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Why Do Cats Knead?

Why Do Cats Knead?

By Kathy Blumenstock, Animal Planet

The mysterious, sometimes delightful, quirks of cats include kneading, that funny pushing-forward motion of a catís paws that mimics the kneading of dough. Itís always comical to watch — some cats even knead with both hind- and forepaws, performing a weird little dance ritual. Whether you call it making biscuits, paddling, giving a massage or marching, catsí kneading always makes cat owners smile and wonder, what makes Kitty DO that?

What is Kneading?
Cats begin kneading as tiny kittens, even before their eyes open. Placing their paws around their mom-catís nipples, they quickly learn that the pressure stimulates the flow of milk. Kneading other objects never brings forth a squirt of milk, but the memory of that tasty reward stays with cats, along with the remembered presence of maternal warmth and security. When cats knead, they also purr, signaling that the repetitive motion and the sensation of their paws on something soft brings them contentment. Sometimes the movement of the paw is just a slight curl, while other cats energetically lift their paws up and down as if parading in place.

Lifelong Habit
Long after theyíve left their mothersí sides, cats continue to knead. There are theories that cats do it because they were taken from their mothers too soon, and are trying to duplicate that happy, protected time in their lives. However, even cats that stay in the same homes as their moms knead. Others theorize that the habit is a carry-over from their ancient feline ancestors in the wild, whose kneading was actually a practical way of tramping down grass or foliage to make a bed, and staking a claim on the area. But ask a vet who specializes in cats, and heíll tell you that no one is 100 percent certain why cats knead; we just know that they do it, from babyhood through the geriatric stage.

The Need to Knead
Watch a cat knead, tapping at a soft blanket, your favorite souvenir sweatshirt, or her own bedding. Sheís pushing the fabric into a more comfortable shape, the same way people adjust pillows or blankets at bedtime, but perhaps sheís also channeling her inner kitten. Unspayed female cats often knead just before going into heat, as a sign of their eagerness to mate. Kneading can also signal a form of territorial marking. Because the pads of your catís paws contain scent glands, her kneading emits her own distinctive scent, discernible by other cats or pets but not by the human nose. In a subtle manner, sheís signaling that this is her own spot, and that other cats can just go knead somewhere else.

If Your Cat Kneads you
Itís a form of feline flattery when Kitty kneads you; sheís saying she loves you. But itís hard to feel flattered when your catís bared claws are digging into your lap. Some cats sheath their claws while kneading, but if yours doesnít, keep her nails trimmed so she can safely continue to let you know that youíre her favorite place to contentedly rest. Or fold a thick towel and place it on your lap so Kitty can perch there and knead away, sparing your favorite jeans. If the catís kneading is too bothersome for you, encourage her to sit elsewhere to knead. Never punish a cat for kneading, a natural, instinctive activity that brings her only enjoyment.

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Read more: Behavior & Communication, Cats, Pets,

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5:37AM PDT on Sep 1, 2014

Good to know, thanks

7:51AM PDT on Aug 31, 2014

Interesting. Thank you.

8:26PM PDT on Jul 21, 2014

Happy, happy kitties! I love when my cats do this but my Mom's male cat who was in & out door use to occassionally give her poison oak by kneading; she put up with the occassional itchy rash because she loved him so much. She was lucky not to be highly allergic to poison oak, I'd have been an oozing, itching mess for months at a time!

12:25PM PDT on Jul 21, 2014


5:23AM PDT on Jul 12, 2014

They want to make cakes, but no-one allows them to!

6:38AM PDT on Mar 26, 2014


3:37PM PST on Dec 3, 2013

Cats are a gift!

11:21AM PDT on Oct 21, 2013

Thanks for sharing!

5:17PM PDT on Oct 20, 2013

I would like our cat to do it, but she seldom does it ....

3:53PM PDT on Oct 20, 2013

I knew that it was a form of them communicating with you. One of them used to climb on my back and knead me before she laid on me. I knew she was crazy about me and I was just as crazy about her. She got cancer and died. I loved her to the end. It hurt to let her go.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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