing.
Preparing a Nest
In the wild, female cats knead to create a soft and comfortable nesting spot for themselves or their kittens. Wild cats often use their paws to rearrange leaves or tall grass piles, fashioning a comfortable nest where they and their young can rest and sleep. Domestic cats may exhibit this behavior when preparing to settle down for a nap, indicating their desire to make their resting place as cozy as possible.
Going Into Heat
Female cats may also exhibit kneading behavior when entering their heat cycle (estrus or oestrus). During this time, kneading serves as a signal to male cats that they are receptive to mating. Alongside kneading, female cats in heat may display additional behaviors such as increased vocalization, heightened affection towards male cats, and even begging for attention or companionship.
Is a cat kneading a sign of pain or discomfort?
Generally, no. Cat kneading is typically a sign of comfort and relaxation. Nevertheless, if your cat's kneading behavior suddenly shifts or if they display other unusual signs, it's recommended to seek advice from a veterinarian to ensure there are no underlying health concerns.
When do cats start kneading?
Kittens usually start kneading when nursing, and this behavior can continue into adulthood. Some cats may knead less frequently as they get older.
Are there medical issues associated with cat kneading?
Generally, no. Kneading is a natural behavior in cats. Nevertheless, if your cat exhibits signs of discomfort or pain during this activity, it's essential to consult a veterinarian to rule out any potential underlying medical issues.
How can I stop my cat from kneading me or furniture?
You can redirect your cat's kneading by providing them with a soft, designated item to knead, such as a blanket or pillow. Additionally, using positive reinforcement to encourage other behaviors can be effective.
Is kneading related to purring?
Kneading and purring often go hand in hand. Both behaviors are associated with contentment, but they serve different purposes. Kneading is a physical action, while purring is a vocalization expressing comfort.
How can I encourage or discourage kneading in my cat?
To encourage kneading, provide your cat with soft surfaces they enjoy, like blankets or plush toys. To discourage kneading on inappropriate surfaces, use positive reinforcement for alternative behaviors and avoid punishing your cat.