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Why do cats knead?

Ginger and white cat front paws advice

Cat knead to show you they love you!

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If you have a cat, you will likely have experienced that moment when you are having a nice cuddle with a him on your lap and they start enthusiastically kneading your legs or chest or even the cushion beside you. But why do cats enjoy kneading and what does it mean?

By Zoë Monk

Published on the 05/09/2020, 14:00

Kneading is the rhymic back and forth motion of pushing their front paws in and out of a soft object. This could be a cushion, blanket or even you! Some people refer to this as ‘making biscuits’ because it’s similar to the motion of kneading dough. Not all cats knead in the same way. Some use their claws, while others just use their paws, some may purr while they do it while others might dribble at the same time.

Why do cats knead?

Cats start to knead when they are newborn kittens. Kittens knead their mother while they are nursing to stimulate her milk production. However, this feline behaviour can carry on into adulthood. For many cats, kneading your lap or a cushion, especially in response to being stroked, is a way for them to recreate that feeling of comfort of feeding on their mother. This is why some cats dribble as they knead. They are expecting the milk that would come from their mum after kneading their stomach, even if they are long past the age of a nursing kitten.

There may also be more practical reasons why cats love to knead. Cats are territorial animals and will scent-mark their belongings (and that includes you) to mark their territory. Cats have scent glands in their paw pads and kneading on something activates these glands so the cat can mark that item as theirs. Female cats may also knead when they are going into heat as a signal to male cats that they are ready to mate.

What does it mean when a cat kneads you?

If your cat likes to knead your lap or chest while you stroke them, they are returning the affection you are giving them and telling you in their own feline way that they love you back. It could be that they are making the connection from the secure relationship they had with their mother, to the relationship they have with you.

Understand your cat better with our guide to cat behaviour.

However, while it may look like they are giving you a massage, having a cat knead your lap can sometimes be quite uncomfortable or even painful. The happier your cat feels, the harder they will dig in with their sharp claws. Just remember that your cat has no idea that this behaviour hurts you. If you do find it too uncomfortable, try putting something soft and thick between your lap and your cat. You may also find it helpful to keep their claws trimmed.

Why does my cat knead me but not my husband?

However uncomfortable it may feel, when your cat kneads you, they are paying you a huge compliment. Cats generally knead the people who make them feel the happiest. It could be that while your cat lives with both you and your husband, they have only formed a close bond with you. Many people assume this is to do with gender, but this is not the case. Some cats could have more of a bond to your husband than you. It just depends on the cat and the bond you form with them.

Why do cats knead on pillows?

You might notice your cat likes to knead soft objects around the house such as pillows, blankets or even stuffed animals. Even though kneading a soft surface like this won’t produce milk, adult cats still associate kneading with the comfort of nursing. You may notice that while your cat is kneading they have their eyes fixed on you. This is their way of showing you that they feel comfortable and safe around you.

Why do cats knead before lying down?

It’s common for cats to knead before sleeping. Just like you might plump up your pillows before you get into bed, cats will knead to create a nice soft place to sleep. It’s a cat behaviour that is believed to have originated from their wild ancestors who would knead the ground to flatten grass to create a soft place for them to sleep on. For a domestic cat, kneading is also a soothing activity so the perfect thing to get them relaxed for a nap.

How do you know if your cat loves you?

While dogs are often credited as being the more loving and affectionate pet, cats do have their own special way of letting you know that they love you. Some of the ways you can tell your cat loves you include:

  • Kneading you with their paws
  • Headbutting you
  • Showing you their tummy
  • Curling their tail around your leg or its often twitching at the tip
  • Purring
  • Following you around
  • Bringing you gifts such as a mouse or bird
  • Nibbling you
  • Slowly blinking at you
  • Licking your ears or hair

Why does my cat touch my face with her paw?

If your cat touches your face with their paw, they aren’t trying to scratch you. They are actually trying to communicate with you. It might be to tell you that they love you, divert your attention away from what you are doing to focus on them or to make you aware that their food bowl is empty. Cats use their paws to communicate so when they touch your face it’s likely your feline friend simply wants to tell you something or get your attention.

Cat kneading

Whether your cat kneads to show you affection, to claim you as their own or simply to get comfortable before they enjoy a cat nap, cat kneading is a natural, instinctual, and very common behaviour in domestic cats.

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