If you’re lucky enough to have a kitten or a cat in your life, you’ve no doubt bore witness to an interesting kitty trait known as “kneading,” which looks as though your cat is practising her technique to bake bread. The way she rhythmically alternates her paws, pushing in and out against your lap and giving you a massage, you’d imagine that she’d be good at it too – until you picture a loaf of bread filled with cat hair.
Since your cat is obviously not kneading as a way to kick-start her baking career, why do cats knead? More importantly, what does it mean when a cat kneads? If you’ve wondered this, you’re not alone. Many people who study cat behaviour have asked the same questions, and they’ve come up with some interesting theories.
When is your cat most likely to knead? It’s probably when you’re petting her, she’s purring loudly and maybe even drooling a little bit. It’s obvious that she’s very content in this situation, and feeling the affection. So, kneading might be her way of helping you feel her affection as well.
Unfortunately, her way of showing affection may be more painful than pleasant for you. This is especially true if she is feeling very, very happy. This is because the better she feels, the harder she’s likely to knead – and if her nails are long, you’ll know it. If you’d like to avoid the pain that comes with her display of affection, cover your lap with a blanket or pillow before she comes in for a cuddle.
Another kneading theory traces its roots to our domestic cats’ wild ancestors, who would knead grass to create a soft sleeping spot, similar to the circling dogs do before they settle in. So, if your cat is kneading your lap, sit back and relax because she’s likely preparing for a nap.
A third theory looks to your cat’s infancy. Cats start to knead instinctively as kittens, when they are nursing, to help stimulate their mother’s milk. While your cat might have outgrown the nursing stage, she might still enjoy that comforting feeling she associates with kneading.
Kneading might also be your cat’s way of “claiming” you. In other words, you’re not just being kneaded, you’re being marked by the scent glands on the soft pads on the bottoms of their paws. While this might seem a little worrisome, think of it as her showing that she cares enough about you to let the feline world to keep their paws off you.
Finally, a kneading cat might just be a stretching cat. With so many naps filling her day, your cat needs to take a break now and then to stay limber, at least until her next scheduled snooze.
While many theories exist, there is no straightforward answer as to why cats knead. We hope that these kinds of mysteries will make you love your cat even more. Sometimes the best things are hard to explain.