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Why Do Cats Knead?

Updated on June 14, 2019 Updated on Jun 14, 2019
why-do-cats-knead

    It’s something all cat owners have probably noticed, their cat using its front paws in a kneading motion. Of all the quirky types of cat behavior, this may seem like one of the oddest. Why do cats knead? Is it a sign of something bad, something to be worried about? Is it something that all cats do or is your cat crazy?

    Well, your cat may very well be crazy, but it’s got nothing to do with cat kneading. If you’ve always wondered about your cat’s kneading, we’re here to explain to all you pet parents what kneading means and why cats do it.

    Time to Make the Bread

    If you’ve ever seen a cat kneading, you probably thought it looked a lot like what you do to dough when making bread; you knead the dough. And a cat’s kneading is usually done on a soft surface like a blanket, a pile of laundry, or even your lap when you’re petting them.

    Kneading

    Some cats even seem to totally zone out while they’re kneading complete with a happy purring and even a little drool. Ugh, cat drool on your clean laundry pile! Kneading seems to be some sort of kitty meditation.

    Why Do Cats Knead?

    Because my cat always did his kneading on a blanket before napping, I thought it was kind of the equivalent to humans fluffing and plumping their pillows before going to bed.

    As it turns out, I wasn’t wrong. Before cats were domesticated, or before they domesticated humans, wild cats might have kneaded things like tall grass or pine needles to make a comfortable place to sleep or give birth. Sort of like human mommies nesting before their babies come! Their wild ancestors did it, and the behavior has been passed down to domesticated cats.

    Part of the reason cats knead is probably instinctual. During kittenhood (what a cute word!) when a kitten snuggles up to its mommy to suckle, kneading stimulates the mother’s mammary glands and helps increase milk production.

    Kittens nursing

    Why do adult cats continue to knead then? It’s probably just a comforting thing, like a weaned human who still sucks his or her thumb.

    Another explanation for cat kneading is territorial behavior. Cats have scent glands in their jelly bean toes (the pink pads on their paws). During kneading, the cat’s scent is transferred to whatever soft surface they’re kneading telling any other cats that might happen upon that object that it belongs to someone else.

    [tweet text=”In a cat’s eyes, all things belong to cats.”]

    The marks left by a cat’s claws serve a similar purpose, leaving behind the cat’s scent as well as a visual clue to stay clear.

    Sometimes female cats will knead or knead more than seems usual shortly before they go into heat. You may also notice a strange meow (we always called this caterwauling), pacing nervously around the house, and marking territory by peeing outside the litter box.

  1. Is Cat Kneading Harmful?
  2. Well, not to the cat! It can certainly hurt your lap or your furniture and other belongings though. New York may soon ban cat declawing, and perhaps other states will follow. It’s considered cruel and unnecessary to declaw a cat.

    Declawing a cat is not like getting a mani-pedi at a day spa. Whether it is performed by laser or the old-fashioned way, it’s a surgery during which nearly all of the cat’s first-toe bones, along with the tendons and ligaments, are removed. This brutal, permanent disfigurement leaves many cats with chronic, lifelong pain, much like amputees who experience phantom pain associated with their lost limbs.

    Declawing is especially dangerous for outdoor cats. With no claws, they are less able to defend themselves from predators. If your cat’s claws are hurting your lap or damaging your possessions, there are a few ways to address the kneading.

    Keep your cat’s claws trimmed. Trimming their claws doesn’t hurt and isn’t harmful. It’s not really different from cutting your own nails. If you think the kneading is related to being in heat, the only way to stop it is to have your female cat spayed — something all responsible pet parents should do anyway.

    If your cats kneads your lap and you don’t like it, you can try to lay them down in your lap and start petting them right away which might help settle them more quickly.

    What you cannot do is discourage or worse, punish your cat for kneading. Kneading isn’t harmful, and it’s a comforting, instinctual behavior. It makes your cat happy and secure, and it’s a behavior that is in their DNA, connecting them back to their wild ancestors.

    It’s Not That Weird!

    I’m sure your cat does stranger things than knead! Like lay right on your chest and poke you with its paw until you wake up.

    Cat pumpkin

    Or stare at you while you’re in the shower. As all pet parents know, cat’s are just a little bit weird! That’s part of their charm.