Kneading refers to the rhythmic movement a cat makes by pushing its paws down onto a soft surface. Cats usually use their front paws for kneading, although some cats use their back paws as well. Some cats may also burrow their face into the blanket or other soft material they are kneading. While the exact cause of cat kneading is unknown, cat experts have several theories concerning this odd, but natural, cat behaviour that cats perform at all stages of life.
Many cat behaviourists and veterinarians believe there is a link between kneading and nursing. Kittens perform a similar kneading movement on their mother to increase milk production while nursing. Many cat specialists believe that a cat taken from its mother too early may continue this kneading activity. However, cats who remain with their mother for an extended period of time continue to knead. Kneading may also bring back the feeling of safety and maternal love.
Safety and Affection
Cats knead when they are feeling safe and happy. Cats that are angry or scared do not knead. While kneading, many cats will also purr, signifying their contentment. If your cat kneads you, it means that it feels safe with you and that it loves you. Kneading is a sign of affection. Return this love with petting, snuggling or treats.
Some veterinarians and cat behaviourists hypothesise that cats knead because their ancestors living in the wild would knead grass and dirt to make it more comfortable for sleeping. This behaviour is still evident when domestic cats perform the kneading ritual on soft objects before settling down for a nap.
Handling Kneading Behavior
Cats knead when they feel safe and secure, and to let their owners know that they love them. This natural habit means that your cat is happy, so do not discourage it. However, if your cat's kneading is causing pain or damaging your property, there are steps you can take to make kneading a more acceptable activity. If your cat kneads on your lap and accidentally scratches you in the process, keep its nails trimmed. Try placing a soft blanket over your body so that your cat's nails dig into the fabric instead of your skin. Similarly, if your cat kneads furniture and causes rips in your upholstery, use a blanket or towel to cover the area. Designate a blanket just for your cat, and place it on his favourite chair. Train your cat to sit in this designated area to avoid problems. Never punish your cat for kneading; instead, find ways to make kneading behaviours acceptable and enjoyable for both you and your pet.