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Do you want to know why cats massage you with their paws? Here is why!

grey cat looking happy on his owner lap advice
© Shutterstock

Getting a massage from a cat is one of the nicest feelings in the world. But why do cats like to press their front paws into your lap? Get answers here!

By Alice Lang

Updated on the 19/12/2019, 15:29

As you may already know, cats are very interesting creatures that have particular traits and behaviours. Among the most recognisable ones are the ‘curling up tightly to take a nap’ or their ‘grooming rituals after enjoying a meal’. However, there is one feline behaviour that has interested cat lovers since ages ago! Surely, you have wondered why cats like to massage you with their paws. This is called ‘cat kneading’ and is also a very common feline behaviour.

What is cat kneading?

Cat kneading is the movement that cats make by pushing in and out their paws on your body. In a way of sorts, it is a feline massage but, it has other meanings as well. Kneading can be done by cats in many different ways. Some cats knead with claws completely retracted, but others like to extend their claws as they push in and retract as they pull back.

Why do cats like to massage their owners?

There are various reasons why cats knead, but vets tend to agree that it is an instinctive trait. In fact, new-born kittens like to massage their mother’s belly as they snuggle close to nurse. Even though they don’t know it, this massage is great to stimulate the flow of milk through her nipples. Some vets believe that this behaviour continues into adulthood.

However, there is a flaw in this theory! Some cats don’t wean (massage mother’s belly) and yet nearly all adult cats knead. There is another explanation that says kneading may also go back in time to when wild cats patted down tall grass to make a bed for sleeping or giving birth. In time, this behaviour was continued to form part of the feline behaviour before settling down for a catnap. Lastly, there is a more practical explanation for why cats like to massage their owners.

Cats have scent glands in the bottoms of their paws. This explains why as they knead, some of their feline scents are imprinted onto the surface being kneaded. This scent serves as a kind of territorial marker for any unfamiliar animal that might attempt to mark territory. So, if you see your cat massaging you with his paws, feel glad because he is marking you as his territory! It is rather funny how a cute and loving behaviour is nothing more than a ‘territorial declaration’!

Final considerations

If your cat kneads you frequently, make sure that you keep their claws trimmed. This way you avoid getting scratched. You can also consider using a towel to protect your lap as your cat gives you massage with his paws. However, if you don’t like kneading, you can gently stop your cat and put him in lying position so he settles down and sleeps. Nonetheless, cat behaviour experts agree that it’s not appropriate to stop this feline natural behaviour.