Why Do Cats Knead?

.catImagine this: You’re sitting down on your favorite couch, binge-watching an entire season of your favorite TV show on Netflix, or embarking on an intensive, nonstop gaming session with your online team. When all of a sudden, you feel a little furball jump up on your lap, purring loudly and walking all over your lap, or body if you’re lying down. Then she starts stretching her paws out and rhythmically starts pressing both her front paws into your flesh one after the other. Claws and all!

If you’re a cat owner, you’ve probably no stranger to this scenario. Kneading is just one of those natural behaviors that cats have, and even though it may hurt a little, it is just so rewarding to witness the kind of enjoyment that your feline companion gets out of it. If you’re wondering why do cats knead their owners, we’ve got you covered – read on below to find out more.

What is cat kneading?

It’s a known fact that cats are born with a natural instinct to knead. When cats are still tiny little kittens, it is an automatic response to press into their mother cat’s belly in order to increase milk production while they nurse. In this case, this behavior is known as milk treading, in which the mother cat’s nipples start producing more milk when gently stimulated by their kittens. This is also known as “making biscuits” in layman terms, and kittens immediately link this kneading behavior with feeding and warmth (as they’re tucked into their mother’s belly region. This contentment becomes a learnt association well into adulthood, and adult cats often knead to show that they’re happy and satisfied, a throwback to their carefree kitten days.

There are claims that suggest adult cats knead because they were weaned at too early an age, but that has been proven to be fairly unlikely. It is a fact that almost all cats showcase kneading behavior, and it doesn’t correlate to when they were weaned by their mothers.

Scent spreading

As we all know, cats love spreading their scent and marking their territory. They have scent glands on their cheeks, near the base of their tails and also on their little paw pads (that we nickname toe beans!). If you’re wondering why do cats knead blankets – this is because for cats, soft things are very enjoyable to the touch and your cat probably wants to mark every soft, fluffy item in the house as hers (including you!), and guess what – there’s nothing you can do about it! Unlike dogs who have masters, cats have staff, after all.

Kneading in female cats

If you own a female cat who is kneading, chances are she is probably going into heat (scientifically referred to as oestrus). Naturally, female cats knead to demonstrate to potential male mates that they’re read to mate. This, in conjunction with other behaviors such as meowing loudly and more often, being more affectionate and wanting to go outside more than usual, often points to the above mentioned reason.

If your female cat is spayed, you’ll see a decrease in these behaviors – and of course, by spaying – you’ll be helping to avoid unwanted pregnancies as well as prevent several diseases from happening to your little feline companion.

Getting ready for bed

Kneading is also a passed down trait from your cat’s wild ancestors. Back in those days, prowling wild cat colonies and families often looked for leaf piles or tall grass as a form of bedding to create a nest for themselves and their offspring. The soft texture of the leaves and grass make it a perfect resting spot until they move on to the next location. This is similar to how we humans fluff up our pillows before we get into bed – wild cats knead to fold down and compress the tall grass or leaves into a compact, soft and warm mattress for them to lie down on.

Another reason for kneading on the grass and leaves is to check for predators or other dangerous things hidden from vision in the foliage, such as snakes or other small but deadly creatures. Once they establish that their camp for the night is safe by kneading, then they can rest easy until the morning comes.

What to do if your cat hurts you when kneading

Most cats knead with their claws out – and this means that if your cat starts kneading into your soft flesh, it may feel as though they’re deliberately trying to scratch you to death, one micro slash at a time! You may think that your cat is just using you as a human pin cushion, but truthfully, this is just how your cat naturally does her kneading.

It’s important that you shouldn’t try and punish your cat for kneading you with her claws out, no matter how painful it might be. These are instinctive behaviors and more often than not, your cat is trying to return the love and affection you give to them. However, it doesn’t change that fact that it hurts! So here are some things you can do to avoid more scratches on your flesh during kneading.

If you see that your cat is getting ready to knead on your body, put a soft material in between your flesh and your cat’s paws, like a blanket or a piece of soft fabric. This effectively keeps your cat kneading happily, while your flesh is kept intact. Just remember to keep praising your cat as she does her little two-paw dance on you – she’ll be a very happy camper. If there’s nothing you can use as a barrier, encourage your cat to lie down by gently pressing down on her body, and relax her by stroking – she’ll eventually settle down and start sleeping in a cat loaf, purring contentedly on your lap or chest as you pet her to sleep!

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